“It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the department of Elzbieta. Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor that ever was in a ham could make any difference. There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was mouldy and white – it would be dosed with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it…There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plant, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste-barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and stale water – and cart load after cart load of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast; some if it they would make into smoked sausage – but as the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their chemistry department, preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to make it brown.”
Although passages like this one from Upton Sinclair’s 1906 publication, “The Jungle” led to the creation of the USDA, the meatpacking industry has “recovered” to a large degree from regulations it endured for about 60 years. The Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) revolutionized the industry in the 60′s by moving its plants from urban areas to rural sites, far from union strongholds, which have been obliterated, and prying eyes. They then proceeded to hire immigrant workers from Mexico, and introduced a new division of labor that eliminated skilled butchers. Other companies, in order to compete successfully, were forced to adopt these new business methods. Today, the top four meatpackers – IBP, ConAgra, Excell and National Beef – control close to 90% of the market. Meatpackers once again suffer from low wages and dangerous conditions. And because profit margins are slim in the industry, the big four companies strive to keep all costs as low as possible.
One way to cut costs is by controlling what feed is used for cattle. There exists a practice, as reported by Brad Jacobson of Mother Jones, of “feeding what’s known as ‘poultry litter’ to farmed cattle. Poultry litter is the agriculture industry’s term for the detritus that gets scooped off the floors of chicken cages and broiler houses. It’s mainly a combination of feces, feathers, and uneaten chicken feed, but in addition, a typical sample of poultry litter might also contain antibiotics, heavy metals, disease-causing bacteria, and even bits of dead rodents.” He also reports that the uneaten chicken food can contain meat and bone meal.
The advent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, led the World Health Organization to call for the exclusion of same species food in 1997. The call was not heeded, at least not in the U.S., and the practice of feeding cattle remains to chickens and then feeding cattle chicken food droppings is precisely what can lead to prions, the infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease, to be cycled back into cow feed.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has in fact recently recommended that individuals should “avoid factory farmed animal products altogether by choosing plant-based foods, choose grass-fed and grass-finished beef and dairy products and pasture-raised pork, poultry, and egg products, select certified organic meats, eggs, and dairy and those clearly labeled as using only vegetarian animal feed, [or] purchase meats, eggs, and dairy products from local farmers on the farm, at farmers markets, or by buying a share from a local farmer as part of a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program.” They call for this because same species meat, diseased animals, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, manure, plastics, drugs and unhealthy amounts of grans are all legally allowed as feed.
There are a great many reasons to eschew factory food; among them environmental concerns, human health, and animal welfare. The threat of a widespread outbreak of mad cow disease is now certainly among those concerns.
Recipe of the Week
Beans are an excellent source of protein, and there are countless ways to prepare them. Simple meals, but easy to make, hearty and delicious.
White Beans with Tomatoes, Sage and Basil
1.5 cups small, white beans, soaked for about 4 hours
2 medium onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 pieces pancetta, diced
1 28 oz can of organic whole tomatoes, pureed
2 tablespoons organic tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup small pasta
Cover the beans with 3 inches of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for one hour. While the beans are cooking, saute the pancetta in the oil in a large frying pan. When the meat has browned some, add the onions and cook for about ten minutes on medium high heat, stirring now and again. Add the garlic, tomato paste, herbs and stir in. Add the canned tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes. By now, the bean cooking water should be mostly depleted. Add the tomato mixture to the pot along with about 2 cups boiling water. Partially cover, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 1 more hour. Just before the beans are done, heat salted water in a pot and cook the pasta until al dente. Add to the bean mixture and let sit for ten minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with generous amounts of parmesan.