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Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Last Poultry Farmer" Tells It Like It Is

In my last post (which was, unbelievably, two months ago), I posted a clip with the brilliant author and conscious eating enthusiast, Jonathan Safran Foer.  I am still currently reading his book, Eating Animals when I came across a section called "I Am The Last Poultry Farmer".  This chapter is about a man named Frank Reese, a lifelong poultry farmer and bird lover (  I'll skip the sermon about how he prides himself on being the last poultry farmer to actually let his birds run free (unlike self-professed "cage free" farms) and exercise without the restraints of wing-clipping and de-beaking.  I'll get right to the reason I wanted to mention him in this post.  This is Frank Reese himself explaining, in layman's terms, the health risks involved in eating meat today:

Just the other day, one of the local pediatricians was telling me he's seeing all kinds of illnesses that he never used to see.  Not only juvenile diabetes, but inflammatory and autoimmune diseases that a lot of the docs don't even know what to call.  And girls are going through puberty much earlier, and kids are allergic to just about everything, and asthma is out of control.  Everyone knows it's our food.  We're messing with the genes of these animals and then feeding them growth hormones and all kinds of drugs that we really don't know enough about.  And then we're eating them.  Kids today are the first generation to grow up on this stuff, and we're making a science experiment out of them.

Being someone who's eaten tons of meat his whole life and someone who would like to start a family in the not-too-distant future, I've thought about this paragraph for a few weeks now.  I haven't even read past this section of the book in that time because I keep coming back to this one chunk.  Drugs are given to these animals so that they grow bigger and more quickly than ever before.  They are enormous by the time they are thirty-nine days old and are then killed, processed, sold, and eaten.  Fast and cheap is the name of the game.  Anti-biotics, growth hormones, vaccinations go into the animal; the animal goes into us.  It's undeniable.  Those of us who have been camp counselors know what it's like to have a bunk of children with a laundry list of allergies for you to be aware of and remember (from dust to bee stings to peanuts to freshly cut grass! - not to mention keeping track of all their inhalers).  And, if you haven't noticed, children are growing (or not growing!) at a much more alarming rate than they have in the past.  How could it not be linked to the way we are feeding ourselves and the way the food industry has been changing?

Example...  Football players are big dudes.  They've always been big dudes.  But doesn't it seem like these days kids are sprouted from the ground at 6'4" 250lbs. cradling a football?  These monsters seem bigger and stronger than ever.  They are bred to win high school state championships, get scholarships to Division I schools, and then go be millionaires in the NFL.  From day one they are told to bulk up and eat your protein.  So, the more protein they need, the more meat they eat, the more genetic altering material goes into their body, the bigger, stronger, and potentially unhealthier they get.  Here are some stats to chew on:

  • From 1920 to 1984, there were NEVER more than 8 players in any season who weighed 300 pounds or more.  In 2006, there were 570(!), nearly 20% of all players.
  • Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the average player is nearly 25 pounds heavier, averaging 245 pounds.
  • Over the same period, the average offensive linemen is 62 pounds heavier; defensive linemen, 34 pounds; quarterbacks 26, pounds; running backs 17, pounds.
The numbers are staggering.  And now the players are huge which can net them tens of millions of dollars - so they're happy.  The offensive line is impenetrable - so the quarterbacks and coaches are happy.  The team dominates - so the owners and fans are happy.  Everybody wins!  But at what cost?  The player plays for 10-15 years, retires, and develops all kinds of physical ailments stemming from the abuse on and off the field throughout their career (see Reggie White: most feared defensive lineman of his time - dead of cardiac and pulmonary failure at age 43).

Can we draw the line all the way back to the way meat is being produced and consumed?  I'm not saying  that.  But my question is this: would we knowingly take a syringe and inject ourselves and our children with hormones and genetics-altering material at every meal?  I know my answer but I'll let Mr. Reese leave you with the final thought for the day:

I use the old genetics, the birds that were raised a hundred years ago.  Do they grow slower?  Yes.  Do I have to feed them more?  Yes.  But you look at them and tell me if they're healthy.  The industrial birds?  It's like putting a broken down Honda on the Autobahn and saying it's a Porsche.  KFC chickens are almost always killed in thirty-nine days.  They're babies.  That's how rapidly they're grown.  It can't be allowed to live any longer because its genetics are so screwed up. ... When I grew up, the animals were taken care of first.  You did chores before you ate breakfast.  We were told that if we didn't take care of the animals, we weren't going to eat.  We never went on vacations.  Somebody always had to be here. ... It had to be done no matter what.  If you don't want that responsibility, don't become a farmer.  Because that's what it takes to do it right.  And if you can't do it right, don't do it.  It's that simple.  And I'll tell you another thing: if consumers don't want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn't eat meat.