Friday, April 26, 2013

The Price of Meat

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I like to envision myself as a gastropub gladiator, cautiously navigating my way through the Jacksonville jungle, fork and knife in hand, looking for the next great bite suggested by any magazine, newspaper, TV show, scroll, parchment, telegram or church bulletin I can get my hands on. I eat out as often as a law school pittance will allow and love to try new recipes. I’ve attempted everything from exotic North African lentil stew to ultra-southern hamburger steak in gravy. But ever since I was about seven years old and caught a graphic PBS special on cattle farming and the beef industry, I have faced an existential crisis wrapped in a moral dilemma. To eat or not to eat meat? For the most part, I limit my animal product intake as often as I can, substituting black beans for taco meat or coconut milk for cow’s milk. But every once in a while, a girl has got to have a steak. And this brings me to the environmental portion of the blog. I have always been vaguely aware that meat came from a place the details of which were better left unsaid, but after a semester in Animals and the Law and a forced screening of Joaquin Phoenix narrating animal torture in the movie “Earthling”, I decided while I probably couldn’t change the world, I could change how I was doing things. Most Americans consume meat that comes from Concentrated Feeding Operations (otherwise known as CAFOs). To put it mildly, CAFOS deposit too many animals together in one space and force them to live out their short lives in horrific and unsanitary conditions. Not only is this bad news for the animals, it is bad news for public health, safety, and the environment. One of the biggest environmental spills in our nation’s history, almost double the size of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, occurred when a hog farm manure lagoon in North Carolina leaked into the New River, killing millions of fish. In recent years, there have been outbreaks of salmonella and e-coli poisoning, which some attribute to the CAFO conditions. Instead of a natural diet, CAFOs feed their animals predominantly corn. In cows, a corn diet allows e.coli to flourish in the animal’s digestive tract and causes the meat to be fattier and nutritionally inferior to the meat from a grass fed cow. The animals are often traumatized in transport and before slaughter and have adrenaline coursing through their bodies and this also creates a poorer taste and shelf-life for the meat. With all these health, safety and environmental concerns, what meat should you eat? Admittedly, it is very difficult on a student budget to shop exclusively at natural markets for beef, poultry and fish. This past weekend, in the interest of expediency and finances, I resolved myself to the standard butcher counter at my local supermarket. Much to my surprise and delight, in a tiny niche labeled “organic” there were two grass fed beef options, one of which was humane certified. So what did I do? After an aisle victory dance, a renewed sense of faith in humanity, and an inner monologue about a sign of things to come for consumer demand and concern; I made lasagna with grass fed, humane certified meat sauce. -Rachel Goldstein, Legal Intern