Still a Fast Food Nation
March 15, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Still a Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser reflects on his book's tenth anniversary (previously).
posted by box (86 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are there any problems that some of us recognized 10 years ago that have actually gotten better?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:55 AM on March 15, 2012


This book made me go vegetarian for 4 years.
posted by scose at 8:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow and here's a FPP about the book prior to release in 2001.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:58 AM on March 15, 2012


That book basically convinced to learn how to cook from scratch RIGHT NOW.
posted by The Whelk at 8:59 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love that book; I grew up in Greeley (where they raise and slaughter cows) and went to college in Colorado Springs (an ugly strip mall).
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:01 AM on March 15, 2012


I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years but I read this book anyway just because it was popular at the time it was released and it shocked me.

“The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: coliform levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat.”
posted by sngbk at 9:03 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Whelk: "That book basically convinced to learn how to cook from scratch RIGHT NOW."

Yeah that's the better response. Meat can get unfairly demonized, but it's not meat is the problem, rather how it's raised and processed, which you have control over. Buy from a local farmer grass fed and unprocessed. Costs more, as it should.
posted by stbalbach at 9:04 AM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yeah, that book was definitely one of the factors behind my farmer's market habit (or it became so once I could afford to shop at the farmer's market) and I never buy supermarket ground beef anymore.

(But I still sometimes eat at Taco Bell.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This book made me go vegetarian for 4 years.
Yeah. I found it gripping and I stopped eating fast food for a few years. Then I lapsed. I think it's time to pick up the book again.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]



This book made me go vegetarian for 4 years.


So you made it through that whole spinach e. coli disaster ok?
posted by spicynuts at 9:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


restless_nomad, as an omnivore who still eats at Taco Bell once in a very long while, did you know that you can ask to sub beans for meat in any Taco Bell product? They've been really good about it at all the locations I've gone to, and I can't really tell the difference in the meat not being there.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:17 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's funny to say but this book made me crave McDonalds. i hadn't eaten it in a long time and i went on a fast food renaissance for at least a year afterward...
posted by carlodio at 9:18 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


So you made it through that whole spinach e. coli disaster ok?

Iron stomach!

Seriously though, at the time my decision was more based on political/environmental reasons than health. I am from North Carolina where pig feces float from the hog farm lagoons into our rivers every time it rains heavily. But I went back to eating meat anyway.
posted by scose at 9:21 AM on March 15, 2012


did you know that you can ask to sub beans for meat in any Taco Bell product?

Yeah, back in my long-ago vegetarian days, I'd do that pretty regularly. Now, it's full-on cheating, and there's no sense trying to mitigate cheating. It just spoils the fun.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:22 AM on March 15, 2012


So you made it through that whole spinach e. coli disaster ok?

Most contaminants can be washed off vegetables using water.

For meat, you have to use ammonia to wash out contaminants.

I know which I"d rather deal with.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:24 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"At the moment, the main problem with the food movement is how few Americans can enjoy its benefits."

This, from the second page of the article. The last ten years have seen some great trends in expanded consciousness and availability of healthy, high quality food, but even if you're lucky enough to live in a place with farmer's markets and CSAs it's still really expensive. As usual, the profit lies in catering to the affluent, in the form of luxury supermarkets like Whole Foods and spinning out organic-labeled versions of everything at double the price. This is all good and well, but the vast majority of people don't need to switch to eating grass-fed beef so much as they need to alter their basic eating habits. Myself included!

Personally I think the ongoing triumph of Subway over burger places is the most important development in general food health in the last ten years.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:31 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


(In the interest of full disclosure: I understand that the spinach e. coli outbreak you mention involved a strain that actually couldn't be easily washed away. However - I also note that this strain could also be killed by....cooking the spinach. Which is still a hell of a lot healthier than using ammonia.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2012


You know what I'm referring to, right? I wasn't making up a hypothetical.
posted by spicynuts at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2012


You know what I'm referring to, right? I wasn't making up a hypothetical.

