|Possum. It's What's for Dinner.|
As promised, I've finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. If you missed the first post on it, it's a thoughtful, well-written account of Foer's personal struggle with deciding whether or not to go vegetarian. (I didn't.) The discussions of factory farming were revolting enough--despite being familiar from Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma--to reinforce my personal bias toward seafood and proteins from our Bellevue Farmers Market suppliers, but not repellent enough to make me a pain at dinner parties. Just make sure your host cooked that meat or chicken really, really, really well.
Foer raises the topic of antibiotic overuse in agro-industry and its connection to antibiotic-resistant bugs. Which made this recent claim in Wired disconcerting: roughly one in four packages of meat and poultry from across the United States contained multidrug resistant staph. That is, MRSA. Ick. And bummer about these bugs responding less and less to antibiotics because a Seattle microbiologist from the Institute of Environmental Health took 100 samples of raw poultry from Seattle-area grocery stores (including Whole Foods and PCC) and "found the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus on nearly half, and Campylobacter on more than half...The contaminated poultry included organic as well as conventionally grown chickens." Double ick. But, as Foer points out, "free-range" and "cage-free" and "natural" mean next to nothing. Industrially-raised chicken is industrially raised. I wish they had included chickens from Skagit River Ranch or Tiny's Organic in their study to represent alternatives for consumers. A study done by three universities found that, yes, organic chickens were also infected with nastiness, but at a lesser rate. These people claimed, "[t]he overall prevalence of Salmonella across all farms, sample types, and age group was 4.3% (13/300) in organic broiler farms compared to 28.8% (115/400) in conventional broiler farms."
Beyond health and infection reasons, Foer builds a case for respecting animal pain and intelligence. Animals we think of as dumb as doorknockers (cows, fish, birds) each have their particular species' intelligence, and each is capable of registering and wanting to avoid pain. While I found his arguments compelling, doggone if I still didn't want to eat them. I think I must fall in the Temple Grandin camp. In the excellent biopic, Claire Danes delivers a version of Grandin's philosophy: ""I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect." (Hence her experience in more humane slaughterhouse design. Read the fascinating Animals in Translation for her thought process.)
If, dear meat-lover, after reading Eating Animals, you find yourself swearing off any protein that has to be killed, there's still a ray of hope for you. Food Safety News ran a recent article on the advisability of eating roadkill. Yes! Moose, deer, elk--heck--anything anyone can hit with a car and leave for dead can become guilt-free dinner. (Unless you were the one who hit it.) Just be sure to really, really, really cook it because even those wild animals have their share of undesirable bacteria. Combine a little roadkill with The Road Kill Cookbook or Manifold Destiny and you've got your Easter potluck dish while you drive to Grandma's. Talk about reduce, re-use, recycle.
Speaking of Easter, I leave you with this last enviro- and kid-friendly link. Forget poisoning your children with violently- and artificially-colored dyed Easter eggs. Make your own natural dyes, if you've got time on your hands. And you should now, since I've given you the roadkill idea. Bon appetit!