There are many reasons to be a vegetarian. Some do it purely for health, others maintain a meat-free diet because they feel that it protects animals from suffering. Regardless of the reasons, most vegetarians catch a lot of flak for their choices. A recent look into the world of poultry production and the options in a plant-based diet, may have even the most cynical among us ordering up faux chicken for our next meal.
New York Times, Op-Ed columnist Mark Bittman recently took an objective look into the world of fake meat, and poultry production in the U.S. He first looked at the facts about the chicken industry. The stats are a little unsettling. The U.S. raises and kills almost eight billion chickens a year. The growth is so rapid among industry chickens that the Veterinary Record has said that most of the chickens have bone disease and are in chronic pain. For a reflection, the University of Arkansas did a study and reported that if humans grew as fast as industry chickens, they would weigh nearly 350 pounds by age 2.
In addition to the animals being roughly manipulated, Bittman was clear to point out the other effects of raising meat in this manner. Not all are impacted by what some would call cruelty to animals, but the other factors effect many humans. When chickens are raised so quickly, producers are having difficulty dealing with the waste. Manure, waste water, and post-slaughter residue are all in excess and aren’t being disposed of efficiently at all facilities.
Again, the environmental concerns do not effect all people as a cause to change things, however, the facts about antibiotics are hard to ignore. Nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in America are given to animals. This has increased the amount of antibiotic-resistant diseases along with the presence of arsenic in the soil and in the food stream.
Bittman raised enough points for most of us to keep listening. For his report he visited The Hague in South Holland. There, Bittman went to The Vegetarian Butcher. He admitted that all his previous tastings of plant-based meat products were not enjoyable. However, he was surprised by the products at The Vegetarian Butcher, admitting he would have been fooled by the chicken had he not known. Bittman then raised a very valid question.
“Would I rather eat cruelly raised, polluting, unhealthful chicken, or a plant product that’s nutritionally similar or superior, good enough to fool me and requires no antibiotics, cutting off of heads or other nasty things? Isn’t it preferable, at least some of the time, to eat plant products mixed with water that have been put through a thingamajiggy that spews out meatlike stuff, instead of eating those same plant products put into a chicken that does its biomechanical thing for the six weeks of its miserable existence, only to have its throat cut in the service of yielding barely distinguishable meat?”
Essentially he likened using the chicken as a machine, so why not use a machine as a machine to produce “meat” that is so similar to chicken?
Previously, fake meat tasted odd and was also much more expensive than the real thing, however Bittman discovered this won’t always be true.
Ethan Brown, an owner of Savage River Farms, fooled Bittman with his “chicken” when he cooked it at Bittman’s home. Brown’s product is produced to mimic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Bittman agrees that the product is indistinguishable, especially if it’s inside a meal like a burrito or a wrap. Brown’s product doesn’t have an official name yet, but he intends for it to sale at a price lower than that of chicken. Whole Foods has plans to begin using it and the product is expected to be on the market by this summer.
Brown hopes his product won’t just be an option used by vegetarians or vegans, but instead that it become widespread. Brown isn’t alone in his quest. As we know, Bittman found delicious faux meat in Holland and other European companies are following suit.
Bittman’s honest view into the industry was very informative and honestly, convincing. The facts about the chicken industry are not new, but to view the issue beyond that of a cruelty standpoint, is important for all of us. Maybe by this Independence Day, we’ll all be grilling our “chicken” and be all the more healthy for it.
March 13th, 2012