Friday, March 8, 2013

Bacon, Meat Wars, & Ozeki's My Year of Meats

If you enjoyed your previous reads about the British horsemeat scandal, we might have another food safety novel for you.  Have you seen Wednesday's BBC article "Processed meat 'early death' link"? Here's an excerpt:
Sausages, ham, bacon and other processed meats appear to increase the risk of dying young, a study of half a million people across Europe suggests. It concluded diets high in processed meats were linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and early deaths. The researchers, writing in the journal BMC Medicine, said salt and chemicals used to preserve the meat may damage health… The UK government recommends eating no more than 70g of red or processed meat - two slices of bacon - a day.

It soon became clear that the bacon nation was NOT going to take this lying down. Eating no more than two slices of bacon a day?! Within twenty-four hours over a thousand comments were posted, including:
  • Everyone dies, not everyone lives, Long Live the Bacon sandwich! 
  • I'd rather have a short life with bacon than a long life without. 
  • Frankly if I can't have some enjoyment in life, and that means sometimes eating bacon, then just kill me now, please. 

Unfortunately, tragically, I was not able to find a novel about bacon. Or sausage. However, I did come across a great novel focused on another front in the Meat Wars: beef hormones. The book is My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki and here’s the rundown:
At first glance, a novel that promises to expose the unethical practices of the American meat industry may not be at the top of your reading list, but Ruth Ozeki's debut, My Year of Meats is well worth a second look. Like the author, the novel's protagonist, Jane Takagi-Little, is a Japanese-American documentary filmmaker; like Ozeki, who was once commissioned by a beef lobbying group to make television shows for the Japanese market, Jane is invited to work on a Japanese television show meant to encourage beef consumption via the not-so-subliminal suggestion that prime rib equals a perfect family… The series, My American Wife!, initally seems like a dream come true for Jane as she criss-crosses the United States filming a different American family each week for her Japanese audience. Naturally, the emphasis is on meat, and Ozeki has fun with out-there recipes such as rump roast in coke and beef fudge; but as Jane becomes more familiar with her subject, she becomes increasingly aware of the beef industry's widespread practice of using synthetic estrogens on their cattle and determines to sabotage the program.

By the way, the beef hormone issue has been in the news again lately amid discussions of a US-EU trade agreement. Here’s an article from last month’s Der Spiegel, “European Activists Could Thwart US-EU Trade Deal:”
[N]egotiations are set to begin this summer over a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement between Europe and the United States … The American farm lobby has long fought against European trade barriers for genetically modified potatoes and hormone-treated beef. Now the free trade treaty will provide them with considerable leverage for cracking the European front. In a letter to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Max Baucas, a Democrat senator from Montana, outlined what he hopes to achieve in the upcoming negotiations. His list includes EU restrictions on genetically modified grain, the use of hormones in cattle and "unscientific restrictions on the use of safe feed additives like ractopamine in beef and porks," all positions that are anathema to European consumer advocates. For example, American farmers use the hormone rBST, developed by the agricultural corporation Monsanto. The drug is intended to increase milk production by up to 20 percent and meat yield by up to 30 percent. But it is also suspected of causing cancer in human beings.

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