Against the Grain
I had a good laugh reading your article "The Meat of the Matter" (Feb. 20). I am a supporter of humane farm practices, and am pleased to see the growing concern over consumer safety. But the author may want to spend a little time "out on the ranch" to observe first-hand how "natural beef" is raised.
I spent several months working alongside an employee at a "natural beef" feed lot some years ago. I will not mention the name of the producer, but it is an industry leader. We spent time moving cows and calves on horseback in west Sonoma County, and while I don't call this "pampered" (grazing in open land is the natural state for cattle), this stage of the process sounds pretty good. But then calves are crammed into trucks (do cattle trucks look comfy to you?) and shipped to other destinations to graze for a season, and then shipped back to feedlots here to fatten for slaughter.
The feed lot is what [author Christina] Waters might want to visit. Confined in large concrete floored pens, steers gorge themselves day and night on hay and grain. So much sloppy manure is produced (grain is a "hot" food and gives cattle diarrhea) that cattle sometimes stand in ankle deep slop. We waded through the slop in tall boots to check for sick animals. We used tractors to periodically scrape the slop into dump trucks, which were dumped out in pasture. Some steers get pulled out; their feet rot. Some steers die in the feedlot, too obese to rise after reclining.
The fact that they are not fed growth hormones and are fed natural feed is admirable (if farmers can trust the grain producers), but I would not go so far as to call their existence "pampered" or their production "sustainable." Take a good look at West County grazing lands, devoid of all natural grasses, in varying states of erosion, to get an idea of what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, I still eat red meat (although we raise our own, and they have a much, much better life) with a good glass of local red wine at least once a week, and I support local agriculture and ranching. I'm sure some operations are an improvement over what I experienced. But people shouldn't fool themselves into thinking a livestock animal's life is grand or that the process is humane and sustainable just because the sellers of the product market it as such.
The high price of your "natural beef" isn't going into the pockets of the employees (very low wages, no health insurance, no vacation, no overtime, exhausting hours, illegal workers) or into the improvement of the land (often state land leased at very cheap prices). These producers are selling "natural beef" to make money.
I would encourage everyone to be more aware of how all our food is produced, first-hand. Don't believe everything they tell you.
Yesterday I came to a stark realization as I walked back to campus after grabbing a smoothie from the local juice shack. Everyone around me had at least one "to-go" package, if not more. As I looked around, I imagined trash just piling up and covering the earth. There must be a special place in Dante's Inferno for people to be buried in their own trash. Today, I'm at school armed with my commuter mug and a bowl from home. However, it was despairing that the girl at the kiosk on campus used a to-go bowl to measure soup into my bowl. (That's for another letter entirely.)
My message for everyone is: Now is the time!
Get involved and take action! There really is so much for us to lose as a planet and as a species. Pick something that you are passionate about and get involved, because every little bit helps and there's so much healing that needs to done. As for me, my next step is to figure out how to get the soup into my bowl without the styrofoam cup being involved.
Jah May Sing!
Listen, a real change in the spirit of the students is happening at the Santa Rosa Junior College. People are talking to each other more. The green lights are flashing in the eyes of students, and it's exciting. Pay attention to our campus; we are on the verge of something fantastic and mystical. Walk through campus one day and feel the energy. I hear the drums of change in the movement of the students journeying the paths of enlightenment. Jah-may-sing!