Dear MOTHER: June/July 2015

Reader letters about grass-fed vs. factory-farmed meat, going solar, underground root cellars, urban homesteading, finding recycled goods, learning how to cook, banishing tomato blight, food-frugal tips, and more.

| June/July 2015

Ruminating on Low-Cost Meat

I couldn’t agree more with Richard Manning’s points in The Many Benefits of Grass-Fed Meat in the April/May 2015 issue.

Most of the meat in U.S. supermarkets is raised in feedlots. This is in contrast to how we picture cattle happily grazing on lush, green pastures. The reality is cows crowded into filthy lots, eating some ungodly mixture that contains primarily corn, with numerous additives and antibiotics. The beef industry has worked hard to convince us that meat from corn-fed cattle is better.

Where did this idea come from? I read that the advent of synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals about 50 years ago led to an overproduction of corn. A sensible response to such surplus would’ve been a shift to growing a crop that was needed on the market, but the industry instead decided to find some other market for the overabundance of corn. Then, some folks had a bright idea: If we feed cattle corn instead of grass, we can fatten them for slaughter in nine months instead of two years. This put more money in many people’s pockets.

But we forgot that cows are ruminants and need to chew their cud to maintain their health. So what if we mess up the animals’ digestion? They only need to survive less than a year. So what if they’re not in perfect health? We can give them medicines and tons of antibiotics to keep them alive for the short time before they go to slaughter. Then we’ll sell meat from sick cows in the supermarket with a USDA stamp of approval.

A few years ago, an Escherichia coli (E. coli ) bacterial contamination made many people sick, and some even died. In the ’70s, I worked in medical research with E. coli — a mostly benign bacteria that, if accidentally ingested, might give you a bellyache but would not kill you. The emergence of the very virulent, deadly E. coli strain is the result of the feedlot diet changing the pH in the cow’s rumen.

The public demands cheap food, and cheap it is — provided we count only the money spent at the supermarket. If we calculated the real costs of cheap meat — such as the destruction of our environment and the exorbitant health costs — it would prove to be quite expensive.

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