Yeah, I know. That's why I went back and added the link to "this is a strain that couldn't be washed, but cooking the spinach DOES work".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on March 15, 2012


I see we crossed in the ether. My point was that switching to being vegetarian after reading the book does not reduce your risk of exposure, considering that a good percentage of food borne illness results from vegetable, not animal, product.
posted by spicynuts at 9:34 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me be clear, though...I am NOT disparaging the choice to be vegetarian/vegan. Merely presenting a big picture.
posted by spicynuts at 9:35 AM on March 15, 2012


Why wouldn't it be? People like eating meat.

I'd heard about this, where Jamie Oliver made chicken nuggets in front of kids, thinking they wouldn't want to eat them if they knew how they were made. But that turned out not to be the case.

I don't understand why people can't get their heads around the fact that stuff that grosses them out doesn't always gross out other people.
However - I also note that this strain could also be killed by....cooking the spinach. Which is still a hell of a lot healthier than using ammonia.
You realize that's also true of the bacteria on meat, right? We obviously want clean meat because not everyone always cooks meat properly. Doing both is a form of redundancy.

On the other hand, not everyone cooks their vegetables. People use spinach and other leafy greens all the time in salads or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


spicynuts: “Let me be clear, though...I am NOT disparaging the choice to be vegetarian/vegan. Merely presenting a big picture.”

How the hell is that presenting "a big picture"? That's like linking to a mad cow horror story where three people died and snidely remarking that you're giving "a big picture" of meat-eating.
posted by koeselitz at 9:40 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Try to follow my logic...I know I'm not Descartes...but let's try:

1. A person commented that they switched to vegetarianism after reading the book
2. Given 1, I presumed that a certain portion of that decision was based on the cleanliness issues described in the book
3. Given 2, I noted to myself, well, that doesn't really solve the entirety of the issue
4. I am at work
5. Given 3 and 4, I opted for a brief sentence, slightly humorous, expounding point 3

So, which part of that logic is not about a bigger picture? Note, "bigger" is not synonymous with "full".

Thank you.
posted by spicynuts at 9:44 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see we crossed in the ether. My point was that switching to being vegetarian after reading the book does not reduce your risk of exposure, considering that a good percentage of food borne illness results from vegetable, not animal, product.

Nah, I gotcha.

But it actually speaks to a larger difference between "processing" vegetables vs. meat for mass consumption. I'll admit my experience with processing vegetables and produce is confined to home cooking and my forays into home canning, but if you're gonna do any canning you do still have to take a bit of a self-taught crash course, so: what I understand is that a lot of the vegetable/produce contaminants can be dealt with, at home, by either washing the produce before you cook it, or just by cooking it. One of my canning books even says that giving your home-canned whatever a good hard boil for about 10 minutes would kill any botulism spores that got into your food if you're nervous (although, try like hell to not let them get in in the first place). Wikipedia seems to back this up.

With meat, it's not quite as easy to wash it off, or boil it for 10 minutes, without making the food unappetizing. Yeah, you cook it if you've got a burger, but I'm trying to find evidence that the temperature at which you'd cook a burger is enough to kill off the e. coli. Other food-borne pathogens common to meat (salmonella, for instance) can be a little easier to deal with, but still a bit more of a challenge to deal with for the home cook, much less the packing plant, restaurant, etc.

You are right that it's no guarantee that going veggie would prevent you from all foodborne illness. But it strikes me that prevention is a little easier with vegetable dishes than it is with meat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The book had a profound effect on me, but not just in terms of fast food consumption. I also cut down on processed foods altogether, starting with the snack aisle at the supermarket and the frozen junk food section (Hot Pockets, et al). Now I even grind my own beef. I know I'm not perfectly executing the food revolution in my kitchen, as I buy non-organic fruits and veggies all the time (although I do try to buy local produce, not hard to do in California). I couldn't tell you if it has caused me to be skinnier or fatter, or healthier even, but I feel like it's a better way to live life: by eating food that I can identify the ingredients to, and knowing where my food comes from. Full disclosure, knowledge is power, etc.

