Archive for Thursday, March 21, 2002

Eating is always a guilty pleasure

March 21, 2002

Recently, I saw a magazine article with the headline: "The Dirty Secret of Fish Farms." Although it was clear from the subheadline the author thought such operations offended the environment, I can't tell what outrage fishpond farmers are perpetrating. Instead, a thought stopped me at the headline: What are we supposed to eat?

Dumb me. I thought fish farms were an acceptable alternative to the modern commercial fishing industry that even it admits has become efficient in depleting the world's fisheries as it attempts to keep up with a ravenous demand.

Fish farms, I assumed, had to be OK. They don't produce furry mammals for slaughter, but scaled, pin-brained beasts low in cholesterol and high in good protein.

Critics would have us stay away from poultry and pork because monopolies that either force family farms out of production or make them little more than wage earners dominate the industries.

As a reporter, I listened to a very bright man and someone who has spent his life on Kansas farms attack large cash-grain operations because of the damage vast fields given over to "monocultures" do to the diversity of the prairie ecosystem.

His critique was at least rooted in experience, and he is actively demonstrating an alternative.

There are real environmental consequences to our agricultural practices, but some critics are so off the mark I'm guessing their protein-deficient vegetarian diet has eroded their judgment. Cattle produce methane gas, I read an environmentalist lament in an East Coast publication some years back. Having spent time on a dairy farm where one of my twice daily chores was shoveling clean and hosing down the concrete stalls of the milk barn, I'm not going to argue that point. But, I assume the cows in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and the Dakotas produce no more methane gas than the millions of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains 150 years ago.

Mad cow disease, growth hormones, genetic farming, pesticides; The message seems to be if a food isn't harmful to our health, its production hurts the environment. We've always had a problem with food. It's an issue akin to original sin. Something has to die for us to survive.

Our ancestors dealt with this guilt by worshipping the beasts that nourished them. Obsessive concern over the contents and production of our food may be our present way of dealing with the basic equation of our survival.

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