Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

December 8, 2007 at 2:44 pm (books, environment, food)

I finally finished Michael Pollan’s “Ominvore’s Dilemma”, it was brilliant and inspirational.  I said in my last post that I was convincing myself not to eat meat.  Well, that’s true to an extent.  I have been sufficiently convinced not to eat grain-fed meat from feed lot operations, including anything from fish to chicken to beef.  Not only does it go against nature and evolution, which must be respected, but it is just not sustainable.  We humans have evolved to eat food that has been nourished by the sun and the soil, and we are currently being fed by food nourished by petrochemicals and and artificially fixed nitrogen.  Why have we allowed this to happen?  The all mighty bottom line of course.  While we are willing to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on luxury SUVs, video game systems, gargantuan televisions (take your pick), we scoff at spending an extra $1/pound to buy quality meat to nourish our family.  And no, I’m not buying into the Whole Foods philosophy of only eating “organic”.  I am buying into sustainability.  Because while it is surely better to buy “organic” food free of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, the farms that produce organic products are nearly as unsustainable as traditional industrial farms.  When I refer to sustainability, I mean how much damage it does to the land, the surrounding water resources and the consumers who ingest the food.

One of the most interesting facts highlighted in Pollan’s book is how industrially produced food is actually much worse for humans than meat and produce grown in more natural circumstances.  For instance, we all hear that we should eat fish for the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids.  Those Omega-3 acids come from fish raised on krill and kelp (their natural diet), not corn.  Gee, isn’t it surprising that corn weren’t naturally evolved to eat corn?  Farm raised salmon raised on corn actually contain less Omega-3 and more Omega-6 (an unhealthy alternative).  Same goes for beef.  Grass fed beef contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 in a 1:1 ratio – not so bad, right?  Well, grain fed beef has Omega-6 fatty acids over Omega-3 in a ratio of 10:1.  Amazing.  Humans clearly evolved to eat meat higher in Omega-3’s, which is why we have such rampant health problems associated with the consumption of feed-lot beef.

OK, so clearly I could go on and on, but overall I would just recommend that if you are concerned about where your food comes from, read Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

I guess it doesn’t matter how inspired I am by a book if I don’t practice what I preach, right?  So I have decided to change my consuming behaviors, especially where meat is concerned.  Anyone can go online and find local grass-fed beef suppliers in their area.  It may cost more and be much less convenient, but I feel its worth it.  We need to get back into the mind-set that meat is a “special occasion” food and not our god-given right for daily consumption.  I’ve been a vegetarian before, and I’m not going to go all the way back to that extreme.  After all, there is nothing more natural than humans eating meat.  However, there’s nothing less natural than how we go about mass producing our meat.



  1. arvind said,

    coming here after a loong time.

    do you have any information or links that explain how organic food is not sustainable? i buy mostly organic fruits and vegetables as well as milk products, eggs and meat from free range cattle and chicken…whatever i read on the labels for these products seems to indicate that the agricultural practices for the produce and animal feed are definitely friendly toward maintaining nutrient balance in the soil…i would be very interested in learning if this is not true…the organic stuff is really expensive and i am sure local farmers market stuff won’t be as expensive…so if i have a good excuse to switch to a cheaper alternative 🙂

  2. mysterybea said,

    I agree that buying “local” is usually the better way to go. Although the farmers at your local market may be not “certified organic”, they usually are – getting certified by the government is of course expensive and fraught with red-tape. As far as the point about sustainability, it is most important that the grower (of your produce and meat) respect the natural order of things. By this I mean they must use logical crop rotation as well as pasture rotation to keep both the animals and the grass healthy. I would highly recommend the book I frequently referenced, Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. In it, he highlights the most amazing farm in Virginia whereupon the farmer makes the most beautiful use of the naturally evolved tendencies of his animals to keep both them and their environment healthy and sustained. Unfortunately, there are inherent limits to the size of an operation like this. We can’t all eat meat from places like this 365 days a year, which is why we shouldn’t be eating meat 365 days a year!

    I agree that buying organic food is inconveniently expensive (especially for a grad student) and for a long time I didn’t see enough advantage to justify the cost. And although organic farmers may not use pesticides, they may still use fertilizer which can heavily pollute ground water. The organic meat, dairy and eggs we buy from places like Whole Foods can be produced by methods nearly as deplorable as traditional products. For instance, to be “free range”, birds just need access to a small door leading to the outside world. However, frequently the door is closed, barricaded, or the outside “yard” is so run-down it is not appealing at all for the bird.

    So as for finding products (meat, dairy and eggs especially) in your area, just google search for the specific food and your city. I searched for a place in Lawrence, KS and found a lovely sounding farm very close to town that raises purely grass-fed organic beef and you can order a whole cow, a side of beef or individual portions. This stuff is available nearly everywhere if we make the effort to look for it!

    Good luck and let me know if you come across anything of interest!

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