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EATING MEAT SUSTAINABLY
WITH ROBERT KENNEDY, JR.

The word ďsustainableĒ expresses the obligation that each generation has to the next to preserve the value of the natural world. It does not mean we canít use nature. Mankind, a predatory animal, is part of nature and in my view, the worst outcome of environmental advocacy is if it results in separating human beings from nature. God wants us to use the bounties of the Earth to enrich ourselves, to raise living standards, to build dignified vital communities, to savor life through all our senses and to serve others, we just canít use it up! We can live off the interest, we just canít go into the capital. This broad definition generally leaves me with a full plate. My own nature is to not be too careful about what I eat.

I avoid endangered species; monkey brains, shark fins, whale sushi, sea turtle, and Atlantic swordfish, which, but for its endangered status, is my favorite food. Otherwise, Iíll try almost anything on the menu or off the road. Iíve eaten all kinds of insects and nematodes, caterpillars, snakes, frogs, alligators, terrapins, sea urchins, octopus, birds eggs, a mouse (by mistake), wild game including armadillo, wildebeest, warthog, coons and capybara, and some domestic animals including horse, dog and guinea pig. I have eaten road kill and Iím fond of viscera; tripe, tongue, brain and offal and sweet meats and pate, kidney pie, sheepís eyes and even airline food. Ironically, bad example has been the professor of good ethics; my son is a vegetarian and can hardly bear to sit with me at meals.

Arguably, the most sustainable food is the hot dog since thatís where they put all the stuff that would otherwise go to waste. Itís like the Indians and the buffalo, they used everything. Buffalo hot dogs might be the best bet. Among all ungulents, buffalo use the prairies without destroying them. But most hot dogs are neither dogs nor buffalo but hogs and, nowadays, that means industrial pork which, next to an endangered species, is the worst food on earth.

North Carolinaís hogs now outnumber its citizens and produce more fecal waste than all the people in California, New York and Washington combined. Some industrial pork farms produce more sewage than Americaís largest cities. But while human waste must be treated, hog waste, similarly fetid and virulent, is simply dumped into the environment. Stadium sized warehouses shoehorn 100,000 sows into claustrophobic cages that hold them in one position for a lifetime over metal grate floors. Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into ten acre open air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze annually into North Carolinaís rivers. Such practices have created a science fiction nightmare right out of Revelations. In North Carolina, the festering effluent that escapes from industrial swine pens has given birth to pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microbe that thrives in the fecal marinade of North Carolina rivers. This tiny predator, which can morph into 24 forms depending on its prey species, inflicts pustulating lesions on fish whose flesh it dissolves with excreted toxins then sucks through a mouth tube. The ďcell from hellĒ has killed so many fish, ó a billion in one instance ó that North Carolina must use bulldozers to bury them beneath the rancid shores of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Pfiesteria causes brain damage and respiratory illness in humans who touch infected fish or water. Two years ago, Pfiesteria sickened 36 fishermen and swimmers and 4 bridge workers who never even got damp.

Industrial farming is also for the birds. Some corporate farms crowd a million beakless chickens in cramped dark cages soaking up antibodies and laying their guts out for modern mengales like Frank Perdue for the duration of their miserable lives. Itís hard to believe that people who run those animal concentration camps will even enjoy happiness or dignity in their own lives.

And the chickens are coming home to roost. Industrial farming isnít just bad for chickens and hogs, it destroys family farms, aquifers, soils, and pollutes the air and water. Billionaire chicken barons Don Tyson and Frank Perdue, like billionaire North Carolina hog tycoon Wendell Murphy, have used their market power to drive a million family farmers out of business including virtually every independent egg and broiler farmer in America. Each corporate farm puts 10 family farmers out of business. The same process of vertical integration has bankrupted 5 out of 6 of Americaís hog farmers over the past 15 years and pushed the final nail in the coffin of Thomas Jeffersonís vision of a democracy rooted in family owned freeholds. Industrial meat moguls site their stinking farms in the poorest communities and pay slave wages to their miniscule work force for performing one of the most dangerous and unhealthy jobs in America.

Massive political contributions by this tiny handful of billionaire AG-barons allow them to evade laws that prohibit other Americans from polluting our waterways. Industrial agriculture now accounts for over half of Americaís water pollution. Last year, pfiesteria outbreaks connected with wastes from industrial chicken factories forced the closure of two major tributaries of the Chesapeake and threatened Marylandís vital shellfish industry. Tyson Foods has polluted half of all streams in Northwest Arkansas with so much fecal bacteria that swimming is prohibited. Drugs and hormones needed to keep confined animals alive and growing are mainly excreted with the wastes and now saturate local waterways.

Moreover, industrial meat is unsavory. Factory raised meat and pork are soft and bland. The chicken doesnít taste good. American chicken is spongy. Itís been around long enough that people have forgotten how chicken is supposed to taste and most young people erroneously think you are supposed to be able to cut chicken with a fork. The texture gives thoughts of hormones and chemicals.

Since you canít often tell the difference between meat and fowl from factory and family farms in the grocery store, itís not always easy to avoid industrial eggs and ham.

Chefs should look for free range chickens from suppliers they trust and seek out local markets and producers who buy from sustainable family farms. Those who look will find networks of sustainable family farms and farmers who raise their animals to range free on grass pastures and natural feeds without steroids, sub-therapeutic antibiotics or other artificial growth promotants and who treat their animals with dignity and respect. These farmers bring tasty premium quality meat to customers while practicing the highest standards of husbandry and environmental stewardship.

One such production is California based Niman Ranch, which markets the highest quality Iowa and California pork and beef, antibiotic free and hormone free and ships to retailers and restaurateurs anywhere in the nation. Livestock are humanely treated, fed the purest natural feeds (with no animal by-products or waste), never given growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and raised on lands that is cared for as a sustainable resource. Many restaurants list Niman Ranch on their menu.

Sustainable meats taste the best. This is another case where doing right means eating well.

Written by: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.


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