Yes, I’m back on the subject of food. First it was turkeys, today it’s cows. Whether or not my tendency to eat like a hobbit influences how often I think about food, I’ll leave to your powers of deduction. Anyway, back to beef. Three things got me thinking about beef lately. It started with a board game and a rainforest.
Pandemic is a really fun game where players band together to fight a global health catastrophe. Whenever I play, it gets me thinking about antibiotic resistant bacteria (need a definition?) … be afraid - which then leads into how we’re encouraging the growth of antibiotic resistance. One factor? Food. Namely, meat.
Pretty self-explanatory here, but rainforests – particularly in Brazil, one of the world’s largest beef exporters – are being cleared at an alarming rate in order to make room for cattle farming. Not only is it one of several industries threatening numerous species and one of the most important eco-systems on earth - but it’s also actively destroying indigenous cultures by forcing tribes off of their ancestral land and essentially ruining their way of life. Even un-contacted Indians deep in the Amazonian rainforest are at risk.
Right about now you might be expecting me to launch into why you should be a vegetarian. That’s not what this is about. I eat meat. I really like meat, in fact. I’m not on a mission to convince the world to give up animal protein. Rather, I want to encourage you to think about the source of your meat, the way you would the source of your clothing (sweat shops = no bueno).
This Telegraph article chronicles the many factors that have led to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the U.K., a region that is actually faring better in the effort to curb overuse of antibiotics (particularly in livestock) than a number of places, the U.S. included. If the old adage “you are what you eat” isn’t entirely accurate, at the very least you’ll agree that what ends up in your food, ends up in you. The most frightening thing about the post-antibiotic era (which we are currently hurtling toward at an alarming rate) is that treatable infections such as strep throat and, you know, the bubonic plague, suddenly become untreatable. Antibiotic resistance effectively neutralizes our current arsenal of medicine used to treat infection. You might think that sounds alarmist, but considering that the F.D.A. has recently revised policy to attempt to curb overuse of antibiotics in livestock, it would seem that enough government and health officials are just as concerned about this phenomena. This PBS Frontline piece takes a look at both sides of the issue. You’ve heard the case against loads of antibiotics. The meat industry makes the argument that not only would there be an economic impact to foregoing antibiotics, but that also a lot of the problem with antibiotic resistance stems from casual and overuse of antibiotics in humans. True. However, just because modern Americans (amongst others) have a bad habit of overusing/abusing antibiotics, it doesn’t excuse the contribution of the livestock industry. As for the economic issue, I don’t mind the idea of paying more for a steak that comes from a sustainable system where animals are not force-fed antibiotics and hormones. Especially if the trade-off is a stepping-stone to a healthier society overall.
Okay, so we’ve covered the whole “oh my god we’re going to all going to die of the black death… again” aspect of this. Now what about the rainforest aspect? Bad news first? Turns out it’s more than just the rainforests that are suffering from our love of Big Macs. This piece in Smithsonian Magazine points out that large amounts of livestock farming are not just destroying the rainforest, but polluting water and air, degrading soil, and contributing to the increase in greenhouse gasses, just to name a few things. Plus we’ve already covered how cattle farming is a significant contributor to the devastation of the Amazonian rainforest, human and animal inhabitants included. Unfortunately, the Brazilian government has not been the Brazilian tribes’ best advocate, or it is often unable (or unwilling?) to address aggressive illegal farming. However, that’s not to say there isn’t hope. In this National Geographic article, Barbara Zimmerman looks at the issues associated with rabid deforestation, as well as what steps are being taken to combat it. There are also a plethora of petitions you can sign (like this one from Greenpeace) and projects you can support (such as The Kayapo Project) to fight the good fight for the rainforests.
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