FYI, from an epidemiological standpoint, e coli really only comes from one source: shit. Okay, it might come from direct contact to an animal's entrails. The point is, how do you think spinach got infected with e coli? Magic? No, there was shit in the spinach. From cows and pigs.

The bigger monster that Schlosser talks about in his book is large processing plants, which is the demon that creates such large amounts of tainted food.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:50 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's not meat is the problem

Well, there's a honking great study just out that begs to differ--at least when it comes to red meat. And no, the study doesn't differentiate between grass-fed and non-grass fed--but the claim that this difference is critical is purely faith-based at this point.
posted by yoink at 9:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


My point was that switching to being vegetarian after reading the book does not reduce your risk of exposure, considering that a good percentage of food borne illness results from vegetable, not animal, product.

I find this highly doubtful. What is "a good percentage" and how does it compare to the meat percentage?

Also keeping in mind that it's very, very easy to grow vegetables at home but relatively difficult to produce meat there.
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"At the moment, the main problem with the food movement is how few Americans can enjoy its benefits."

Relevant to this, for any DC residents I just got the following email this morning:
I think a lot of you know that we are doing incentive programs for SNAP (food stamps) and WIC purchases at 14&U and BFM this season. We will be giving bonus dollars to low- income customers to increase their purchasing power of fruits and vegetables at market.

We have been petitioning the Mayor;s office to put $150,000 in the 2013 budget to support these programs at farmers' markets citywide. And we just heard that it might happen -- IF the Mayor hears from a LOT of us today and tomorrow.

WE NEED YOUR HELP--- It will just take 60 seconds.

Please call Mayor Gray Today or Friday before 3 pm! Phone calls make a big impact.

It's a beautiful day, so maybe you can use this call from your cell phone as an excuse to step outside for a minute....

Please call the Mayor's Office at 202-727-6263 -- or you can stay at your computer and email vincent.gray@dc.gov -- and relay the following message -- just the first two line will be fine if you are calling in.

"My name is ____ and I am a supporter of D.C. farmers' markets, especially [name of market(s) you support].Please put $150,000 into the fiscal year 2013 budget for farmers' market incentive programs for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program), WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) recipients. This District support would help leverage additional investments from foundations and other donors. It would help low-income consumers double the amount of fruits and vegetables they can purchase at participating farmers markets and generate local economic activity."

End of message to Mayor's office.

Thank you for supporting nutrition incentive programs at 14&U, BFM and other markets across the city.!
posted by inigo2 at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This, from the second page of the article. The last ten years have seen some great trends in expanded consciousness and availability of healthy, high quality food, but even if you're lucky enough to live in a place with farmer's markets and CSAs it's still really expensive. As usual, the profit lies in catering to the affluent, in the form of luxury supermarkets like Whole Foods and spinning out organic-labeled versions of everything at double the price. This is all good and well, but the vast majority of people don't need to switch to eating grass-fed beef so much as they need to alter their basic eating habits. Myself included!

The reason that healthy food in considered a "luxury" is only because of its relative cost compared to the nutrition-deficient alternatives. A frequent point made is that choosing to not eat meat or to eat organic food is a privilege afforded only to the upper crust, the farmer's market crowd with ample free time to pick out, but this focus on socioeconomic equality is a non-sequitor, and really disguises the original problem of poor food production. If we had higher standards for produce and meat, it would not be considered a luxury to consume uncontaminated, nutritious food. Cheap, unhealthy food also contains hidden costs in the form of long-term health, medical bills, lost wages, et cetera, it's not actually cheaper.

Somehow, the conversation about food turns into a finger-wagging exercise. The poor are dumb and unhealthy, so we must 'educate' them with physical education in schools and PSAs about eating right. The rich should shut up and enjoy their privileged access to organic vegetables at their farmer's markets. These are results, not causes. The government subsidizes corn, so food manufacturers put corn syrup in everything. The government subsidizes milk, so milk is in everything. Food lobbies are driving down the costs of their products, the end result being an unhealthy, often uninsured class of low-income people who are reacting to market conditions by eating the cheapest food available, which just happens to be engineered to poison them, make them fat, and raise their risk of disease.

