From There to Here – What happens to my meat before I swallow it?

Since the year 1906, when Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” exposed the disturbing conditions within America’s meat packing plants, there has been constant transformation in the nation’s meat industry.

Whether or not the changes have always been for the better is a very ethical question that is swayed by opinion of what is right and what is wrong.

I invite you to watch a recent graphic video uncovering the real conditions in meat packing plants around America. I came across the video on meat.org when doing some research, and even though they encourage you to become vegetarian, it is a useful tool to understand why some meat is bad. Please watch at least the first eight minutes of “If slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegetarian” because it might change your opinion forever.

Your stomach might be a little sour now, but it’s important to remember there is hope in the meat industry, and eating meat is not the problem. The problem is how the animals are treated during their lifetime, and the moments leading up to their death. There are actions you can take to still eat meat, but eat “happy” meat, and to support the farmers who truly raise their animals.

An article by Lynne Curry explains her research behind her novel “Pure Beef.” She makes the point that anyone who loves ice cream, or cheese, or any other dairy product participates in beef production. It’s inevitable. But, she also goes on to explain that we shouldn’t condemn the meat itself, but the production.

This brings me to Rita Pray. A Des Moines native who hadn’t really made a change with her eating habits until her daughter turned vegetarian. Rita is a member of the Iowa Food Cooperative and a food blogger herself.

Growing up Rita lived in a family that had meat with every dinner. Her uncle was a cattle farmer, so there was always a lot of beef in the freezer. Her husband loves beef and sausage, and Rita said she eats more chicken and turkey in greater amounts because of a family history of heart disease.

“When my older daughter became essentially vegetarian, I looked for new ways other than meat to incorporate protein into our dinners,” Pray explained.  “I also found that she would eat high quality meat in small portions, such as organic or naturally raised.  So that guided my move toward purchasing more locally raised, small farm meat and poultry.”

Pray also emphasized an important barrier – cost.

“It is considerably more expensive than supermarket, mass-produced meat.  But there are hidden costs to buying any mass-produced, highly processed foods, such as the eventual health tolls from hidden chemicals, and the environmental impact of excessive packaging and shipping,” explained Pray. “I think it’s important for consumers, when possible, to seek out the highest quality food they can afford and not complain about food costs.  You really do get what you pay for.”

Growing up in Sioux City, Iowa, I am in the middle of the cattle and hog industry – whether that is dairy farms or farms for mass production of animal meat.

Myself at the Sioux City Museum in the meat packing plant area.

Myself at the Sioux City Museum in the meat packing plant area.

Just 20 miles south is Dakota City, Nebraska, which hosts one of the biggest meatpacking plants in the United States, Iowa Beef Processors (IBP). Who, in 1988, was fined for than $3.1 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing it’s workers to cumulative trauma disorders resulting from highly repetitive meat cutting tasks.

It’s all about mass production of animals to feed the consumers. These are animals we are talking about here, not cars. These statistics I found might be a little bit striking for you too.

Wouldn’t you like to know where your food is coming from, who raised it, how it was handled from start to finish?

In closing, Michael Ruhlman, a food blogger, expressed, “This I believe: to eat humanely raised and slaughtered animals is not only ethical,” Ruhlman stated, “it’s important to our humanity.”

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