Recently I watched a PBS Frontline special called Poisoned Waters which made many points about why our water is not safe to drink (or swim in or eat fish from).
One issue raised was how the practice of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) yields two problems. The first problem is a meat product that is questionably safe to eat (cruelty issues aside).
The second problem with CAFOs is the massive amount of toxic animal waste containing residues of whatever the animals were fed (or treated with) that is created. That byproduct, a staggering quantity of waste soup, mostly ends up in the watershed.
The conclusion reached is as clear as the contaminated water is cloudy. CAFO meat is bad. Bad for the animal, bad for the environment, bad for the people buying and eating the meat.
I was already anti-CAFO, I'll admit my bias. Earlier this year I read an opinion piece in the NYT about the overwhelming evidence linking the development of MRSA to CAFO pig farming practices. Their conclusion? CAFOs are a proven breeding ground for bacterial strains that pose a deadly threat to humans.
Today I read an article reporting there is a pig CAFO operating in the midst of the small town in Mexico where Patient Zero, a four year old boy, lives.
Although Smithfield and the other owners of the CAFO insist there is no connection between the proximity of the pig operation runoff and the viral outbreak, Mexican authorities are investigating, trying to pin down what exactly happened in La Gloria to ignite the flu.
I'll go ahead and hop to my own conclusion. Whatever the official report will read, in my mind there is little doubt that the presence of the CAFO and the virus moving from animals to humans is linked. CAFOs are dangerous for animals and humans alike.
What is a concerned carnivore to do? According to a 2008 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, although they comprise only about 5 percent of all US animal operations, CAFOs now produce more than 50 percent of our food animals and approximately 9,900 US CAFOs are currently in operation producing hogs, dairy cows, beef cows, broiler chickens, or laying hens.
How do I avoid supporting CAFOs? Do I have to give up meat?
This will come as sad news to some, but no, consumers do not have to give up meat. There are other choices. It is finding a store that offers those choices that may prove problematic.
There are all sorts of suppliers responsibly raising animals so I can safely buy and eat meat. Some are small local farmers like the Pedersons, others are national outfits like Niman, but what they all have in common is a commitment to humanely treating, raising, feeding, and slaughtering food animals so those of us who are confirmed carnivores can buy our meat and eat it too.
Is this meat produced this way more expensive to buy? You betcha. Is it safer and more nutritious? Yup. Is my peace of mind and health worth it? Yes. Every single penny. So where can I find this safer source of protein? Major chains often don't carry non-CAFO alternatives. In order to get the meat you deserve, you may have to do some hunting around.
I am lucky. Here in Austin there is Wheatsville Coop. Offering me consistent sources of transparent and responsibly obtained proteins like that from Niman Ranch and Pederson Family Farms is just one of many reasons I choose to spend my food dollars at the Wheatsville Co-op. There are loads of other reasons, such as their commitment to supporting local organic growers like Katie and David Pitrie's Tecolote Farms.
I've come to depend upon W'ville's friendly and accommodating staff. Such as the star of this two part saga - Bryan the Meat Guy.
I don't know Bryan's title at Wheatsville. If I knew it I would probably forget that too. For me Bryan will always be "the Meat Guy".Today I told Bryan I needed a 3-4 pound pork butt and he disappeared into that mysterious realm known as "the back" and re-emerged with just the thing.
He cheerfully special cut me a four pound Niman pork roast and then cut it in half again just because I needed to make sure I could handle it and/or get it into my Dutch oven. This Niman beauty of a roast is certified humane, bad-thing free, delicious, nutritious, and as far as I am concerned, the closest thing to guilt free protein there will ever be until and unless I start to grow and slaughter my own animals.
Bryan the Meat Guy saved the day. Having that Niman pork meant I could proceed full pig ahead with my Holiday Swine Flu Viral Invasion Revenge Meal as previously planned."Holiday?" you may well wonder. "Did you mean Mother's Day?". No, gentle readers. No I did not.
I got so annoyingly sidetracked by my porcine CAFO diatribe I nearly forgot to tell you. Before arriving at Mother's Day, we here in Texas have another Very Important Holiday to observe. Cinco de Mayo is on the horizon.
I had big plans to make Carnitas for Cinco. Without Bryan the Meat Guy I'd have been clean out of luck (and pork roast). Thanks to Bryan you can all stay tuned and I'll be back tomorrow with recipes and further details...