Sunday, August 10, 2008

Exploring the omnivore's dilemma

I spend two hours 3-4 days a week driving to and from work. I’ve grown tired of the music on the radio. It seems like it’s all the same news every evening on the news stations. I need something different to occupy my mind. This week I made a trip to the library to check out an audio book.

I wasn’t sure listening to a book would be enough to keep me awake on the way home at 4am, but I thought it would be more interesting than the same songs over and over followed by the same news repeated endlessly on the radio.

Many of our market customers have been telling us they have read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. So I asked the librarian if it was available. This week I have been listening to The Omnivore’s Dilemma on my commute.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores “what’s for dinner?” from the origin of food to its eventual consumption at the dinner table. Yesterday, I learned more than I ever thought to know about the sexual reproduction, history and economy of corn in North America, why Earl Butt’s really was not a friend to the American farmer and why no matter what the price of corn we keep growing more and more of the yellow stuff.

Today, we’ve moved from corn production to the feed lots of Kansas. Did you know they feed fat to cattle? Fat that is shipped in from the processing plant where the steers will be killed– cattle fat. That the diet of corn and additives are totally unnatural for a grazing animal and lead to disease in the cattle. So much so that the big lots have to keep a vet on staff. Cattle at slaughter are frequently found to have abscessed livers.

The author is following one steer from the ranch it was born on in South Dakota to the Kansas feedlot where it is fattened to the slaughter house to his table. It is an interesting tale. Scary but interesting.

Points to ponder:

The manure is collected in a “lagoon”, a vast pool of poop. When asked why they don’t spread it on neighboring farm fields, the author is told farmers don’t want it. They don’t want it because it is too high in nitrogen and phosphorus, not to mention heavy metals. The manure would kill their crops. Wow! On our place manure isn’t waste. It is fertilizer. It closes the circle of production. For example: the cows eat the grass, they produce manure, the manure helps the grass grow, and the cows eat the grass. A circle. They way nature meant it to be.
Downstream the heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorus cause changes in amphibians and fish. Scary! So what are they doing to us?
Fecal dust causes respiratory and eye irritation for the cattle confined there. On our farm there isn’t much in the way of dust because the earth is covered by growing plants. Plants that feed our animals and keep our air clean.
Cattle fed on corn produce meat that is highly marbled but also high in cholesterol. It’s not red meat that is bad for your cholesterol levels its cholesterol. We raise our cattle as they were intended – on grass. Naturally lower in cholesterol. And I think happier and healthier.
32 lbs of corn each day is fed per steer to create 4 lbs of gain per steer/day. That’s a lot of corn!!
Without routine antibiotics the feedlot would not be possible.
E. coli a new strain, is found in these feedlots and can cause kidney failure in humans. Once again – SCARY!

I won’t tell you everything I’ve heard and all the things that concerned/ frightened me. It would take too long. I will recommend this book to you as a must read - or a must listen if you have a commute like mine.

Take care and be safe,


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