I ate my final burger the other day. It's not that I don't like burgers (my last one was juicy pure delight) and I don’t want to become a vegetarian (the tofu diet isn't for me), but thanks to some recent discoveries, I no longer believe that my last burger, was, in fact, a burger.
We all know the saying, "You are what you eat."
Unfortunately, if we peel back the skin of the American meat
industry, we find that whatever we eat is what our cow ate, and our
cows eat some mighty interesting things. They aren't grain-fed, or
corn-fed or even grass-fed. Our calves drink bovine blood as a
"milk replacer," and our cows dine on the ground-up remains of
chickens and pigs that were fattened on brains, spines, bones and
remnant body parts mechanically pulled from other cows.
My burger lunch was pig brain, beef blood, chicken spine and a
thousand other random bits ground into meal and fed to my
This would be so much aesthetic whining, except
that meat-eating bovines make ideal candidates for bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), aka mad cow disease, the trendiest
food-borne illness since e.Coli. People who eat these diseased cows
can contract Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, a Germanic-sounding
punishment for doing things God never intended.
not to put a biblical Finger-of-God spin on BSE and its human
variant. If ever there was a sin, the unholy act of feeding brains,
spines, bones and blood back to cows is so steeped in moral and
aesthetic nastiness that CJD, a disease which literally chews the
brain apart, seems the only possible outcome. We have turned
against nature, and now nature has turned against us.
president says he's still eating beef, and the USDA has just
announced a ban on serving "downer animals," those too sick to walk
to their slaughter, and the meat industry keeps telling us the risk
of mad cow disease is low, low, low. But I don't think I'll relax
Consider this: Our first mad cow case was
discovered not because we successfully screened for it -- we test
only 20,000 cows out of 35 million -- but because the animal in
question showed other, unrelated problems, and so was classified a
downer. If this cow had still been walking -- and many cows
afflicted with mad cow disease walk just fine, for a while -- it
would never have been discovered.
We talk about this mad
cow as though it stayed intact. It didn't. It became steaks and
burgers and had to be recalled from eight different states along
with 10,000 pounds of other affected meat long after we discovered
it was infected. Some of that meat never came back. People ate
Another item: According to Eric Schlosser’s Fast
Food Nation, a book on industrial food-preparation practices, your
average hamburger contains the meat of up to 100 cows. So one
infected cow can end up in a lot of burgers. And according to the
New York Times, a Department of Agriculture study found that in
some meat-processing plants, 35 percent of processed meat tested
positive for central nervous system tissue (the bits that carry mad
cow disease). That's a lot of suspect spinal cord whirring around
our meatpacking system.
With our meat industry's unnatural
cattle-raising habits, inadequate screening, promiscuous meat
mixing and casual attitude toward neurological tissue, every USDA
choice burger starts looking like a madcow burger. If cows were
meant to eat meat, they’d run fast and have sharp teeth, and
we’d read "The Boy Who Cried Cow" for a fable.
National Cattleman's Beef Association apparently cares little for
public health, even fighting the meager fixes the USDA recently
installed, but it understands dollars. So instead of buying their
suspect meat, I'm buying meat from cows fed on hay and grass and
Organic and natural-food markets sell beef raised on
these vegetarian diets. Our local meat market sells grass-fed beef
raised by local ranchers. They say, "You can drive right past our
herd and see what we're feeding them."
They provide an
alternative to the industrial meat pipeline because these western
Colorado ranchers know their cows, they feed them well and they can
track them in minutes rather than weeks. The beef is good and you
can trust it. If our industrial meat factories lose enough money,
they'll discover that trust counts for a lot.