How Did Your Food Live? Know the Health Behind Your Food – Part II
If you missed Part One (shame on you), I’d suggest taking a few moments to read that before moving forward. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
For those who are already caught up and anxiously awaiting Part Two, today Luke digs a little deeper into the rabbit hole and sheds some light on HOW our food is produced. It’s pretty shocking to say the least.
And not to leave us hanging by a thread, Luke also offers a plan of attack moving forward on how we can be more cognizant as well as proactive with regards to not only the quality of the food we eat, but where it comes from too.
This is something that affects ALL of us, and I’d be remiss not to encourage everyone to take some time to read it and let it sink in.
If you don’t a kitten cries. You’re a real jerk you know that!?
One of my major concerns with human health is related to the combining of animal products from many animals. It is estimated that 1 in 10,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella and this is usually passed on from either an infection from the mother hen (so long healthy gut flora) or fecal contamination.
I don’t know how the CDC extrapolates that this number exists, did they test 10,000 eggs before finding Salmonella? Searching online it seems that this data is assumed when comparing illnesses from Salmonella compared to how many eggs are purchased/consumed in a year. This sort of makes sense but when you consider that not everyone who gets sick sees a doctor and not everyone who eats an egg contaminated with Salmonella actually gets sick from it – as cooking can destroy the bacteria – the numbers seem too gray for me.
Either way I’d rather eat a dozen eggs from one or two chickens rather than 12, and much more preferred than eating a dozen eggs laid by 12 chickens in a crowd of 1,000.
Ground beef suffers a similar fate. At this point in the argument, I won’t even address factory farm treatment of animals but rather how the food is produced and packaged.
In general there are two kinds of cows: those bred for milk production and those bred for meat. Obviously, not all milk cows are female and the male milk cow must now be used for beef or veal, to avoid monetary loss. As a whole, dairy cows put so much energy into milk production that they do not gain much in terms of muscle and fat, making them less suitable for meat production.
To answer this issue, these two breeds are cross-bred so that male dairy cows can be more easily fattened up for meat production. Now we have dairy cows that produce less milk than they should and beef cattle that don’t fatten up as much as normal because they are both half-breeds of each other. Here we add continual stimulation from antibiotics, hormones and cheap feed like soy to boost the half-rate milk and beef production we genetically engineered ourselves.
Let’s assume half of all cows are bred for meat and half for dairy, with half of the dairy cows being male and thus used in meat production. Most beef cattle are slaughtered at twelve to eighteen months compared to the two or three years it takes normally. Now we have 75% of all beef entering our supermarkets from underage, half-bred, antibiotic injected and artificially fattened cattle.
Aside from ALL of this is the fact that the one pound package of beef you buy can be the meat from literally dozens of cows.
Just as in the dizzying possibility of your eggs coming from so many different and possibly sick chickens, the same applies to all ground meat.
Added to this is the fact that meat carcasses are sprayed with high-powered air guns to detach all remaining flesh from the animal after production. This meat mush is then either added into existing ground beef or mixed for sausage and other pre-made meat products.
This certainly makes economical sense but it just contributes to the overwhelming vastness of where our food comes from. I actually have a Meat Buyers Guide from the North American Meat Processors Association and it lists standards, practices and guidelines for all cuts of meat and how they are produced. Ground beef in particular is allowed to be “chopped or machine-cut by any method provided the texture and appearance of the product after final grinding is typical of ground beef prepared by grinding only”.
So….you can process ground beef any way you want so long as it looks like ground beef in the end?
Also, the processing allows bone collectors and extruders to be used in the process so that companies can literally grind anything on the animal for ground beef.
Lastly, purchasers may “waive” an examination for trimming defects as long as they use a bone extruder. I don’t think I even need to explain this one as it is pretty self evident, but it basically says that anything in the final product is OK since you used a bone extruder, and using a bone extruder allows you to grind any part of the animal.
The reason this all ties into the USDA is because they allow food to be produced and processed this way. In my goal to continually steer this article away from animal welfare e.g Eating Animals, and the fact that this aside could be and already is the topic of other books, I want to focus on how this food affects us.
Already discussed above is how the use of antibiotics affects both our health and that of animals. If you think that eating meat with compromised digestion and immunity does not impact your health, it would be a claim to ignorance. You could argue that cooking inactivates many of the hormones given to these animals, as is the case with milk and other dairy products.
