Charlie, you got them apples planted yet? Where are you?
Not feeling too good today. Forgot my liquid bread last night. Went to
bed without it.
Joes' got himself in a scrape with some chemical junkie and a fight
critic. Hope he does OK. If it gets too bad, I'll lumber in and say
somethin' stupid. By the time they figure-out that it was one of my
fractional entendres, the dust will have settled and everybody will go
I got them moon-flowers. Nicked 'em up, wrapped 'em in a wet paper
towel, stuck 'em in a plastic bag and, threw 'em in the fridge last
night. I'll throw 'em in the germinator th'safternoon.
This morning, after purusing the local fish wrap (0wned and operated by
the N Y Times and, subject to the financial censorship of their
advertisers and, corporate stock holders, re.: no real, intelligible
news. If I want real news, I got to Democracy Now
[http://www.democracynow.org/streampage.pl ] or listen to Free Speech
News over the Pacifica Network. KPFA is the local station but there is
one out of Texas too.), I picked up my current reading
material,"Omnivore's Dilemma" and starting readin' along when I was
blind sided by déjà-vu all over again. I'm reading about a guy (Michael
Pollard) who bought a calf to follow it from production to the dinner
table. I read this stuff some 5 years ago from the March 31, 2002 Sunday
section of the above chastised N Y Times. I really think you would like
this book. It ain't all dry and stuffy. It's a real page turner.
The following is an excerpt, for the entire article click on over to
By MICHAEL POLLAN
Published: March 31, 2002
We have come to think of ''cornfed'' as some kind of old-fashioned
virtue; we shouldn't. Granted, a cornfed cow develops well-marbled
flesh, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have learned to
like. Yet this meat is demonstrably less healthy to eat, since it
contains more saturated fat. A recent study in The European Journal of
Clinical Nutrition found that the meat of grass-fed livestock not only
had substantially less fat than grain-fed meat but that the type of fats
found in grass-fed meat were much healthier. (Grass-fed meat has more
omega 3 fatty acids and fewer omega 6, which is believed to promote
heart disease; it also contains betacarotine and CLA, another ''good''
fat.) A growing body of research suggests that many of the health
problems associated with eating beef are really problems with cornfed
beef. In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans
may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals. Yet the U.S.D.A.'s
grading system continues to reward marbling -- that is, intermuscular
fat -- and thus the feeding of corn to cows.
The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm,
there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest,
most convenient source of calories. Of course the identical industrial
logic -- protein is protein -- led to the feeding of rendered cow parts
back to cows, a practice the F.D.A. banned in 1997 after scientists
realized it was spreading mad-cow disease.
Make that mostly banned. The F.D.A.'s rules against feeding ruminant
protein to ruminants make exceptions for ''blood products'' (even though
they contain protein) and fat. Indeed, my steer has probably dined on
beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he's heading to in
June. ''Fat is fat,'' the feedlot manager shrugged when I raised an
F.D.A. rules still permit feedlots to feed nonruminant animal protein to
cows. (Feather meal is an accepted cattle feed, as are pig and fish
protein and chicken manure.) Some public-health advocates worry that
since the bovine meat and bone meal that cows used to eat is now being
fed to chickens, pigs and fish, infectious prions could find their way
back into cattle when they eat the protein of the animals that have been
eating them. To close this biological loophole, the F.D.A. is now
considering tightening its feed rules.
Until mad-cow disease, remarkably few people in the cattle business, let
alone the general public, comprehended the strange semicircular food
chain that industrial agriculture had devised for cattle (and, in turn,
for us). When I mentioned to Rich Blair that I'd been surprised to learn
that cows were eating cows, he said, ''To tell the truth, it was kind of
a shock to me too.'' Yet even today, ranchers don't ask many questions
about feedlot menus. Not that the answers are so easy to come by. When I
asked Poky's feedlot manager what exactly was in the protein supplement,
he couldn't say. ''When we buy supplement, the supplier says it's 40
percent protein, but they don't specify beyond that.'' When I called the
supplier, it wouldn't divulge all its ''proprietary ingredients'' but
promised that animal parts weren't among them. Protein is pretty much
Compared with ground-up cow bones, corn seems positively wholesome. Yet
it wreaks considerable havoc on bovine digestion. During my day at Poky,
I spent an hour or two driving around the yard with Dr. Mel Metzen, the
staff veterinarian. Metzen, a 1997 graduate of Kansas State's vet
school, oversees a team of eight cowboys who spend their days riding the
yard, spotting sick cows and bringing them in for treatment. A great
many of their health problems can be traced to their diet. ''They're
made to eat forage,'' Metzen said, ''and we're making them eat grain.''
Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn
is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas,
which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the
diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all
but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the
rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal's
lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually
by forcing a hose down the animal's esophagus), the cow suffocates.
A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike that in our own highly
acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it
unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which
in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick.
Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw
at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea,
ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune
system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to
Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might
be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate. ''I don't know
how long you could feed this ration before you'd see problems,'' Metzen
said; another vet said that a sustained feedlot diet would eventually
''blow out their livers'' and kill them. As the acids eat away at the
rumen wall, bacteria enter the bloodstream and collect in the liver.
More than 13 percent of feedlot cattle are found at slaughter to have
What keeps a feedlot animal healthy -- or healthy enough -- are
antibiotics. Rumensin inhibits gas production in the rumen, helping to
prevent bloat; tylosin reduces the incidence of liver infection. ost of
the antibiotics sold in America end up in animal feed -- a practice
that, it is now generally acknowledged, leads directly to the evolution
of new antibiotic-resistant ''superbugs.'' In the debate over the use of
antibiotics in agriculture, a distinction is usually made between
clinical and nonclinical uses. Public-health advocates don't object to
treating sick animals with antibiotics; they just don't want to see the
drugs lose their efficacy because factory farms are feeding them to
healthy animals to promote growth. But the use of antibiotics in feedlot
cattle confounds this distinction. Here the drugs are plainly being used
to treat sick animals, yet the animals probably wouldn't be sick if not
for what we feed them.
I asked Metzen what would happen if antibiotics were banned from cattle
feed. ''We just couldn't feed them as hard,'' he said. ''Or we'd have a
higher death loss.'' (Less than 3 percent of cattle die on the feedlot.)
The price of beef would rise, he said, since the whole system would have
to slow down.
''Hell, if you gave them lots of grass and space,'' he concluded dryly,
''I wouldn't have a job.''
Before heading over to Pen 43 for my reunion with No. 534, I stopped by
the shed where recent arrivals receive their hormone implants. The
calves are funneled into a chute, herded along by a ranch hand wielding
an electric prod, then clutched in a restrainer just long enough for
another hand to inject a slow-release pellet of Revlar, a synthetic
estrogen, in the back of the ear. The Blairs' pen had not yet been
implanted, and I was still struggling with the decision of whether to
forgo what is virtually a universal practice in the cattle industry in
the United States. (It has been banned in the European Union.)
American regulators permit hormone implants on the grounds that no risk
to human health has been proved, even though measurable hormone residues
do turn up in the meat we eat. These contribute to the buildup of
estrogenic compounds in the environment, which some scientists believe
may explain falling sperm counts and premature maturation in girls.
Recent studies have also found elevated levels of synthetic growth
hormones in feedlot wastes; these persistent chemicals eventually wind
up in the waterways downstream of feedlots, where scientists have found
fish exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics.
The F.D.A. is opening an inquiry into the problem, but for now,
implanting hormones in beef cattle is legal and financially
irresistible: an implant costs $1.50 and adds between 40 and 50 pounds
to the weight of a steer at slaughter, for a return of at least $25.
That could easily make the difference between profit and loss on my
investment in No. 534
Thinking like a parent, I like the idea of feeding my son hamburgers
free of synthetic hormones. But thinking like a cattleman, there was
really no decision to make.
I asked Rich Blair what he thought. ''I'd love to give up hormones,'' he
said. ''If the consumer said, We don't want hormones, we'd stop in a
second. The cattle could get along better without them. But the market
signal's not there, and as long as my competitor's doing it, I've got to
do it, too.''
Around lunch time, Metzen and I finally arrived at No. 534's pen. My
first impression was that my steer had landed himself a decent piece of
real estate. The pen is far enough from the feed mill to be fairly
quiet, and it has a water view -- of what I initially thought was a
reservoir, until I noticed the brown scum. The pen itself is
surprisingly spacious, slightly bigger than a basketball court, with a
concrete feed bunk out front and a freshwater trough in the back. I
climbed over the railing and joined the 90 steers, which, en masse,
retreated a few steps, then paused.
I had on the same carrot-colored sweater I'd worn to the ranch in South
Dakota, hoping to jog my steer's memory. Way off in the back, I spotted
him -- those three white blazes. As I gingerly stepped toward him, the
quietly shuffling mass of black cowhide between us parted, and there No.
534 and I stood, staring dumbly at each other. Glint of recognition?
None whatsoever. I told not to take it personally. No. 534 had been
bred for his marbling, after all, not his intellect.