But it's okay, because we can still pretend that this is about moral character. American politics has already evolved the tools for us. Poor people are poor because they're "disadvantaged", a word disguising the role of the social structure which has completely failed them. Likewise, the poor don't have "the luxury" to eat healthy foods. Different code, same meaning.
posted by deathpanels at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [20 favorites]


So, which part of that logic is not about a bigger picture? Note, "bigger" is not synonymous with "full".

Well, how do you even measure the "size" of a "picture"? Presenting one additional fact doesn't really seem like a "bigger picture" It enlarges the "total picture" but you aren't yourself presenting the larger picture itself.

So it's easy to see how people wouldn't really consider what you said to be the "bigger picture"
With meat, it's not quite as easy to wash it off, or boil it for 10 minutes, without making the food unappetizing. Yeah, you cook it if you've got a burger, but I'm trying to find evidence that the temperature at which you'd cook a burger is enough to kill off the e. coli.
Well, here's the thing though: How many people die every year from E.Coli poisoning in the U.S? If the number is low, then it must be pretty safe, right?

That's what I don't get. Tens of thousands of people die every year from driving, but people who say they are worried about the risk of food-based illness don't all stop driving as well. Why so worried about getting a stomach ache compared to being horribly mangled by twisted steel?

It seems mostly just a kind of disgust, rather then a rational cost-benefit analysis.
But it actually speaks to a larger difference between "processing" vegetables vs. meat for mass consumption. I'll admit my experience with processing vegetables and produce is confined to home cooking and my forays into home canning, but if you're gonna do any canning you do still have to take a bit of a self-taught crash course
Okay but do you cook/can all your vegetables? That doesn't seem like the 'normal' way to eat them at all. I don't usually cook veggies, if I'm making a dish with them i'll put them in last so that they don't turn to mush. Usually, I'll put them in a sandwich.

In fact, if you cooked/canned all your vegetables, and never ate fresh food at all, you would get scurvy, because the vitamin C would be destroyed.


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it? It seems fairly obvious to me that if Americans do something hundreds of billions of times a year, and hardly anyone gets sick from it or dies, then it's not dangerous.
posted by delmoi at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


The real point about Schlosser's book is that [fast] food has a hidden cost (its externalities), and that the price of cheap food is borne somewhere else - the poor way animals are treated, the way the processors are treated, the way the foodservice staff are treated or just the way your insides are treated.

Where Schlosser's book has particular resonance is that there are a lot of very fat people in America, and elsewhere. And the most important enabler of this is the availability of cheap, high calorie food.

Healthy food should not be a luxury. I don't mean on principle. I mean that the food industry in America particularly is geared to turning out prodigious quantities of food that simply is not needed - and has been built around the idea of quantity over quality.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it?

The number of people who died of bubonic plague last year was also pretty damn small. You still think THAT'S dangerous, right?....

And there are also periodic outbreaks of e. coli due to improper meat processing. They don't happen every year, but they do happen. So how many outbreaks have to happen before people realize "yo, maybe the way we process meat isn't all that great"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:10 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: e. coli isn't the only "danger" from fast food.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on March 15, 2012


It seems fairly obvious to me that if Americans do something hundreds of billions of times a year, and hardly anyone gets sick from it or dies, then it's not dangerous.

Danger is not an absolute. It's relative to the benefit. Running with scissors isn't that "dangerous" by your metric either (how often does it happen compared to how often you poke your eye out). But there's no benefit to running with scissors, which means you get N risk and 0 reward. That's a terrible ratio (infinite "danger" basically).

So what's the reward value of meat? To some people, it's low. Thus any amount of risk means the danger is fairly high. To others, the reward is high.
posted by DU at 10:12 AM on March 15, 2012


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it? It seems fairly obvious to me that if Americans do something hundreds of billions of times a year, and hardly anyone gets sick from it or dies, then it's not dangerous.

