There was once an episode of Saturday Night Live that had some of the funniest sketches I can remember (at least that were produced in the period of my life in which I was old enough to watch Saturday Night Live, please keep in mind that I am not yet 30). The host was Cameron Diaz, and the musical guest was The Smashing Pumpkins (it should be noted that this episode might only hold such a dear place in my heart because I was a hard core Smashing Pumpkins fan, and totally in love with Billy Corgan). One of the sketches involved Cameron Diaz and two other female cast members dressed up like the witches from Hamlet making their brew, chanting “double, double, boil and trouble” while they threw their disgusting ingredients into the cauldren. Then, they start reacting to a terrible smell that is eminating from the near by vicinity (or possibly the brew). They begin to describe the smell in hillarious, disgusting terms.
“It smells like someone pissed on a pile of burning hair!” one of them cried out.
“It smells like a bunch of long shoremen having sex outside a porno theater in July!” was another memorable outburst.
The source of the smell was never identified in the sketch, but if I had to guess what horrible thing it could have been, I would guess that the witches were smelling a CAFO.
A CAFO is the place where all of our country’s meat (with the exception of a very small percentage) comes from. It is an acronym that stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. When you see a truck full of cows being shuttled down the highway, those cows are on their way to a CAFO. Animals are raised on a farm, some large, some small, and when they are almost big enough to slaughter, they are sent to a CAFO, where the animals will live out the last few weeks of their lives being fattened up on feed that is a mixture of low quality corn, soy, newspaper, and parts of other animals (cows eat chicken parts and chicken feces, for example). While they are being fattened up, they live in densely crowded conditions, often knee deep in their own and their peer’s feces, urine, and mud, without room to so much as stroll. As you can imagine, these conditions often make the animals sick, so they are pumped full of antibiotics to keep them healthy enough to make it to the slaughter floor. These antibiotics later remain in your meat, contributing to antibiotic resistance and the destruction of healthy flora in your digestive system and vagina (if you have one), making it more likely that you will get sick or get yeast infections, and less likely that medicine will work on your illness. I might add that the feed they use to fatten these animals up increases their risk of having deadly diseases that can be passed on to humans, such as mad cow disease (of which an outbreak in California was just reported a few weeks ago) and e-coli (which tends to end up in animal feces, which then gets washed downstream and ends up watering plant crops, such as spinach). Because of cramped conditions, CAFOs are also breeding grounds for diseases such as bird flu and swine flu. And it would be a tremendous understatement to say that the fat and nutrient composition that this feed produces in the meat, milk, and eggs that ultimately comes from these animals leaves much to be desired. Conventional animal feed is probably playing a huge role in the increases of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all other metabolic disorders in humans.
I have known all this for years. I have known it, I have despised it, and I have probably even blogged about it in the past. And yet, I still tend to eat conventionally produced meat more often than not, because conventionally grown meat is cheap and convenient. You can buy it anywhere, and there’s always plenty of it to be had. I try to lessen it’s health impact by buying the leanest meat I can find, but it’s still the same crap, even if it has less of the bad fat in it, and less of the hormones, toxins, and antibiotics that tend to be stored in the fat. It’s still that disgusting CAFO meat.
But knowing it’s disgusting on an intellectual level is a totally different thing from actually driving past a CAFO in the middle of the night when they do their slaughtering so as to make the smallest possible impact on commerce, as I did a few weeks ago. On our whirlwind road trip to Iowa, my mother and I had the pleasure of driving past more than one CAFO at night, when they do the slaughtering. They have to do it at night because the smell is unbearable, even for cars passing by on the highway, and it lingers for miles and miles. There are not words to describe how foul the stench was, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to work in that place. I had a good ten minutes to stew in this smell, as we drove at 75 miles an hour through Nebraska passing just one of these stench factories, and it was practically unbearable. I imagine even the baby could smell it. It was that grotesque.
And what was the worst was thinking back to the burger I had had for dinner at a truck stop restaurant, and knowing it very likely came from this stench hole, or one like it.
I don’t want to eat meat that comes from a CAFO ever again. I don’t want to bring that meat into my home. Jeremy and I have been discussing our options for buying a whole cow and splitting it with our families. It actually ends up cheaper in the long run, but is a big investment up front. I’ve been looking into local grass finished beef producers, and am in the process of narrowing one down. We have a chest freezer. This is a realistic option for us.
I also want to work on avoiding meat in restaurants. I have no idea where the meat comes from in those places, but it’s not likely to be grass finished, non CAFO meat.
You just can’t experience that and walk away unphased. At least, I can’t. It’s time to make a change. A big one.