My nutrition professor at UCONN claimed that the crossover from animals being fed and injected hormones has a weak transfer from the animal to us and combined with pasteurization of dairy, she claimed it was a non-issue. I can’t help but think that this is a cop-out when you look at the research even seemingly benign foods like cabbage, kale and tomatoes have on our health.
These foods can inhibit iodine absorption, increase blood clotting factors and enhance immunity, respectively. Yet meat that is raised as noted above has no impact on our body chemistry and health?
This brings me back to my original question about the rice.
Think of each grain of rice in that bowl as a bit of meat from hundreds of different animals. Even with the antibiotic agents added, wouldn’t you rather eat the rice if it came from just one restaurant? And wouldn’t it be a little better if you knew what the standards were that that restaurant judged the rice by?
And wouldn’t be better still if you knew the rice had no added chemicals because it was handled and cooked responsibly?
There is a level of damage control that we need to face here, especially as athletes who consume a lot of food and namely a lot of meat, dairy and eggs. You already know the benefits of eating pastured, grass fed meat both for your health and the animals. You already know organic is better than conventional, despite somewhat shady and interpretive “standards”.
What’s the average meat-head with a limited income to do, since most of us won’t adopt veganism or vegetarianism? Making the best of a bad situation is a reality for many of us. I propose that since poultry has it the worst that we make the best effort to eat as naturally here. Free-range eggs aren’t actually that expensive if you have someone near you with chickens and it is becoming increasingly more popular to grow your own hens, I have multiple friends who do this.
Second, focus on buying whole-bird organic chickens. Since you’re buying whole, it is usually cheaper by the pound because some of what you buy is bone and extra fat. Take advantage of this though and challenge yourself to roast, braise, grill and smoke whole and half-birds. Eat the innards, they are delicious; take time to learn how to truss or break down a whole chicken.
Beef is harder to eat grass-fed and organic because it is usually only affordable when you buy in bulk and have a freezer to store it in.
Instead, if you can adopt the suggestions above, practice damage control by purchasing whole cuts of beef like chuck, top round and other pot roasts and slow cooking them. Another option, which I have done myself is visit a butcher that grinds their own meat. You can either bring them some top round or other cut to grind or have them do it with their own supply. At least in this scenario you can get ground meat from one animal, not dozens.
This movement should not be much more expensive than what you are doing now and only a little more time consuming. People will argue that you should go cold turkey (pun intended) and switch right over to grass-fed and pastured meat, eggs and dairy or just stop eating meat.
In what other context do we do this?
How many people do you know that just stopped driving until they could afford an electric car or quit smoking without adding in something like nicotine patches, gum or coffee to titrate them off? The staggering enormity of finding, purchasing and storing completely grass-fed and pastured animal products will turn most people off.
However, as in a new exercise or diet program, we all know as coaches and athletes that small progressions often yield the best long-term results.
To this I say start making a small difference NOW, instead of no difference at all.
World Health Organization. Risk Assessment of Salmonella in Eggs and Broiler Chickens, 2008.
Google Books, May 17th, 2013.
Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh. The River Cottage Meat Book. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 2004. Print.
NAMP. The Meat Buyers Guide. United States: North American Meat Processors Association, 2003. Print
Lipski, Elizabeth. Digestive Wellness. United States: McGraw Hill, 2012. Print
Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut and Psychology Syndrome. United Kingdom: Medinform Publishing, 2012. Print.
Lucas Serwinski is a Strength and Conditioning coach and nutritional consultant for athletes and weekend warriors alike. Lucas holds a Bachelor’s in Strength and Conditioning from UCONN as well as an Associate’s in Culinary Arts from NECI.
Lucas has interned at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA, worked on low-carbohydrate research for fat loss and health,and trained and competed in powerlifting. He extensively studies the roles of digestion, sleep, nutritional habits and homeopathic medicine to help people of all walks achieve greater health. Lucas has also worked in multiple award-winning restaurants, including Arrow’s which was named 14th best restaurant in the country by Food magazine. Lucas incorporates knowledge and skill from cooking experience into creating a comprehensive plan for those he works with. Lucas has also worked as a social worked for years and takes mental and emotional considerations into each person’s plan and goals for success. You can visit his blog HERE.