I don't know enough about the emotional life of cows to say with any
confidence if No. 534 was miserable, bored or melancholy, but I would
not say he looked happy. I noticed that his eyes looked a little
bloodshot. Some animals are irritated by the fecal dust that floats in
the feedlot air; maybe that explained the sullen gaze with which he
fixed me. Unhappy or not, though, No. 534 had clearly been eating well.
My animal had put on a couple hundred pounds since we'd last met, and he
looked it: thicker across the shoulders and round as a barrel through
the middle. He carried himself more like a steer now than a calf, even
though he was still less than a year old. Metzen complimented me on his
size and conformation. ''That's a handsome looking beef you've got
there.'' (Aw, shucks.)
Staring at No. 534, I could picture the white lines of the butcher's
chart dissecting his black hide: rump roast, flank steak, standing rib,
brisket. One way of looking at No. 534 -- the industrial way -- was as
an efficient machine for turning feed corn into beef. Every day between
now and his slaughter date in June, No. 534 will convert 32 pounds of
feed (25 of them corn) into another three and a half pounds of flesh.
Poky is indeed a factory, transforming cheap raw materials into a
less-cheap finished product, as fast as bovinely possible.
Yet the factory metaphor obscures as much as it reveals about the
creature that stood before me. For this steer was not a machine in a
factory but an animal in a web of relationships that link him to certain
other animals, plants and microbes, as well as to the earth. And one of
those other animals is us. The unnaturally rich diet of corn that has
compromised No. 534's health is fattening his flesh in a way that in
turn may compromise the health of the humans who will eat him. The
antibiotics he's consuming with his corn were at that very moment
selecting, in his gut and wherever else in the environment they wind up,
for bacteria that could someday infect us and resist the drugs we depend
on. We inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat, and
whatever happens to it also happens to us.
I thought about the deep pile of manure that No. 534 and I were standing
in. We don't know much about the hormones in it -- where they will end
up or what they might do once they get there -- but we do know something
about the bacteria. One particularly lethal bug most probably resided in
the manure beneath my feet. Escherichia coli 0157 is a relatively new
strain of a common intestinal bacteria (it was first isolated in the
1980's) that is common in feedlot cattle, more than half of whom carry
it in their guts. Ingesting as few as 10 of these microbes can cause a
Most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their way
into our food get killed off by the acids in our stomachs, since they
originally adapted to live in a neutral-pH environment. But he digestive
tract of the modern feedlot cow is closer in acidity to our own, and in
this new, manmade environment acid-resistant strains of E. coli have
developed that can survive our stomach acids -- and go on to kill us. By
acidifying a cow's gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food
chain's barriers to infection. Yet this process can be reversed: James
Russell, a U.S.D.A. microbiologist, has discovered that switching a
cow's diet from corn to hay in the final days before slaughter reduces
the population of E. coli 0157 in its manure by as much as 70 percent.
Such a change, however, is considered wildly impractical by the cattle
So much comes back to corn, this cheap feed that turns out in so many
ways to be not cheap at all. While I stood in No. 534's pen, a dump
truck pulled up alongside the feed bunk and released a golden stream of
feed. The animals stepped up to the bunk for their lunch. The $1.60 a
day I'm paying for three giant meals is a bargain only by the narrowest
of calculations. It doesn't take into account, for example, the cost to
the public health of antibiotic resistance or food poisoning by E. coli
or all the environmental costs associated with industrial corn.
For if you follow the corn from this bunk back to the fields where it
grows, you will find an 80-million-acre monoculture that consumes more
chemical herbicide and fertilizer than any other crop. Keep going and
you can trace the nitrogen runoff from that crop all the way down the
Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created (if that is
the right word) a 12,000-square-mile ''dead zone.''
But you can go farther still, and follow the fertilizer needed to grow
that corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. No. 534
started life as part of a food chain that derived all its energy from
the sun; now that corn constitutes such an important link in his food
chain, he is the product of an industrial system powered by fossil fuel.
(And in turn, defended by the military -- another uncounted cost of
''cheap'' food.) I asked David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who
specializes in agriculture and energy, if it might be possible to
calculate precisely how much oil it will take to grow my steer to
slaughter weight. Assuming No. 534 continues to eat 25 pounds of corn a
day and reaches a weight of 1,250 pounds, he will have consumed in his
lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil. We have succeeded in
industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a
solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another
(to read entire article go to:
You may want to wait 'till you've had your Bar-B-Q to read the rest of
Never got to my untangling of the astragalus and the basil yesterday. I
have plenty of astragalus and a man can never have too much basil. Well,
think I'll check in on JoeSpareBedroom and how he is doing in his bare
knuckles evangelizin' and, then go out and water somethin'. Maybe plant
me an herb or two or, pour me a Bitburger and read some more.
Coloribus gustibus non disputatum (mostly)