Continuing with the interweaving nodes of ecology, local, social, health, humane, and taste.
It is quite sad when the typical American diet makes the average consumer unhealthy, and for some downright sick. I believe there are plenty of other people that can speak with a good deal more authority on the issues of health and humane treatment, so I’ll focus on what I might add to the typical discussion. For serious and scientifically documented discussions on Omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamins and minerals I personally suggest www.eatwild.com. Find your own source for inhumane treatment since I have long stopped looking at related sites or books. I have seen enough and frankly they make me sick to my stomach.
There is a serious flaw in the government’s approach to food safety. Rather than being about promoting health, USDA or FDA is typically about setting limits on toxins. Much like cancer radiation that must assess the maximum tolerated dose the patient can handle, safety regulations usually are about maximum acceptable toxic concentrations. This creates a binary system where one is choosing between what will definitely be detrimental to your health and what you hope won’t be detrimental to your health. There is not even an acknowledgement of food that doesn’t even hold possibilities of these risks because the medication or chemicals were not part of the equation. Definitely those limits of toxicity must absolutely be there and be strictly enforced to protect us from serious harm, but a mechanistic view of food that sees only calories divided into fats, protein, and carbohydrates can never have a meaningful discussion concerning health.
This same maximum tolerable mentality applies to both humans and the animals being raised. Luckily most of these toxins do not concentrate up the food chain, so the negatives are being minimalized. But what about the positives? That’s why I breathe this sigh of relief when I read from sites like eatwild about the benefits of healthy food. Ah yes, this food is good for you for x, y, and z. These vegetables have very high anti-toxins. This type of meat keeps your heart healthy and promotes your good cholesterol. Man, what a difference from the advice of don’t-eat-tuna-more-than-once-a-month-or-else… Let’s just leave it at healthy plants and healthy animals make for healthy eating. Phew.
Part of health for both animal and human is a measure of happiness. This is where the issue of humane is brought to bear. Not only does it strike me as morally unacceptable to treat animals like automated food dispensers, but without letting them express their natural tendencies, they will not be as a happy and inevitably will not be as healthy, and simply will not be as good for you to eat. The contentment of the animals also directly affects the farmer’s approach to his work. If you ever watch a sow, who has farrowed outdoors on a pleasant pasture, lie down and let her piglets suckle, you’ll notice that she is just as content if not more so than her piglets competing for the teats. When you just can’t help but stop for a bit and smile, it does wonders for your motivation to work. I can hardly imagine the converse where you are the worker who has to check on the thousands upon thousands of hogs in a huge building where the sows are kept in metal cages, forced to stay on their side in order for their piglets to suckle. If I was that worker, I think my soul would just shrivel up and die. Humane conditions provides contentment for both animal and farmer, and without some degree of contentment, I wouldn’t be in this business for the long haul.