(M)others' Milk.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 4, part two.

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 4:  Meat and Milk Factories, part two.

Hello Peter and Jim.  Let's take up the second part of Chapter 4 of The Ethics of What We Eat, shall we?  Milk and beef ahoy.

Referring back to Jake's grocery buying preferences, you note at the start of this section that "Jake thought she was buying milk from local farms because Coleman Dairy, the brand she bought at Wal-Mart, is an Arkansas-based corporation."  Of course on further inspection, you discovered that the milk could be coming from as far away as Mexico.  And as we know, a gallon of industrially produced milk can contain milk from thousands of different cows.

This struck me because my father believes the same thing about a New Orleans milk brand, Brown's Dairy.  (You MUST click on that link.  The starting graphic is one of the most transfixing things I have ever seen.)  Though it is the "official milk of the New Orleans Saints," Brown's is in fact part of Dean Foods, the country's largest milk processor.  Brown's web site makes no claims about where its milk comes from, and at best guess it's sourced from around the Gulf Coast.  It just so happens that I drive past the Brown's plant on my way in to work each morning, and I see the tanker trucks full of milk pulling in - they look identical to those that carry gasoline and liquid nitrogen.  This is what modern milk looks like, even for beloved local brands.  Really, unless you're watching a farmer milk a cow into a jug that he then hands you, you're almost definitely getting milk from several to many animals on several to many farms across several to many states.

Of course, the average consumer holds many more misconceptions about where milk comes from.  As you state, people believe that "dairy cows lead natural lives, and we humans merely take the surplus milk that the calm does not require."  If only.  As discussed here, in reality their babies are taken from them - often just hours after birth - so that we can have ALL the milk produced and the babies can be on their way to becoming veal or new milking cows.  I find it particularly stunning that we continue to use BST (bovine somatotrophin) when a) it only increases milk production by 10%, and b) we are already radically overproducing milk - so much so that it's literally being dumped on the ground.  (Tell me again how people are starving because we don't have enough food - it's definitely not because of money is it?)  But as Sue Smith of Lawnel Dairy told you, "[i]f we're making more milk and it's profitable, it's something we should be doing."  Thanks much, milk subsidies.  Real logical system we got going here.

OK.  Let's talk about beef.  I'm so excited that y'all have also seen Peter Lovenheim's book Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf.  I picked it up with a vague interest in the food industry when it was new, mostly because of the quippy title, and I've been on a different course ever since.  I've always felt like Michael Pollan ripped him off a bit, but I suppose it could have been coincidence.  It's worth noting that Lovenheim brought his calves to a sanctuary, while Pollan let his be slaughtered.  Of course, I've long thought that Pollan is kind of a dick.

I would love to know who came up with the
"beef as landscape" ad campaign.
I often wonder if people know what their beef cows really eat.  It's grass, right?  Ha ha.  Almost never.  It's corn.  Tons of "cheap," inedible-for-humans, GMO corn.  What's wrong with that?  As you state so perfectly, "[p]utting cattle on a corn-based diet is like putting humans on a diet of candy bars - you can live on it for a while, but eventually you are going to get sick."  Luckily (?) we kill our beef cows so young that most don't have too much opportunity to get sick.  Even though they also eat slaughterhouse scraps and millions of tons of chicken litter.  The idea that each beef cow eats 66 pounds of chicken litter in his lifetime creates quite a striking visual.  Corn, slaughterhouse remnants, and chicken poop and feathers: it's what's for dinner.

Much like the mega-piggeries we spoke of yesterday, dairy and beef cows are of course also producing incredible amounts of waste.  While some of that waste is put to use on nearby crop fields, I find it fascinating that there is often more manure than those fields can absorb.  How can it be that we must still use chemical fertilizers when that is the case?  It's all a matter of distribution, I suppose.

As this book is meant to be a discussion of ethics, I'll end with a quote that I feel summarizes the ethical quandry of industrializing animals for profit most eloquently:
"The real ethical issue about factory farming's treatment of animals isn't whether the producers are good or bad guys, but that the system seems to recognize animal suffering only when it interferes with profitability."
Thanks for reading.


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