Monday, November 02, 2009

Corn Fed--Fat Animals, Fat People

Corn Fed--Fat Animals, Fat People

"While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.”
Michael Pollan – Omnivore’s Dilemma

I am a vegetarian, but I don’t eat corn. You’ll find out why in a moment. My particular concerns are the practices involved in factory farming and animal testing, and the intensive use of land and other resources for animal farming.
I became a vegetarian shortly after quitting smoking and gaining about 40 pounds a little over three years ago. I wanted to loose weight and nothing else was working for me. Then I met a woman at work one day and I asked her how she stayed so thin. She told me she was a vegan. I wondered if that would work for me. Later, when I asked her more about it, she stated,
“Before I was vegan I weighed about 145 pounds and after, I weighed about 135 pounds, which is less than I weighed in high school. However, if you're a vegan who eats too much, or if you eat too many oily foods, you're not going to lose weight. Being vegan in and of itself does not guarantee weight loss, although most vegan foods have less calories and fat than meaty and cheesy foods, so you will probably lose some weight. You've also got to exercise. And even if you're a skinny vegan, you might not feel healthy if you [only] exist on Oreos and Coke.”
She gave me many different reading suggestions and websites to check out. I was a little leery at first. Who wants to cut out meat from their diet forever? I love turkey! I love bologna! I love a rare steak!
I started out by reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Pollan turns his own omnivorous mind to the seemingly straightforward question of what we should have for dinner. To find this out, Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. He took me from Iowa cornfields to food-science laboratories, from feedlots and fast-food restaurants to organic farms and hunting grounds, always emphasizing our dynamic co-evolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on. He traces the origins of everything consumed, revealing what we unwittingly ingest and explaining how our taste for particular foods and flavors reflects our evolutionary inheritance.
While reading this book, I stopped really caring about cutting out meat to lose weight. As the chapters flew by, I was starting to be more concerned with just what I was really putting in my body, rather than the fat content of beef vs. chicken. Did I really want to be ingesting all the crap that seems to be involved with “growing” the meat I eat? But then again, what about the things that get sprayed on produce for that matter? I was also starting to get more concerned that maybe, just maybe I had been letting myself be led by the taste buds down the road I was on, heading towards obesity, since I had left the simplicity of my youth in Minnesota and started eating the fast and easier-to-fix processed foods my mother never fed me as a child.
It was in Pollan’s introduction where I got my first inkling of just what I was getting myself into by reading this. I knew my life was about to change. While discussing the sudden changes in dietary habits that have occurred since the late 1970's and recent years, Pollan points out,
"So violent a change in a culture's eating habits is surely the sign of a national eating disorder . . . never [would it] happen in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food . . . such a culture would not feel the need for its most august legislative body to ever deliberate the nation's 'dietary goals' . . . other countries, such as Italy and France, . . . decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition...and lo and behold wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we are." (2)
Pollen distinguishes the fact that one controversial issue in America has been the use of corn as feed for cattle. On one hand, the farmers argue that it is a very useful purpose for the corn surplus in America. On the other hand farmers of grass-fed cattle contend that it is healthier for the cattle to remain grass eaters. Others maintain that it is healthier for us also. My own view is that cattle were naturally made in a way that promoted a circle of life for the cattle themselves, the plains and other grassy areas. The cattle eat the grass; they poop it out, spreading seed and re fertilizing the land, therefore creating more grass for next year.
This book influenced my thinking on so many levels, but the most was the discussions about how our food animals are raised and slaughtered. A baby calf is usually sent to what is called a feed lot to fatten up after it is weaned. Then it is forced to eat corn instead of the grass it was born to eat. As it turns out, there are two things to be done with the overproduction of corn in our society: The first is high-fructose corn syrup, and the second is cattle feed. So what’s wrong with that?
Picture 100,000 cows standing shoulder-to-shoulder, not allowed to roam free because it will slow down the fattening process. Growing up in the Mid-west and being married to an Indianan, I’ve seen this first hand. This is Iowa and Indiana corn at work, transformed into millions of pounds of fat-streaked, cheap beef. What does eating all that corn and not being allowed to move do to the poor cows? Cows are ruminants (grass eaters) by nature. Their stomachs have a neutral PH when they eat grass. Corn causes their stomach PH to become acidic, causing many health problems--and the grain diet is the main reason that feedlot cattle are given high doses of antibiotics. These antibiotics are then ingested by the people eating the meat produced from these animals—promoting immunity to those same types of antibiotics in them. The high acidity can also produce acid-loving ecoli bacteria that can be passed through their waste onto humans. Basically, the cows would explode and die if they were not slaughtered in a timely manner.
Other than the moral and ethical dilemmas involved in eating meat, there are also health concerns. If a person wants to be healthy and not run the risk of becoming obese or overweight, then vegetarianism is a good route to go. Vegetarian diets are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, and flavonoids. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet.
Despite the facts floating around that support my claim, there are plenty of people out there that seem to think that we need to eat meat to survive and be healthy. Mark Sisson, who writes a health oriented blog, Mark’s Daily apple, wrote a piece about why we need meat in our diets. Sisson insists, “we need meat for our optimum health” and that, “we need meat for an efficient, bio-available source of essential protein.” He goes on to say that there is no way a vegan or vegetarian could possibly get the correct amounts (150 grams, according to him) of protein in one day with out eating several jars of peanut butter. Of course, he states this also after commenting that he wouldn’t eat tofu or tempeh if someone paid him. That’s too bad because, a 4 oz piece of tempeh, has 20 grams of protein, which is 40% of the daily amount recommended. See more on this chart courtesy of AnimalFriendlyLife.com
Tempeh ..................................................................................................31g per cup
Soybeans (cooked).................................................................................30g per cup*
Tofu (firm) ...............................................................................................8-15g per 4oz.
Lentils .....................................................................................................15g per cup
Quinoa....................................................................................................11g per cup*
Soymilk...................................................................................................10g per cup
Peas (cooked) ........................................................................................9g per cup
Peanut butter ..........................................................................................8g per 2 T
Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, White Beans.................................................6-8g per 1/2 c.
Spaghetti (cooked) .................................................................................7g per cup
Spinach (cooked)....................................................................................6g per cup*
Sunflower seeds.....................................................................................5g per 2 T
Oatmeal ..................................................................................................5g per 1/2 c.
Brown Rice .............................................................................................5g per cup
Broccoli...................................................................................................5g per cup
Baked Potato..........................................................................................4g per 6 oz.
Whole grain bread ..................................................................................5g/2 slices
Cashews.................................................................................................5g per 1/2 c.
*”High quality” proteins

The fact that he won’t eat the soy product, yet debunks vegetarianism for it’s lack of protein, just seems uninformed and irrational.
In closing, I would like everyone to at least try vegetarianism. Do it informed, do it for yourself, loosing weight, your all around health, and most importantly, do it for the animals. A life without meat, is a life without McDonald’s and their ilk; and that constitutes a life without obesity in my book. And try to stay clear of corn, just because.