Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

May 23, 2007

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Mad Cow

Filed under: books — codesmithy @ 5:32 am

I just finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but reading the book felt like a long dinner, such that I felt like I should have been drinking some red wine as I read. The book itself attempts to trace the origins of four different meals: McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Farmer’s Market (local), then by actually hunting and gathering food from Northern California.

The McDonald’s meal is a representative of the industrial food chain, which is also the domain that Mad Cow affects. The industrial food chain is actually better described in “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, who not surprisingly shows up giving praise on the back cover of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” The same basic picture is described in both books.

What concerned me was this post I found on digg.

Now its WIFI
before that it was phones
before that bird flu
before that SARS
before that mad cow disease
before that Aids.. — m73a

While, I dislike the way, for lack of a better term, “the media” trumps up things that are going to kill you. Mad Cow was probably too sensationalized, but it is a serious problem, coming from an unlikely source.

Mad Cow comes about from cows eating cows, which is especially surprising since cows are herbivores. But, none the less, cows are put into rather unnatural conditions in feed lots where they are fattened up before they are slaughtered. The “solution” to this problem was to ensure that cows were not fed cow remains. In that cow remains can be fed to chickens and vice-versa but no cow remains are supposed to be fed to cows for meat of human consumption. Now, whether that will completely stop prion transmission is questionable. The other odd thing about feed lots is that they tend to feed the cows corn, which isn’t something a cow would naturally eat either. This turns the cows stomach, which is naturally neutral, acidic (like human stomachs). This is breeding new strains of bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 that can turn around and infect humans. The cows themselves are generally not well when they go into the slaughterhouse, they are generally kept going mostly by antibiotics.

The industrial food chain is more industry than nature. Ultimately, the products of this food chain become, quite literally, part of us. Mad Cow is not necessarily the cause of a calamity. Rather, it is a warning sign, a harbinger if you will. It foretells of meaner bugs that will be a tad too aggressive for their own good. If you think the human race has fundamentally changed since Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” I don’t agree with you. The same perils exist, for the same reasons.

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