The Ten Week Challenge Syllabus

I walked people through a ten week challenge, using the following syllabus.

Week 1 - Sugar-free
Week 2 - Whole grains
Week 3 - Wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats
Week 4 - Raw dairy
Week 5 - The microwave
Week 6 - Fats and oils
Week 7 - Cultured and fermented foods
Week 8 - Local and organic produce
Week 9 - Processed foods
Week 10 - Implementing lifestyle changes

Visit my Recipe Index over at Going Green in a Pink World.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Week 3: Beef 101

This is an intense topic, and I don't think I'll be able to do it justice in just one week, but my goal is to give an overview of the industrialization of the meat industry (I'm lumping beef, chicken, turkey, and fish into the word "meat" for right now). There are so many comprehensive resources, including The Omnivore's Dilemma, Eat Wild, and a host of scientific articles, many of which even I am bored with. I'm indebted to best selling author, Michael Pollen, for his research on this topic, and much of the information I'll be sharing comes from his work. I'll do my best to break things down simply, so you understand the implications on your health when you consume meat from various sources.

Factory Farming
America has moved towards specialization in so many areas, and the production of our food is no exception. There are hundreds of acres of lettuce at Cal-Organic Farms in California, hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat and corn in the midwest, and "farms" that raise acres and acres of cows, as if they were like a stalk of corn, and needed only a small space to grow. This "specialization" has led to losses on all ends. The crops miss out on the valuable nutrients from the manure of the cows; the cows aren't eating the grass and plants their bodies were designed to eat; and the people who eat the cows and the plants aren't getting the most benefits from what could be very healthy food.

Animals are raised on large farms called CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations. The name alone doesn't evoke the happy, lazy lifestyle of a cow I'd want to eat. Here are some of the problems of CAFOs, cited by Eat Wild:

• Animal stress and abuse
• Air, land, and water pollution
• The unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs
• Low-paid, stressful farm work
• The loss of small family farms
• Food with less nutritional value

Unnatural Diets
Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, U.S. cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of BSE or “mad cow disease.” (Eat Wild)

What does this mean for me?
We've become so far removed from our sources of food. Many people do not know where the meat they consumed was raised, or that it was pumped with antibiotics because cows' stomachs aren't designed to eat grain, leading to diseases that have to be kept down with drugs. Animals that are raised on feedlots need to be fattened quickly to maximize profit. Enter: horomones. Girls are developing a more rapid pace than previous generations, and diseases such as cancer are sky rocketing in their occurrences. (In a 1999 study published in the Annual Review of Public Health, Dinse, Umbach, Sasco, Hoel and Davis found that cancer rates increased from 22% to 56% in the time period between 1975 to 1994. Startling information!) The media has vilified meat as a possible culprit, and warns consumers to limit their red meat intake. What if it's not red meat, but the broader range of meat, dairy, and eggs from animals raised in CAFOs?

Consider this. Grass-fed meat offers a much greater amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is a cancer-fighting fat. There are numerous European studies on the link between high levels of CLA and lower risk of breast cancer. Additionally, the nutrient levels in grass-fed meat, eggs, and dairy is higher than their CAFO counterparts. Grass-fed is rich in antioxidants, vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Additionally, there have been studies proving the Omega 3 content decreases significantly, the longer an animal is off grass.Data from: J Animal Sci (1993) 71(8):2079-88.

Up Next...
Common sense and tradition tend to trump even the best study. Many traditional peoples lived strong, healthy lives (cancer-free) on meat, eggs, and dairy from their own flocks or farms. I'm not suggesting we all move to rural Vermont, but we have options beyond a package of Shaw's Grade A beef, and nutritionally void eggs. In fact, I just bought $800 pounds of grass-fed beef yesterday, from rural Vermont, and I'd love to share. Stay tuned for how to incorporate more well-raised meats into your diet.

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