Red meat is proven to raise the risk of heart disease. Generally, meat isn't especially nutritious, other than as a source of protein, and it contains saturated fats.

I doubt anyone has every eaten a hamburger and died where he stood, but there are real, long-term, scientifically verified health risks.
posted by deathpanels at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have the sudden urge to eat a dirty water hot dog while running with scissors.
posted by item at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's been a lot of years since I read this book. But as I recall, pathogen risk is just one piece of the overall argument against industrialized meat. Worker treatment, environmental damage, and poor nutrition are other pieces. Far more important ones in my opinion.
posted by scose at 10:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Generally, meat isn't especially nutritious, other than as a source of protein, and it contains saturated fats.

And from an efficiency/sustainability POV, it's terrible. If we could live on sunshine directly, we'd be doing pretty well. Eating creatures that eat sunshine is very inefficient. Eat creatures that eat creatures that eat sunshine is abysmal.

Meat should basically be a flavoring, if that. It's too wasteful to grow more than that.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on March 15, 2012


I don't understand why people can't get their heads around the fact that stuff that grosses them out doesn't always gross out other people.

Some people (me) don't eat beef (or pork or chicken) not because eating beef is gross, but because the current processing and torture of animals at factory farms to make it, is gross. But it's true it would be hard to get my head around the fact that anyone who saw these processes in action would think they are fine and dandy as is (and not gross).
posted by Glinn at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


delmoi: “Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it? It seems fairly obvious to me that if Americans do something hundreds of billions of times a year, and hardly anyone gets sick from it or dies, then it's not dangerous.”

It has been pointed out that Americans experience a slew of diseases and maladies – cancer, for instance – at much higher rates than any other known population in history. People have lots of theories about this, and of course when you're talking about billions of people it's hard to narrow down exact causes.

Basically, I don't think you can rule out problems with meat-eating by pointing at the general health of Americans.
posted by koeselitz at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


IMHO there needs to be some executive action on this - some harsh new rules for meat production that result in the price of meat going up by half or more, and incentives for local production and distribution. The problem is that oversight becomes a full-time job of the agency making the rules, because obviously the slaughterhouses and barns are going to cut corners wherever possible - they'd cut the corners off the cows if they could.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:39 AM on March 15, 2012


I was confused at first-- only ten years ago? Turns out the hardcover edition was published in January 2001. Which makes so much more sense to me, because this book definitely belongs to my pre-9/11 view of America. Reading about factory farms and endless miles of strip-mall junk food is like a soothing bedtime story compared to how frightening the last decade has been.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


BlackLeotardFront: “IMHO there needs to be some executive action on this - some harsh new rules for meat production that result in the price of meat going up by half or more, and incentives for local production and distribution.

I agree, but that seems a little indirect to me. The problem is that there are massive subsidies on meat production in the United States. Drop the meat subsidies and give them to vegetable producers. That's what can be done on the federal level – local incentives have to happen locally, I think. One of the main problems is that meat is much cheaper than vegetables, which really makes no sense when you think about it, and which is only true because of those subsidies.
posted by koeselitz at 10:43 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Denise Minger takes a closer look at that latest Red Meat Will Kill You study here.

TL;DR: Observational studies, especially ones dependent on food frequency questionnaires, can't tell you very much.

"If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat."
posted by Space Coyote at 10:47 AM on March 15, 2012


The problem is that there are massive subsidies on meat production in the United States.

Meat, high fructose corn syrup, highways, ethanol, health insurance, suburban housing, ... a pure 100% undiluted record of fucking over our health and environment for lobbyist money. :(
posted by scose at 10:52 AM on March 15, 2012


scary stories for human veal calves...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2012


I, personally, never eat anything that has a face.

I always cut off that part first.

