Lean and Mean

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) is a lobbyist organization representing most of the major meatpacking organizations in the United States.  Their website explains that their “history dates back to Chicago in 1906 when the Institute was created in response to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.”  These are the folks who protected the meatpacking industry from the public outcry following the publication of The Jungle.  And they are carrying on that legacy today, advancing their “mission is to shape a public policy environment in which the meat and poultry industry can produce wholesome products safely, efficiently and profitably.”

Their website has lots of interesting articles.  Like this one, explaining why you should trust the industry when it comes to antibiotics in livestock production.  Or this one that promotes cornfed over grassfed beef because “grass-fed cattle require more than five acres to produce a pound of beef”.  Huh?  That would mean 2,500 acres per grass finished steer!  Or their fact sheet disabusing the public of their preconceptions over pink slime (or as they prefer to call it Lean Finely Textured Beef).  Their defense for using ammonia hydroxide in the meat?  It is “used to produce a number of products such as puddings and baked goods”.  The line of reasoning seems to insist that since this stuff is also used in other industrial food products we have no reason to be afraid of it.  The old “everybody’s doing it” excuse…  My favorite discovery was when I clicked the link for “Worker Safety in the Meat and Poultry Industry” and got a “Document Not Found” message.  At least they got that one right (yeah, that’s a cheap shot).

But let’s get down to business.  Mocking lobbyists is like shooting fish in a barrel.  And besides, Stephen Colbert already did a brilliant job lampooning this organization a few years ago.  Here is what caught my eye.  The Farm Progress website (which gets a lot of its content from big ag interests, repackaging press releases for the various lobbyists) has article after article explaining how beef is getting leaner and healthier and how Americans should eat more processed meat as part of a balanced diet.  One recent lean meat article highlighting a survey sponsored by the North American Meat Institute notes “millennials are more likely to associate with functional benefits of meat and less likely to emphasize enjoyment” and “nutrition also has gained importance as shoppers are putting greater emphasis on leaner cuts and portion control.”  Of course it isn’t surprising that this “research” yielded these results.  Sponsorship bias is probable.  But these folks spend huge amounts of money shaping public opinion, so it isn’t implausible that public opinion matches their agenda.

Isn’t there something flawed about our collective psyche if we are predominantly focusing on the “functional benefits” of our food and not emphasizing enjoyment?  Are we really so clinical that we ignore our taste buds?  Or are we so hounded by food guilt or nutritional confusion that we compensate by choosing contrary to our biological impulses?  Are we now food technicians or tacticians?

I view the world as a complicated place so I normally prefer nuanced positions.  But in this case I’ll be unambiguous.  This topic is as close as you’ll get to having me interrupt the polite conversation, stand up on your coffee table in my chore boots, and start declaiming.  Here goes:  I reject functional, unpleasurable eating.  My mental and physical well being are closely tied to eating enjoyable food in good company.  Food should taste good.  It should provide satiety.  I could qualify this in all kinds of ways with advice for moderation, exercise, and avoiding scurvy, but who needs all that?  We have long-standing socially oriented, locally appropriate food traditions (although these may take some work to rediscover if your personal and family food traditions have been eroded during the last few generations).  We have brains; we have taste receptors; we have a fascinating digestive-neural feedback network.  These systems served humans well for a long time before we had lobbyists, Food Pyramids, or ChooseMyPlate.gov to tell us what to eat.

Enjoy your meal.

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