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As America Burns, Let's Talk About Food

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Screen shot 2012-07-09 at 6.41.28 AM
Photo of McDonald's McRib.

By Bob Cesca: I'd like to preface today's column by making this abundantly clear: I'm not here to smack the McRib sandwich out of anyone's chubby, butter-slicked fingers. However, when it comes to food and food reform, I'm admittedly pretty radical. Above average, at least. But I'm not fanatical about it. I still occasionally eat crappy foods. I'm not a strict vegetarian, though I avoid beef and don't eat any pork products at all. I eat seafood, chicken and turkey, regardless of where it came from -- organic or otherwise.

I'm vocally opposed to genetically modified food (GMO) and its primary producer, Monsanto, because of the damage it does to family farms and the insides of our bodies. I'm in favor of more humane treatment of livestock (eat all the beef you want, just insist that the cattle aren't terrorized and tortured just so you can stuff your yammer). I'm against the use of steroids, antibiotics and added growth hormones in our food supply. I'm in favor of tough regulations on corporate agribusinesses. I'm in favor of more thorough labels on food, especially the inclusion of a GMO notation on labels. I'm against the cheap marketing of fast food to lower income Americans. And I strongly believe that crappy food and the resulting obesity is a major contributing factor to our healthcare crisis.

That said, you should be allowed to eat whatever you want. In moderation.

The problem is, too many Americans are eating everything they want whenever they want at the expense of our healthcare system and, in a larger sense, the condition of our climate. We're a greedy, entitled, self-indulgent people and we're killing ourselves and everyone around us.

Why am I suddenly ranting about this?

I caught several news items about food over the weekend and they've collectively fired me up.

First, there was this item about fast food employees describing the hideous food sold in the most popular chains. For example, one McDonald's employee left a bag of un-cooked McNuggets sitting out on a counter top and they literally melted into a chemical-liquid spooge. Yum. Quick! Pass the honey mustard! In recent months, we've followed the saga of "pink slime" -- the non-muscle parts found closer to the skin of beef cattle. The closer to the skin the parts reside, the more prone they are to diseases like E. coli. In order to use these parts, manufacturers had to wash the butchered left-over bits in ammonia, just before mashing it into pink slime and subsequently adding it to your Big Mac. After a long-awaited public outcry, many fast food companies and grocery stores have discontinued the use of beef containing this toxic gunk. I'm beginning to wonder, however, if there's perhaps a "white slime" that's being added to McNuggets. Or worse.

Speaking of non-meat byproducts that are passed off as meat, Taco Bell thought it was so important to spread its not-quite-beef tacos into the deepest, darkest reaches of the planet, they actually airlifted 10,000 Doritos tacos into a remote village in Alaska. I suppose the rate of diabetes and heart disease wasn't quite high enough there. The only thing more artificial, chemically enhanced and poisonous that could've been airlifted into a remote Alaskan town is perhaps Sarah Palin. Nevertheless, like with any opiate of the masses, the townspeople attacked the truck carrying the airlifted tacos to the town like a throng of starving indigenous people of a third world fill-in-the-blank nation overtaking a UN grain truck before warlords could abscond off with it.

By way of some good news, a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto filed by soy farmers in Brazil has resulted in a $7.5 billion payout to the farmers. The lawsuit claimed that it was unfair for Monsanto to prevent farmers from re-using the seeds from the previous season's crops -- also known as "brown bagging." See, Monsanto, which enjoys a virtual monopoly on GMO with an 80-90 percent market share, forces farmers to sign contracts forbidding them from re-using seeds, thus requiring them to buy new seeds every season, or be left behind with regular non-GMO seeds and smaller crop yields. Meanwhile, if anyone is caught brown-bagging, they're stalked by corporate goons -- private investigators who harass and intimidate farmers. But let Brazil be a lesson to American farmers. If you stand up to these monsters, there's a shot they'll fold. Solidarity is important, though, because as I learned several years ago from a farmer named Scott McAllister, Monsanto is capable of crushing farmers and destroying their lives.

And finally, if you consider yourself a good liberal who's worried about the obvious fact that the climate crisis is causing most of America to melt or burn, you should do a better job moderating your beef consumption. Otherwise, you're part of the problem regardless of how many PBR beer cans you toss into recycling. Yesterday, a US Airways commuter jet bound for Reagan National in Washington, DC couldn't take off. Why? The tarmac melted under its wheels from the heat. Now, you can blog, Twitter and shake your fist at Republican obstruction, climate deniers, gas-burning SUVs and factory smokestacks, but if you're running out an jamming a random steak or burger into your gullet every day, you're not helping.

Several years ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization determined this:

The FAO report found that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.

Comparatively, transportation fuels only cause around 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Once again, I'm not telling you to become a vegan and abstain from meat. I'm not calling for a ban on beef or anything of the like. But imagine if every American voluntarily reduced his or her beef consumption by 50 percent. Not everyone can afford a $24,000 hybrid car, but all of us can afford to buy less beef. Doy. Personally, I engage in a very active lifestyle. I engage in endurance sports and I'm 6'4", and there's never a day when I feel in desperate need of a steak. In fact, just the opposite. When I eat occasional doses of beef, it tastes wonderful, but I feel like shit for three hours afterwards, including the uncontrollable urge to nap.

It's one thing to do it for animal rights and health reasons. Some people, including self-identified liberals, don't particularly care about either. It's another thing entirely when we're talking about 22 percent of the climate crisis. Any effort against the climate crisis and corporate malfeasance is irrelevant and hypocritical while devouring your fifth hamburger of the week.

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