I just started a cat-fur business. I sell their hides to by food for the rats, which I feed to the cats. So far so good, although some of my neighbors are beginning to complain about the yowling.
posted by mule98J at 11:00 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]



The number of people who died of bubonic plague last year was also pretty damn small. You still think THAT'S dangerous, right?....
I had always thuought the plague was pretty lethal, so I looked it up:
The plague victims had a 50/50 chance of surviving due to symptoms such as high fevers and internal bleeding that caused black spots and large tumors. “The victim feels a profound depression, and death usually comes after three to five days. ” he Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, it has been conclusively proven via analysis of ancient DNA from plague victims in northern and southern Europe that the pathogen responsible is the Yersinia pestis bacterium.[1] Thought to have started in China, it travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346.
From there it was probably carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. It spread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe's population

reducing world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century.
I didn't notice the 'last year' part until after I'd read that. But, the reason no one died from the plague last year because it's not around anymore. I have to say, no, I'm not really afraid of it - any more then I'm afraid of getting eaten by a T-Rex.

In general, I don't think I'm afraid of things that are unlikely to hurt me. I mean yeah some stuff is gross, like cockroaches, but there is a difference between being grossed out and being actually 'scared' that something would hurt you
posted by delmoi at 11:02 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This book changed everything about the way I eat and shop. Half way through it, I knew I'd never eat again at a chain or fast food restaurant, and I haven't, ever since. I stopped buying a lot of processed food, like TV dinners, when I noticed who was making them. And I started eating a lot less meat, and none from the US conveyer belt meat system.

It is also because of reading this book that I read Pollan and Temple Grandin's books, as well as Schlosser's Reefer Madness (which includes a powerful indictment of the strawberry industry) watched Fast Food Nation and Food Inc., started buying from local farmers and food markets, and joined a food cooperative.

Today I don't eat meat or poultry, I buy local and in season, and almost everything I purchase is organic. And I'm pretty sure this book is why I feel more energetic and stronger and fitter than I did when I was in my 20s.

Too bad everyone hasn't read Fast Food Nation. Because I know I am far from the only one it affected profoundly.
posted by bearwife at 11:03 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It has been pointed out that Americans experience a slew of diseases and maladies – cancer, for instance – at much higher rates than any other known population in history. People have lots of theories about this, and of course when you're talking about billions of people it's hard to narrow down exact causes.

Basically, I don't think you can rule out problems with meat-eating by pointing at the general health of Americans.
Cancer rates are higher all over the developed world. I'm sure china has higher cancer rates then the U.S, given the popularity of smoking and the massive amounts of pollution. But probably not nearly as much meat consumption, given their poverty levels.
posted by delmoi at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2012


century.
I didn't notice the 'last year' part until after I'd read that. But, the reason no one died from the plague last year because it's not around anymore.


Read a bit further in that Wikipedia article you quoted (nothing against Wikipedia, I just recognize the language from having just read it myself). And if you read further, you'll note that there was a case last year.

It's rare, yeah -- and there may be a given calendar year that passes without a case - but it's not extinct. And still hella dangerous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meat can get unfairly demonized

Meat is quite fairly demonized. (By the way, didn't Jesus do that with some pigs?)

There are a number of arguments against eating meat. You don't have to believe all of them to be convinced that it is better not to eat meat than it is to eat meat.
posted by pracowity at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it? It seems fairly obvious to me that if Americans do something hundreds of billions of times a year, and hardly anyone gets sick from it or dies, then it's not dangerous.

This is exactly the sort of comment people used to make about smoking back when the health consequences of smoking were first becoming widely understood. No one is saying "eat a steak and you'll drop dead"--they're saying "eat red meat five times a week and your chances of getting a whole variety of cancers increase substantially."
posted by yoink at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, there's a honking great study just out that begs to differ
As it turns out that 13% increase in mortality is the result of using data collection techniques with 30% (or more) error as well as using correlation implies causation reasoning without any kind of rigor. IOW, it's crap science.
posted by plinth at 11:42 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, people are saying a whole variety of stuff. I thought delmoi's point was that the danger of food-borne illness from meat is not really that great, and people are irrational to worry about it more than something like car accidents (true of almost every danger people worry about in the US).

