Tag Archives: Fast Food Nation

Shame on You Governor Branstad

In the state of Iowa we are “blessed” with some real quality politicians.  There is ol’ Chuck Grassley of the U.S. Senate trotting out tired rhetoric and, in general, trying to be as incoherent as possible.  Representative Steve King deserves his own diorama in the Wingnut Hall of Fame.  His latest diatribe about illegal immigrants primarily being marijuana mules is a loving tribute to his insanity.

However, my “favorite” politician in the state has to be Governor Terry Branstad.  After leaving office in 1999 after 16 years of service he returned like a villain in a bad movie to resume being the governor of the state in 2011 following the “Tea Party revolution” in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Essentially, the man is a shill for big industry and big agriculture.  If you are a large business interest than Governor Branstad has some tax incentives for you.  If you are large agribusiness and do not want people to expose the conditions in your facilities than Governor Branstad would be happy to shepherd am ag-gag bill through to his signature.

Lately, it’s gotten even more transparent about how in bed with big agriculture’s interests that the governor has become.  At issue is the enforcement of the Clean Water Act by state officials or, rather, the lack of enforcement of the Clean Water Act by state officials.  Branstad, along with Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, have bypassed the regional EPA office in Kansas City that had been negotiating with state officials in order to make an appeal directly to the top officials in Washington according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

In essence, the governor and his supporters would like the EPA to continue to ignore the impaired nature of Iowa’s waterways so that industrial scale agriculture operations can continue to pollute with impunity.  There is some Orwellian marketing copy about the governor “ensuring the quality of Iowa’s waterways” and “ensuring that the EPA does not overreach the scope of its authority” but this is purely a rhetorical smokescreen.  It translates to “let the fox guard the hen house” for a few more years.

How bad is the situation in Iowa? In 2012 the EPA said that Iowa had almost 500 impaired waterways.  According to some estimates, there are over 20 million hogs, primarily housed in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), throughout the state producing a mind boggling amount of waste that has to be dealt with.  But dealing with that waste is expensive and big ag wants the status quo to continue.  So, in rides Governor Branstad to the rescue on the side of industry over the people of the state.

Don’t believe that this guy is in the pocket of agri-business?  Remember “pink slime?”  Well, it was produced by a company, Beef Products Inc, owned by Eldon and Regina Roth of Sioux City, Iowa.  The Roths personally contributed $152,000 to Governor Branstad’s election coffers making them the third largest donor overall and the second largest individual.  What was the Governor’s response to the entire debacle surrounding pink slime?  He went to the mattresses for pink slime.  He went so far as to don a t-shirt proclaiming “Dude, it’s beef.”  If you say so Gov.

Wonder why he is so vociferous in his defense of agri-business to continue polluting our waterways?  Look at some of his biggest contributors.  Debra Hansen of Iowa Select Farms gave $52,000.  Iowa Select Farms is a CAFO operator.  You can peruse the entire list of agricultural industry contributors at Follow the Money.

To paraphrase a memorable line from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, there is shit in the water.

I urge EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her department to cease allowing the Branstad administration to delay implementing enforcement of the Clean Water Act in the state of Iowa.  Our waterways have become too degraded by the practices of industrial agriculture to allow for current practices to continue.

Thinking About Pink Slime

What price are we willing to pay for meat?  In one sense, I am talking about the actual money spent to buy a pound of ground beef at the grocery store.  In another sense, I am talking about the externalities associated with the production of meat in the modern world.

As a society, we crave cheap meat.  We want ground beef for $0.99 a pound at the grocery store or $1 McDouble hamburgers or steaks large enough to land small aircraft upon.  Our mass food culture is based on the perception that everyone wants to eat large quantities of meat.  In no other place could a scene like the Old 96er in the Great Outdoors be funny to so many people.  In reality, we should be appalled because such a place exists in Amarillo, Texas that serves up a similar challenge.

At our core, we value meat as a symbol of vitality and economic vigor.  Presidents speak of a chicken in every pot as if to symbolize the cooking of meat for dinner as a measure of one’s distance from poverty.  The cowboy is a celebrated national image.  The cow is even the mascot of a large and successful collegiate athletics program.

But, at what cost are we chasing this meat fueled dream?  Well, one price we pay is the existence of pink slime.  It may not be the foamy pink tongue portrayed in one infamous video, but it is no less alarming when described in its actual terms.  Here’s the deal.  Pink slime is the slaughterhouse scraps, floor trimmings, and whatever meat can be mechanically separated from the bones of a carcass that is ground together for a uniform texture.  The mixture is then “gassed” with ammonium hydroxide—the same chemical compound used in everyday household cleaners like Windex—to kill the ever present pathogens.  It is then “cut” into ground beef from more traditional and recognizable sources to reduce the per pound price of ground beef products for price conscious customers.

Pink slime is everywhere.  Okay, stories about pink slime are everywhere but the so-called “lean beef trimmings” used as a filler in ground beef and called pink slime in the vernacular of everyday people is just about as prevalent.  Here is a good list of who sells pink slime tainted meat.  Recently,  Minnesota-based grocer Supervalu said it will no longer sell ground beef tainted with pink slime.   It appears that California-based Safeway has followed suit.

It’s still in our children’s school lunches.  Most distressing is that as objectionable as pink slime may be, it is just the tip of the iceberg according to what some watchers of the food industry see.  Is it this bad:

The controversy over pink slime begs the previous question—at what cost are we chasing this meat fueled dream?  In order to be given the opportunity to purchase a $1 hamburger we were willing to accept the existence of slaughterhouse scraps treated with an analog to a household cleaner and mixed with industrial beef.  As bad as pink slime may be, have people really looked at the conditions that most cows raised for slaughter experience in the U.S.?  It’s not a pretty picture.  Trust me, as the person in Fast Food Nation said, “There’s shit in the meat?”

Never mind that we consume too much meat in this country.  Never mind that the amount of meat we eat is detrimental to our health.  Never mind that the environmental consequences of so much meat are onerous at the very least.  We will continue to crave cheap meat like we crave cheap gas.  I am surprised that Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, or Newt Gingrich are not out on the campaign trail promising to keep a hold of pink slime beef patties until you pry them from their cold dead hands.

What is the solution?  Eat less meat.  Eat better meat.

Less meat is easy.  No one needs to eat a sixteen ounce ribeye for dinner.  Portions are obscene.  Just look at the menu of any Texas Roadhouse.  The portions of the signature sirloin are named in such a way to suggest manhood with the larger cuts being called Hearty or Cowboy.  It’s as if to say you’re not a real red meat eating man if you choose an 8 ounce portion.  Step up boy!

Better meat is more difficult.  It’s more expensive to eat meat that is not “cut” with pink slime or that comes from cows raised in their own feces.  But, we should be eating less meat so the cost to eat meat, in the absolute, should not be going up.  Plus, your arteries will thank you in the long run.

I think about better meat every month when I make a pick-up of an order from Wallace Farms.  Yes, it costs more on a per pound basis to buy meat from someone who lets the animals grow naturally in tune with the cycle of the seasons, feeds them  what their physiology intended, and does not aspire to the scale that requires industrial methods.

Not only is it more humane, but it is meat on a human scale.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around massive slaughterhouses that process thousands of animals a day.  I cannot imagine the horror of the facilities that prepare animals for these abattoirs.  However, a cow in a farm field is something that I can picture.  It is a food system that I can understand in simple terms.  Occam’s razor applied to meat.