Friday, February 11, 2011

Salt, anyone?

So I think it's a given to take another person's words with a grain of salt, right? Meaning, listen carefully, realizing that you can't always take what someone says as absolute truth - whether this is in conversation with a friend, or when reading blog posts on the internet, or yes, even when reading published books!

Right now I have checked out from the library 3 books on nutrition:
  • Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint Cookbook - based on the premise that we should eat as our evolutionary ancestors did
  • Laurette Willis's BASIC Steps to Godly Fitness - a guide to fitness and food choices based on Biblical principles, I get the impression that it's primarily geared towards those who are heavily overweight
  • Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions - suggesting that the food processing industry has created products that are non-nutritive and even harmful, and that we should all return to the way people ate before hydrogenization and white flour and table sugar, complete with recipes for doing this

In all of these books, the theme is healthy eating - but they all differ as to what is the best way to do that: one says grains are bad, the other says be sure to include whole grains; one says drink only cultured milk products, one says drink only raw milk, not pasteurized, and I've heard elsewhere that only pasteurized milk is safe and raw milk is dangerous; one says peanuts are beneficial, another says peanuts are harmful.......and so on, and on, and on. Full of contradictions. How can a person choose which to believe?

Now, one theme that is common to all of the books I've listed in this post is: Eat organic, or die! (this may be a slight dramatization). And this is where it gets difficult for me to find words to explain the rest of my post - I mean, why would anyone listen to some blogger's words over a published author???

On page 51 of Willis' book BASIC Steps to Godly Fitness, she writes:
"As you can imagine, the cattle in biblical times were not subjected to living in overcrowded feedlots, fed moldy grain, or injected with antibiotics, growth hormones, and steroids as are today's cattle."
Okay, folks. This paints a picture that is NOT truly the plight of today's cattle!! This sentence (and similar ones found printed in many other books, magazines, newspapers, posted on blogs, and tossed around in conversations) asks readers to imagine the worst possible scenario, and then makes the assumption that these are the conditions that all beef producers intentionally replicate! This is not the case. And it's not just Willis' book - Sisson's had misleading information about the way poultry are raised, and Fallon's was filled with quotations from other's indicating the downfalls of modern agriculture. It's as if the people pushing organic intend to make others feel guilty for consuming conventionally raised foods - and this is a problem.

Those who raise animals for meat production do it because they LIKE animals. It is hard work. You can't call in sick. It doesn't matter if it's -3 degrees, sleeting, and all the water hydrants are frozen and there are inches of ice on the water tanks and it takes many times longer than normal to take care of the animals. It doesn't matter if you've made special plans to go out - when you've made the choice to raise animals, their needs come first! And if it's a cow having trouble calving, or the silo unloader has stopped working, or whatever it is - those emergencies come first!

We raise our cattle conventionally, though on a smaller scale than some others. We take their needs seriously. We need them to be healthy! We do what is best for them to keep them in good health and growing well.

Our feedlots are not overcrowded.

We do not feed moldy corn.

We give antibiotics only to the occasional sick calf, to help them get well.

We do implant our calves to help them grow optimally.

They're well-cared-for, never worry about running out of feed, hay, or water.

Do I think that anyone who believes the sensationalized, emotionally charged message that "conventional farming is evil, organic is perfect" will listen and hear the typed words of one blogger, over published authors? I don't know - but I hope so.

I've been thinking about interviewing my father in law (who does the majority of the day to day work with the cattle) about exactly how we raise a calf from birth to finishing. The way we raise cattle is not much different from the way the large feedlots and ranches do, aside from scale - and I think the good quality care the cattle really do receive may surprise some readers. Please know, in the meantime, that we take our animals' care very seriously.

Organic is fine, but conventionally raising livestock is not the evil that some will make it out to be.

The point is, you can't believe everything you read. I've taken away some great information from each of the three books - I'd actually recommend any of them! But when it comes to how animals and crops are raised, it's best to go to the source - the farmers and ranchers who take care of the livestock and produce on a daily basis, to see how things are really done. I applaud the movement for folks to become more aware of where their food is coming from, and it's not the grocery store! But take it one step further than the books you read - visit a farm or dairy or feedlot - talk to those who are actually doing it because that's the only way you'll really know.
Whose word do you want to believe? The producer who works day in and day out with the animals, or the outsider looking in?