Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Doubtful Dining

A salient tone of distrust resounded in three New York Times articles about meat last week:

“Our insatiable appetite for animal protein is as much of an agricultural liability as it is a nutritional one. We raise and slaughter nearly 10 billion farm animals in the United States every year (and that’s not counting fish or dairy animals.) It follows, then, that a significant percentage of our corn and soy crops are used to feed the animals that give us our much-wanted (and less-needed) protein. The intensive system of animal and crop production that is fueled by our demand for meat and milk and cheese leads to all manners of abuses: animal, environmental, farm-worker — you name it.”

[“Leads to all manners of abuses”? As someone from inside (and outside) the industry, I have never once seen abuse, but I have seen triumph in research discoveries such as those that produce more food with a reduced environmental cost. I have also seen sweet (awwww) relationships form and become reinforced between humans and the animals they care for. Abuse is not tolerated by anyone in animal agriculture]

“Our digestive system, a secondary receptor totally independent of our tongues, seems to crave calorie-dense foods like umami-rich animal proteins, no matter what they taste like.”

[Calorie dense? We receive 25g protein from180 calories in lean beef instead of from 230 calories in raw tofu, 374 calories in beans, or 670 calories in peanut butter]

“I’m aware that my choices are mostly imperfect, but I rarely conclude that I should make a burger and fries for dinner or provide a pound per person of prison-raised pork served with fruit from 10,000 miles away, followed by a cake full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Yet, for the most part, that describes restaurant food.”

[Prison-raised pork? That’s a good idea, actually…I have heard of programs that involve inmates in gardening and animal care, which could be quite therapeutic. However, I wish this author would take himself more seriously as a writer and refrain from flagrant exaggerations]

“You’ll move in the right direction, cooking and eating less meat and junk and more plants.”

[Someone is telling you to eat less meat again… Per a discussion with a registered dietitian from the Texas Beef Council, Americans actually eat the recommended amount of meat every day. They tend to over-eat carbohydrates and under-eat vegetables. Meat consumption should stay about the same]

“Nitrate and nitrite have been used for centuries to cure meat, giving products like hot dogs, bacon and ham their characteristic flavor and color and killing the bacteria that causes botulism. Today, conventional meat packers typically use a synthesized version known as sodium nitrite. But companies that label their products natural or organic must use natural sources of the preservatives. They usually employ celery powder or celery juice, which are high in nitrate. A bacterial culture is used to convert that to nitrite. The resulting chemicals are virtually identical to their synthetic cousins. When the products are packaged, both conventional and natural products contain residual amounts.”

[This affirms that chemicals are chemicals, no matter if it comes from a “natural”, “organic” or “synthetic” source. This argument parallels the arguments made for “organic” vs. “synthetic” nitrogen fertilizer discussed in the post “…Determined to Succeed!”]

“Since the 1970s, concerns about the health effects of nitrate and nitrite have focused on the potential for nitrite to combine with meat protein to form carcinogenic substances called nitrosamines.”

“The U.S.D.A. responded by limiting the amount of nitrate and nitrite that goes into processed meats, and today they contain far less than they did 40 years ago.”

[Processed meats contain less nitrate and nitrite than many vegetables do. About 85% of consumed nitrates come from plants (Van Velzen et al., 2008)]

What do you Think?


  1. Thanks for sharing this information. The pressure I have felt from others to use organic, eat less meat, beware of the nitrate & nitrite, etc. has made me at times feel like my food choices are unhealthy or inferior. I am glad you are sharing facts about food that are not promoted.
    It seems that there is little (no?) advantage in consuming organic hot dogs or bacon.
    Also, I have heard the argument that our food today is so much worse than it was 30-40 years ago. It makes sense that as knowledge has increased, a limit to things such as nitrate and nitrite in our food has happened. Is this true of other chemicals---a positive change in recent years?

  2. Hi! I'm so glad you commented on this. I'm confident pesticide testing has grown more sensitive and the standards more rigorous, but I will look into this to properly answer your question soon!