But it's also true that the dangers of meat are not at all restricted to food-borne illness.
posted by grobstein at 11:43 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought this book on a family trip back in high school, so a lot of my family members knew I had read it. I was a huge fast-food lover and I pretty much stopped cold turkey after reading the book. After a few weeks or months - enough time that my family saw that I really meant it - they all said the same thing to me:

"Oh my gosh, I'll never read that book. I love fast food too much."

They knew that I really loved fast food, and if that book got me to stop eating it, it must be pretty damn horrifying. It could probably get them to stop eating fast food, too! And so they said, yeah, no, not reading that, don't wanna know.

(Fortunately, in the years since then, they've all significantly decreased their fast food consumption anyway, for a variety of reasons. But I'm still amazed by their reasons for not reading that book.)
posted by mandanza at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2012


It isn't about meat. That some of us were so sickened by the way animals are raised, handled and slaughtered to produce our meat may have led us, slowly or immediately, to giving up meat. But Fast Food Nation and the movement to produce and consume food differently than via the industrial food machine is not the same thing as vegetarianism at all. As the article linked to in the post points out, there are direct consequences from the American fast food culture. These include a huge nationwide health issue, very much concentrated among those who are poorer and without resources. They include unbelievably inhumane treatment of exploited illegal workers, environmental destruction, powerful anti-union action, the siphoning of young people into dead end jobs which are also dangerous (because fast food places continue to attract robberies), and many other ills too.

After I read FFN, I no longer bought factory farmed and produced meat. And, because I absolutely abhor animal mistreatment, I also ate less. Now none. But the book is about the way industrial food is produced, processed, marketed and sold -- and that's a much bigger topic than meat.
posted by bearwife at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's rare, yeah -- and there may be a given calendar year that passes without a case - but it's not extinct. And still hella dangerous.

Ah, okay. As I was skimming the various articles I saw a 'recent outbreaks' and saw something about hawaii... I didn't notice the one case.

But here's the thing, black death may be dangerous if you get it, but you are extreemly unlikely to get it - which means that the risk of black death to any specific individual is really low. If I were working in a bio-weapons lab and actually handling it, then yeah, I would be nervous.

Anyway this is kind of besides the point. Meat is not, itself, dangerous. E.Coli is typically not dangerous, just a few rare strains are. In fact, you probably have e.coli living in your gut right now.

Anyway, that's kind of beside the point. There is a huge difference between eating meat, and getting the plague. The black plague is, to a certain extent just 'out there'. You can't control it, you either get infected or you don't. But "eating meat" is an action, it's a thing people do. Just like how "Driving drunk" is a thing that people do, along with "Sleeping in the same bed as someone with bubonic plauge", "BASE Jumping", "Swimming in the Ocean", or "sitting on the couch"

Anyway, what we want to know is is an action dangerous. For something that's never been done before, or only done rarely, you have to look what's involved and make an estimate. When the space shuttle was built people had no way of knowing exactly how dangerous it would be, but different people made different calculations (originally, it was expected only 1 in 10,000 flights would crash, although Richard Feynman famously predicted it would be 1 in 100)

But, when it's something people do all the time, like eating meat, you just count how many people do it, and how often something bad happens. That's not just a good way of estimating, it's actually the definition of risk.

Since lots and lots of people eat meat every day, and very few people get sick, we know eating meat is not risky.

Sure, there is the potential of something bad happening, but it's very low.

You wouldn't swim in the ocean if you knew there were a bunch of sharks swimming around, and you wouldn't eat meat that you knew was tainted. But not eating any meat (or not eating any fast food) due to concerns about bacteria is like never swimming in the ocean because you don't like sharks.

