Should I Eat This? Part 4.1: Meat & Your Health

By Jane | July 15, 2012

No Antibiotics

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.

Albert Einstein said this long before our meat moved from pastures to factories, long before our meat was filled with hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics, long before pink slime and meat glue were ingredients in a burger…

Ahh, but I get ahead of myself.

What’s In Meat?

Strange question, right? Why should there be anything in meat but meat?

Stuff That Could Make You Sick
Antibiotics
This astonishing stat gets thrown around a lot:

80% of antibiotics manufactured in the US are given to “healthy” farm animals. (tweet this)

Billions of factory-farmed animals are fed a low dose of antibiotics almost every day of their lives. The practice is said to reduce disease that would otherwise run rife in the overcrowded and dirty conditions factory animals endure. But more importantly, antibiotics make the animals gain more more weight more quickly, plumping up the meat industry’s bottom line.

So what’s so bad about antibiotics used in this way?

Well, just like overuse of pesticides can cause superweeds, overuse of antibiotics can cause superbugs. But unlike superweeds, superbugs have a fun little way of jumping off the farm and killing humans.

A 2011 study found that 47 percent of meat sampled from five U.S. cities contained drug-resistant staph bacteria. You might know this as MRSA, the bug that kills around 20,000 people a year in the U.S.

Worse yet, as the low levels of antibiotics allow bugs to become resistant, our existing antibiotics become less effective. This means that we are getting closer to a time when something currently fairly benign like strep throat or an infected cut could once again be deadly.

Hormones
Q: Why is American beef banned in Europe?

A: Because a majority of US cattle are fed hormones – testosterone and estrogen burger, anyone? – to make the animals grow faster. This is very good for meat industry profits, but not so good for the animals, or for you.

Hormones in meat make humans grow faster, too. Eating this meat causes girls to reach puberty at a younger age. It can also lead to scarier results like breast, prostate, and colon cancer.

In Europe, you’re safe from the side-effects or hormone-laced meat. In North America, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

The good news is, you can buy meat without hormones or antibiotics, you just have to make the effort. If your grocery store doesn’t stock meat that doesn’t come with extra chemicals, slap the store manager (I mean, ask the manager politely until she orders some).

Pesticides
Meat that doesn’t contain pesticides is a little harder to come by. Animals that are fed a steady diet of the GMO crops (which applies to almost all meat raised in the U.S) are also fed a steady diet of pesticides. This is because GMO crops are doused with an especially heavy helping of pesticides. These killer chemicals have a nasty way of accumulating in the fatty tissue of animals which ends up on our plates.

What happens when you eat a bunch of meat containing a bunch of chemicals? Cancer. Fun, fun cancer. (tweet this)

But again, we don’t really know the full consequences. We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping it’s not a problem. Hell, pesticidey meat might make us into cool-ass superheroes, but it’s probably just killing us.

Stuff That Should Make You Sick

1. Meat Glue. This is the lay-person name for transglutaminase, an enzyme found in blood. But, fancy enzyme name aside, it really is just a sticky substance used to glue bits of meat together. This results in a kind of meat-roll that can be sliced, and hey presto, you’ve got yourself some steak-like slabs of meat!

The most common place to find meat-glued slabs? At banquets, weddings, and other catered events, being served up as “filet mignon”.

If you’re interested in purchasing some meat glue, the Ajinomoto Food Ingredients website has handy tips on the different types of meat glue and how they should be used.

For example, if you’re looking for a glue that “restructures muscle foods such as red meat, poultry and seafood”, hook yourself up with some tasty TG-RM.

2. Pink Slime and White Slime. Did you eat a burger or a hot dog on the fourth of July? Had a $2 taco recently? How about a frozen chicken nugget, or pretty much any other kind of processed meat food?

Guess what? You’ve been slimed.

Imagine all the little flecks of meat, bone, and fat that fall by the wayside during meat processing. Then imagine sweeping them up, sticking them in a centrifuge to spin off the fat, or pressing them through a sieve to squeeze out the bone (most of it, some is allowed to stay). This is where meat slime comes from.

Meat slime goes into pretty much any processed meat product you can imagine. (tweet this)

Those 100% pure beef labels won’t save you from slime. Slime is considered the same as meat by the USDA, so no labeling is required.

3. Ammonia. A big problem with feeding people meat scraps is that they are chock full ‘o’ deadly bacteria. Or, it was a problem, until someone figured out that you can just spray ammonia into the meat product and most of those bacteria curl up and die. Result!

The pro-slime website, Beef Is Beef (which, BTW, is very good for a laugh), says ammonia in your meat is A-OK because “it is widely used in the processing of numerous foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings”.

Oh good, so I’m eating so much ammonia already that a little extra couldn’t possibly hurt.

Miscellaneous Other Crap in Meat

Since the super-secretive leaders of Big Ag would never reveal what they feed to chickens, Johns Hopkins tested chicken feathers to see what they could find. The results, release a few months ago, were kind of astonishing.

They discovered that most of the feathers contained acetominophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, much of it contained an antihistamine which is the active ingredient in Benadryl, and most also contained caffeine.

Never mind that the animals are being hopped up on caffeine and then soothed with antihistamine and pain killers (you should mind, but that’s fodder for another post), where do these chemicals ultimately end up?

Why, in chicken litter, of course. Chicken litter, a combo of feathers, old chicken feed, dead chicken parts, and chicken shit, is, in turn, fed to beef cows. These are then fed to you.

Maybe that explains why people seem to find burgers so exciting and soothing at the same time.

So It’s Filled With Disgusting Stuff, But Is Meat Actually Bad For Me?

Many studies have shown that eating any meat is bad for you. As soon as the results of such studies are released, a million angry voices rise up shouting “that’s a lie!!”. It makes it kind of hard to tell which information is valid and which is hooey.

Michael Pollan explains it particularly well:

It could be, for example, that the sheer quantity of our overindulgence overwhelms something in our immune systems. It could be too much protein, too little exercise, too few vegetables. It could even be the way the animals are raised or killed or the drugs they’re fed. It could be all of the above, and without studies that take complete control of the diets of maybe a few tens of thousands of us it’s unlikely we’ll ever know.

What is crystal clear is that eating too much meat leads to heart-disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. (tweet this)

These things lead to early death.

There are also the thousands of personal stories about people who saved their own lives by cutting out meat.

Bill Clinton is probably the most famous. There’s also Rick Mills, who reversed his own heart disease when doctors couldn’t, and Angel Sanchez, who might not be with us if he hadn’t given up meat. If you like the personal interest angle, there are so many more stories here.

Now I’m not saying you have to get all keeeerazy and give up meat entirely.

Your health will get a little boost each time you swap out meat for plant-based proteins, vegetables, and whole grains. You could start by only eating meat at dinner, or only on weekdays, or only on weekends.

If you want to avoid as many grisly ingredients as you can, only eat meat when you can get the sustainably raised, organic, non-GMO-fed, non-antibiotic, non-hormone-filled, non-slime variety. As a bonus, this approach will cut down your meat intake dramatically.

Your heart, arteries, and immune system will thank you.

Where Can I Find Out More?

You Want Superbugs With That?
All the dirt on antibiotics in meat
The whys, hows, and wheres of pink slime
More Reasons To Never Eat Meat

Photo by Wesley Fryer

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Should I Eat This? The Complete Series

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9 comments

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  9. Comment by ann

    ann Reply July 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    one of the two books that made me go vege in the 80s – “diet for a new america”. in those days “the media” were not talking about greenhouse gases, superbugs etc. seems like the rest of the world is finally catching up.

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