Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Beef: The Story of No. 534

Yesterday I watched the show 30 Days - an hour-long documentary/reality show series on FX created by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame.   The premise is simple - people step out of the comfort zone for 30 days and change their lifestyle.  lol - sounds familiar?  Okay, then.

Anyway, last night's episode featured a hunter living with vegans and engaged in an animal activist lifestyle. Some of it was a little much, like the performance art piece of a man in a chicken costume carrying a meat cleaver and chasing a bloody Colonel Sanders around in a circle or the woman who compared eating meat to Hitler killing Jews.  Not sure I'd go that far.  But they did show a commercial feed lot, which I thought was really interesting.  It stretched extremely far and the camera showed a few ranch hands manhandling some calves.  I don't know how common such an activity is, but it was pretty disturbing.  

I think meat is tasty.  I like to eat it, but lately I've been having some ethical issues eating it with my usual gusto.  I don't think I'll ever be a vegetarian, but I think even when this whole experiment is over, I'm going to commit to eating less meat.  I always thought that the single-serving shrink wrapped hunks of meat sitting in the refrigerated portion of the supermarket were a little mysterious.  So I did a little internet research and stumbled across this - a New York Times article by my main man Mike Pollan (I call him Mike now) entitled "Power Steer".  It's a little long, but it's a quick read and really fascinating.

In the article Pollan plays cattleman and details the life of a 8-month old calf (No. 534) that he buys from the Blair brothers, fourth-generation cattlemen who own a 11,500 acre "cow-calf" ranch in South Dakota.  Through the course of the article No. 534 hangs out with his mother eating grass, gets "backgrounded", heads to a feed lot, and then to the slaughter house.   Will Pollan make a profit on No. 534 after he's gotten fattened up?  By following the life and death of this specific animal, Pollan discusses many of the issues related to rearing animals for food - feed lots, the economic and ecological consequences of meat production, the use of hormones and antibiotics, the implications of corn-fed animals, conditions of workers, etc.  

An excerpt:

Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and the modern meat industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef calf's allotted time on earth. ''In my grandfather's day, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter,'' explained Rich Blair, who, at 45, is the younger of the brothers by four years. ''In the 50's, when my father was ranching, it was 2 or 3. Now we get there at 14 to 16 months." 


WeezerMonkey said...

Have you read Fast Food Nation? It was the last book I read.

In 2001.

Insomniac said...

I don't believe that! But yeah, actually that's what got me started on this whole thing...

Ann Marie said...

Have you read 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', also authored by your main man? #534 is mentioned throughout. I definitely have not been eating as much red meat after reading that book.