I'm about to spoil your day.
Can you imagine a society in which we stopped making burgers from cows and started to make them out of, say... kittens? Or puppies? Or, dare I say... babies? Let us imagine for a moment that legislation was passed enabling all restaurants to sell these exciting new burgers legally. Let us also imagine that the meat tastes and looks exactly the same.
Have no fear; this will not be a post tearfully exhorting you to consider the feelings of our bovine friends. The puppy/kitten/baby strategem was an idea borne of desperation: what will it take to rein in our obsession with the Burger, to get us to resist its insidious charms, to move on to (literally) greener pastures that await us on that menu or at the supemarket? Although I am all for the compassionate treatment of all living creatures, that's another post for another day. This essay, dear readers, concerns our health.
There are a multitude of enormous, teeming cities in the world today dealing with traffic problems that have become almost too big to even tackle. The reason for these problems lies in the paradigm of more requires more. I see it in the city that I currently inhabit, Los Angeles. Many decades ago the local government, presumably stocked up with loads of campaign cash delivered in Trader Joe's cardboard bags by the burgeoning automobile industry, decided to do away with the light rail system that not only was tremendously efficient in carrying large numbers of Angelenos (an insipid term, I know) all over the city at an affordable price but also added to the character, beauty and connectedness of the town, in favour of building many more roads through developing neighbourhoods. As the population (and the pollution) increased, the government saw the most obvious answer that would have been self-evident to all but the most unhinged... or far-sighted: build more roads to accomodate the ever-expanding car fleet. As more people and therefore more cars filled the city, the government continued to build more roads, all the while neglecting the health concerns of the city's people and the environmental and social degradation that occurs when neighbourhoods are literally passed over by massive construction. More Cars Means More Roads Means More Cars and so on.
It would seem that this same phenomenon is occuring around burger consumption.
It's a sneaky little critter, our burger. The old-fashioned Steak still seems to occupy rarified air. Restaurants charge more for it and we don't seem as cavalier in our consumption of it. McDonald's has not released the McSteak. It's as if we're all aware of the excess that might be inherent in devouring a steak four times a week. But the friendly burger? Ah, what the hell. Pick one up at the drive through on the way home. Order it at the diner. Order it at the three-star restaurant that is fleecing you with its 'gourmet' burger. Throw a frozen patty in the oven. No big deal. It's just a sandwich, right?
Burger King, McDonalds' stinky little brother who forgets to wipe his nose occasionally, currently has 8,700 'restaurants'. There were 756 new Burger King franchises opened last year and the corporation plans to open another 1,000 throughout 2010. The wonderful Wendy's franchise has around 4,900 locations and has opened some 470 more in the last year. As for McDonald's, they've moved into the direct-delivery arena. They're currently laying a pipeline that will stretch to your home, with a nozzle for each home; just stick the nozzle into your mouth (it's shaped like a snorkel- just bite down) and the good folks at Maccas will simply pump the product directly into your gullet.
I remember back in Australia in the early nineties when McDonalds had its first ever closure due to lack of business. I remember how excited I was to announce "the beginning of the end" for the fast food industry, that people were finally "getting it" and renouncing their idolatry of the hamburger.
I was dead wrong. The burger has become fashionable. I can't remember how many times I've heard someone declare in their best shrill voice, "I just went to --- (fill in the blank here with your favourite overpriced, pretentious eatery- oh, wait... "eatery" is itself a pretentious term.. damn), they have a GREAT burger."
Really? A particular establishment's burger is that much better than another's? Has ordering a burger become akin to getting a massage? Can we really be that discerning over a piece of grilled red meat? Even if there is a discernible difference between hamburgers, maybe it's time we raised our sights a tad; if we're really that keen to be discerning in our food choices, let's shoot for foods that involve a little more preparation and care than a hunk of ground beef being rolled into a puck like a piece of playdough.
Americans eat on average around 67 pounds of red meat every year. While no one can agree on just how much may be too much (and levels have come down from the all-time high in the mid-70s due to something called the 'national beef herd liquidation'- I don't think the words 'beef' and 'liquid' should ever be that closely associated), I think we can all agree that we're probably eating way too much- one only has to look at the levels of heart disease, colon cancer and digestive problems that are currently being experienced and attributed by much of the medical community to a diet too heavily laden with red meat.
But that won't stop us. Oh no. Just as we've come to accept The Soda as being the natural accompaniment to every meal, we also have been brainwashed into thinking 8 ounces of red meat paired with a bunch of fried potatoes devoid of all nutrition is just fine as a daily meal.
It ain't, folks. Let's start voting for fresher food with our wallets. Us men have a lot to answer for- somewhere along the way some construction worker spread the word that 'real' men eat steaks and burgers; the classic old Aussie farmer breakfast is steak and eggs. Steak for breakfast. Every goddamned day. Terrific.
Guys, eating a lot of red meat doesn't mean you're tough. It means you haven't built a good log cabin in about a decade and your meat breath in the morning is melting the paint off the walls. Enough is enough. Real men, tough men, strong men eat salad and cry when watching Titanic... for the third time.
Some fun facts from a report done by LEAD, which is the Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative, supported by the Food and Agriculture Administration of the UN:
- Meat production by 2050 will double what it was in 1990
- Livestock currently provides a third of human protein intake
- Grazing lands take up 26% of the ice-free land on this planet
- Feedcrop production is 33% of all arable land on Earth
- 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is taken up by pasture
- Livestock account for 9% of all human activity related carbon dioxide emissions
- Livestock are responsible for 37% of all human activity related methane emissions, and methane has 23 times more global warming potential compared to carbon dioxide
- Livestock account for nearly two thirds of human related ammonia emissions
- In the USA, Livestock are responsible for over half of the country's erosion and sediment issues.
The answer? Very simple. If you want to live longer, be healthier and feel better, do what nature intended you to do as a human being: eat more green plants.
It could be one glorious week for our bodies: salads piled high, bunches of fresh fruit and healthy grains and legumes by the sackload. With the occasional kitten thrown in for some protein.
Sorry, folks. I'm a dog guy.