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The real price of today's cheap food

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Cows and Corn

So we have figured out how to render the very versatile corn plant into a variety of sweeteners, thickeners, emulsifiers and preservatives. But the plant's role in providing us with dinner does not end here. Consider the cow. The cow may very well be North America's favourite thing to eat. We have, after all, literally thousands of fast food outlets throughout the continent all selling basically the same burger. And all these places are not wanting for customers. But how in the world do we produce enough meat to supply all these places, not to mention stock our grocery stores as well as provide enough product for all our restaurants? And how do we do it so cheaply?

The answer, once again, is corn. Once upon a time cattle grazed on grass, a food that they are designed by nature to digest. Their manure was composted into high quality fertilizer that was, in turn, used to nourish crops. There was no need to truck in food or truck out waste. Everything was, in some form, returned to the earth and very little waste was produced.

Again, these are the farms of yesteryear. Always striving for improvement, we humans have devised a better system of producing beef.

The economic boom following World War II saw a huge increase in the demand for beef. We needed more! The system had to be streamlined; cows fattened faster to meet this rising demand. And so the animals were taken off the pasture and transported to feedlots or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where vast quantities of very cheap corn are trucked in to feed the masses. Crowded and filthy, CAFOs are where our beef is raised. Ankle deep in their own manure, cattle have no access to pasture or freedom to roam as a cow might. They are merely numbers, cogs in the great wheel of beef production, like products being produced in a very efficient factory.

The new system works! Cows raised on pasture take three to five years to reach slaughter weight. That same weight can be achieved today in as little as 15 months! That means a whole lot more beef for the buck. Turns out, corn makes cows fat quickly.

Unfortunately, it also makes them sick, as their unique digestive systems are not designed to digest the stuff. But antibiotics in their feed takes care of that along with any other diseases that might transpire due to their rather unsanitary living conditions.

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