- Christian Wright May 11, 2001 01:49 PM
I'm writing a magazine story on food fears. The idea was inspired by recent revelations about mad cow disease and the horrible TV images of mountains of burning foot-and-mouth carcasses.
I would like to hear from people who have changed their eating habits (particularly at restaurants) in response to news of infected flesh. Are concerns limited meat and only outside the US? Do you and your friends talk about dangers? Any new vegetarians out there?
I need specifics--like avoiding cheese in Lyon or roast beef in London--and reasons why.
I'm happy to hear from those who have studiously not changed habits, too....
While I don't censor too much of what I eat--I'm too much of an explorer--I realize that certain "food fears" arose some years before this "new" scare even hit the news.
Several years ago (don't remember when,) a documentary aired showing how chicken was processed. It may have been part of one of those "Sixty Minute-type" exposes. Watching the chicken parts pass by on the assembly line--and hearing about the fecal matter passing right by with them--I felt vaguely nauseas for at least a year afterwards. Even now, I find I feel "better" about an organic chicken--tho I'm still crazy enough to eat spicy, barbecued chicken at a street fair! I just don't THINK about it so much anymore. Silly me!
And, while I wouldn't go out of my way to order a nice plate of rare British beef at the moment--I can't honestly say I've changed my food habits in the past few months. Perhaps this is because I lived in England for ten years--and still have friends there who correspond all the time--so I've been kept very up-to-date about exactly what's going on.
What HAS bothered me terribly has been the "burning pyres" of animals. But then, others would say to me..."but you're a carnivore--you normally EAT them." To which I don't have much of a defense--except to say that if I followed my heart, I WOULD be a vegetarian!
Good luck with your article.
My daughter, 13, an 8th grader in Berkley, MI middle school watched a report on hoof and mouth disease in her social studies class. With that information, combined with mad cow disease, she's made a decision to not eat red meat--and she's succeeded since news of the infection started. No McDs, bacon, burger, steak, etc. I'm impressed with her discipline--however, it is the result of a food fear, as well.
Today's Wall St. Journal has an article in the Weekend Journal section on the impact that food fears and allergies are having on hosts of dinner parties and restaurants. Says that one out of three Americans THINK they have a food allergy (NIH).
I see no reason to avoid beef, even ground beef, here in London - cases of mad cow disease are negligible compared to what they were a few years ago, and a hundred-odd people dying doesn't begin to outweigh the greasy pleasure of a Quarter Pounder. I refuse to live in fear.
Latest news this morning is that a third of all foot and mouth cases diagnosed by vets in the field have proved negative on further lab testing. This means that thousands of animals have almost certainly been slaughtered unnecessarily. We are looking at an economic rather than ecological crisis.
I have not changed my eating habits at all because all the infected and not infected carcasses are burning in the fields, and are no where near the human food chain. Any particular aversion to beef in london for instance would be entirely inappropriate, not to say downright foolish.
When buying any meat or poultry these days I always, always look for those that have been raised on grains, preferably organic. Other than that, I try to limit my consumption of meat and poultry to a very large degree. If a restaurant is serving a high-quality, grain fed meat such as Niman-Ranch then kudos to them and I order it! Let me tell you why.
I read an article (see 'Where's the Beef Come From?') recently by Patricia Unterman, food writer/former-critic for SF Chronicle in which she discussed the connection between Mad Cow disease and cows being fed other cows (very disgusting, espec. considering they are herbivores). This is done with cows, pigs and chickens to fatten them up. Although it is illegal in the U.S. for cow's to be fed other cow's, it is not illegal in Europe. In the U.S. (and Europe) chickens and pigs can be fed meat (of their species or another). These practices, beyond being revolting, can be dangerous. In the U.S. we are lucky to have ready access to soybeans to fatten up these animals; it is not possible to grow these beans in Europe and not economical to import them.
I think that out of due respect for our health and for humane animal treatment we should feed animals their natural fodder and if that includes meat (as it may for pigs) then at least feed them fresh or thoroughly cooked meat from another species.
I try to temper my attitudes with a healthy dose of common sense. I have little fear of raw milk cheese and would happily eat it. I tend to buy Niman Ranch meat, and feel very comfortable with it. I exercise caution abroad. I have always considerred food born illness one of lifes realistic hazards. I wouldn't blindly run across a busy street. I take similar care with my food, but it doesn't own me.
If I suspect that food being served to me has been prepared or stored in a manner that is unhealthy I won't eat it. When I'm abroad I try to research what foods cause the most local health problems. I tend to eat seafood when I'm on the coast and shy away from it when I'm inland. If an area has an ussualy high tendency for trichonosis I'll leave the pork alone. Aside from that I try to enjoy the local specialties.
The livestock problems abroad are a result of shortsighted stupidity. My parents both come from farming backgrounds. Anyone that knows thing one about raising livestock knows that you don't feed your cattle beef based feed. The same holds true for any livestock. The health of your herd will be compromised. Farmers that accepted the risk cheap inappropritate feed posed are paying a huge price. Penny wise, pound foolish. Not that every rancher effected by foot and mouth brought it on themselves.
re: Brandon Nelson
"Anyone that knows thing one about raising livestock knows that you don't feed your cattle beef based feed. The same holds true for any livestock. The health of your herd will be compromised. Farmers that accepted the risk cheap inappropritate feed posed are paying a huge price. Penny wise, pound foolish. Not that every rancher effected by foot and mouth brought it on themselves."
I'm not an expert on this, but did a lot of reading before a recent trip to London (where I ate beef). Foot and mouth has nothing to do with cows being fed "meat by-products" -- that practice can transmit Mad Cow Disease (which can be fatal to people). Foot and mouth is an easily transmitted disease (which doesn't affect humans) which is problematic to agribusiness mainly because it prevents the animals from fattening up properly and because "tainted" meat can't be exported. The pyres of animals in the UK for the most part weren't infected - they were burned as a precaution in the hopes of containing the disease's spread.
re: Lisa Z
Healthy livestock is far more disease resistant. That is a simple matter of fact. Mad cow disease can be dirrectly linked to the feeding practices I wrote about. Feeding herbivores meat by products affects their general health. You are correct that it doesn't have a direct affect on foot and mouth. However I find it no small coincidence that European agrobusiness is dealing with more than one plague right now. Feeding herd animals meat by products may not directly lead to foot and mouth, but it's widely known in the farming community that it doesn't lead to healthy livestock.