I had no clue when I named this blog that folks might stumble their way onto these pages by googling "meat addict" and the like. Apparently, it's an increasingly popular thing to search for. Not as popular as "Scarlett Johanssen" perhaps, but let's not digress.
The name of this site, plus my post on (cheese) addiction, plus Google's proprietary algorithms place me fairly high on the list of results for that particular search. Now, don't get me wrong (especially you meat addicts out there — I appreciate the hits), but meat addiction? Who knew?
Yet, enough folks are afflicted by, or curious about, such a thing as to search the internets for it, and some of those folks are in turn curious enough or desperate enough to click on The Weekly Meat for answers. Well, I'm flattered — albeit naively curious — and hey, I'm here to serve my constituency (even those just passing through). So I've put forth some research to get to the bottom of this burgeoning phenomenon.
First off: Is there such a thing?
I realize addiction can be a tricky thing. Clearly, the most pandemic of addictions seems to be that of booze — something the human body does not historically/biologically need to survive. But meat? Homo sapiens have depended on it for eons. True, in our post-industrialized global reality, we can now get by swimmingly (if not happily) on a meat-free diet. Or to generalize, if you're reading these words, it's a fair bet that you do not need to kill wild game for the sake of sustenance. Not that there's anything wrong with it, mind you — I appreciate game as much as the next guy. I'm just saying it's no longer essential to our survival as a species.
Maybe it's more a problem of psychological dependency. If one works at it long enough, I suppose we can become addicted to nearly anything. Videogames, crosswords, blogging. Watching hockey fight videos on YouTube. Whatever.
And where might meat addiction rank in the world of addictions? Might it threaten the addict's well-being more seriously than, say, heroin? Dubious, but as with all addictions, it's a matter of degrees. I mean, is the afflicted in the habit of sneaking meat at work? Running late for appointments, furiously slugging down mouthwash to cover the smell of Slim Jims? Not-so-discreetly surfing barbecue porn sites behind the spouse's back? Cutting out of the office early to head over to the local butcher shop? Suffering meat blackouts? The mind reels with possibilities.
Maybe there's another angle I'm missing.
Ah. Further searching shows that some of this business about meat addiction is to do with Big Meat (that is, the Industry, à la "Big Tobacco"). And on that score — though we might differ a bit on some details — I'd agree that yes, certainly we do have a meat problem in this country.
Our problem is this: The meat that we most often consume does not come from healthy stock. Rather, it comes from animals who live nearly their entire brief existence while penned together like the shrink-wrapped food product they will become; hopped up on drugs and hormones to keep them from dying, because they're being fattened up on "food" they were not physiologically meant to eat and that they cannot digest without said drugs; all while wallowing in their own excrement. (For much more on this, I highly recommend reading Michael Pollan's excellent book The Omnivore's Dilemma; or more briefly, this Time article; or even the politically correct CDC website.)
So, we have a problem. But are we "addicts"? Whether or not we eat too much of it, or whether we have a compulsive need to eat it, I'll leave up to the evangelists out there — or better yet, to you. Rather, what I'd argue is that "meat addiction" may be missing the point. For we are in denial of an addiction to something much bigger: We are addicted to cheap goods, and it is this addiction that feeds our meat troubles.
We have convinced ourselves that it is our American birthright to pay next-to-nothing for nearly all goods and services. Thus, we turn our backs on the reality that behind our $5 t-shirts, 50¢/liter soda, and $2/pound meat is sweat-shop labor, high-fructose corn syrup, and "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" (CAFOs).
And our $5 t-shirts, soda, and factory-farmed beef are slowly and methodically killing us as surely as heroin. The meat and soda are doing it medically, thanks to our country's #2 corn fetish (For an entertaining look at how and why, watch King Corn or Supersize Me or The Meatrix). Even the t-shirts are doing it culturally, (macro)economically, and spiritually.
Big Meat is a scourge, and it has been since the advent of, well, ice, which in combination with the railroads, allowed the shipping of meat. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed horrifying slaughterhouse conditions over a hundred years ago, and effected fairly sweeping change, but not nearly enough. And the meat and farm lobbies have become exponentially stronger in recent years (amazing how the strength with which they argue is directly proportional to the damage they are causing), and once again, they are abetting the fouling of our food sources.
So, what to do? The answer, as with any addiction, is simple — if not easy. You want to start putting the Big Meat CAFOs out of business? Don't buy their products. Tell ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, et al. to go screw. Check out some of the great sustainability resources, find a local farm where they allow cows to eat the grass they were born to eat, join a meat CSA. The difference in taste and nutrition between CAFO and pastured beef is astounding.
"I would," you say, "I'd eat that way every day, but it's expensive."
And there's the rub. We are so far removed from our food sources that we have no appreciation for their true cost (neither monetarily; nor environmentally; nor ethically/morally). We spend far less on food than we used to. Further, our elected fat cats have so devalued both food and nutrition, that we don't seem to care to spend the money necessary to perhaps help us live longer. Instead, we subsidize the growth of more and more shit corn to feed our livestock. Crazy, when you consider how much we as a nation spend on the care of serious (and clearly related) health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, colon cancer, hip and knee replacements, etc.
Sure, the immediate situation is complicated too by the fact that our housing costs are so high (i.e., After rent/mortgage, who has money left over to eat well/righteously?). But housing costs have risen at a rate inversely proportional to food costs. Not directly, but the case could be made that we are willing to overpay for housing precisely because we underpay for food.
So where does all this leave us? I don't know, frankly. If I did, I like to think I'd have a more influential day job. But I do know this: I don't have to buy products that contain high-fructose corn syrup; I don't have to buy sick chicken eggs; I don't have to buy factory-farmed beef. I don't have to be an addict. I've got some say in this thing. And there's no need for me to start throwing meat on the fire of our national dependence. However much it might help bring traffic to this blog.
Feedlot photo via USDA. Turkeys photo by Scott Bauer, via the USDA.