Yes, there is a problem if you get too fat. But there is nothing preventing vegetarians from getting fat, it's presumably just more difficult. And you can still eat fast food/junk food occasionally while dieting, so long as you keep overall calories low.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems to me there are a couple of derails going on here. As I read the book, it was about how disgusting and unethical the fastfood industry is, and how its products make us fatter and sicker (not dead right away). And now Schlosser, while finding some things improved, is pointing out how this also has a strong negative social dimension. To me, that is a sound evaluation.
On preview, what bearwife wrote.
And ps: because I am allergic to msg, I've cooked from scratch for the last 20 years. The first year or several were tough, and I miss hotdogs, but it's better than suffocating from astma and being covered with rashes. Now: we had homecooked food exactly one hour after I left work, including transportation and shopping.
posted by mumimor at 12:06 PM on March 15, 2012


IOW, it's crap science.

You link to a site by someone with a very particular dietary axe to grind, who appears to have no training as a scientist, and whose criticism of the study is that it is observational and not a randomized controlled study--which is a criticism which would essentially rule out any meaningful scientific study of diet and health. Almost all the studies establishing a connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer were observational rather than randomized controlled studies. I don't think any ethics board would approve of a randomized controlled study of cigarettes in any case.

The meat study may or may not be "crap science," but your link certainly doesn't add an ounce of weight to the claim that it is.
posted by yoink at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


(But I still sometimes eat at Taco Bell.)

You can get fat eating the sin carne items at Taco Bell.
posted by clarknova at 12:22 PM on March 15, 2012


This is exactly the sort of comment people used to make about smoking back when the health consequences of smoking were first becoming widely understood. No one is saying "eat a steak and you'll drop dead"--they're saying "eat red meat five times a week and your chances of getting a whole variety of cancers increase substantially."
Hmm, I looked around and apparently some people have seen higher rates of some types of cancer in people who eat meat. Other types of cancer at the same rate. But I would imagine that there are lots of other lifestyle differences between people who eat meat and vegitarians on average as well.

In any event, I wasn't talking about chronic diseases like heart disease or hypertension, but rather the possibility of getting immediately sick from eating tainted involved meat, or fast food in general. That's what people were talking about earlier, saying the way fast food was made was somehow dangerous over the short term. Maybe it can be described in a way that sounds gross, but that doesn't make it harmful.

Clearly, bad eating habits can hurt you, but as I said, you can get fat from eating only plant/mineral based products (such as chocolate, roasted peanuts, french fries, onion rings, etc)

When it comes to health problems due to obesity, it doesn't matter if you're eating an organic kobe beef steak or McD's hamburger. They will both make you fat. But the claim is that the food supply chain used to get meat into the burger is somehow harmful. But if it's really harmful, then where is the harm? (Again, different question from whether or not eating lots of fatty foods is good for you - it's not, whether it's McD's, an organic steak, or home made french fries in vegetable oil you squeezed yourself)
posted by delmoi at 12:44 PM on March 15, 2012


It seems to me there are a couple of derails going on here. As I read the book, it was about how disgusting and unethical the fastfood industry is, and how its products make us fatter and sicker (not dead right away).

Arguably, Schlosser's ancestor, Upton Sinclair, had a similar derail with The Jungle -- he was intending for it to be a book about labor laws and socialism. But the takeaway eveyrone had instead was "ewww, is THAT what happens in the meat packing plants?"

Sinclair himself mused, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident hit its stomach."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:45 PM on March 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


it doesn't matter if you're eating an organic kobe beef steak or McD's hamburger. They will both make you fat.

Well, it's actually the bun, the ketchup and the 1L Coke that will make you fat. The meat in a McDonald's meal is pretty inconsequential.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:47 PM on March 15, 2012


Pretty sure you can get it without the coke.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to thank this book for introducing me to Conway's Red Top Burgers in Colorado Springs. They are, without doubt, things of awesome beauty.
posted by scruss at 12:56 PM on March 15, 2012


IOW, it's crap science.

You link to a site by someone with a very particular dietary axe to grind, who appears to have no training as a scientist, and whose criticism of the study is that it is observational and not a randomized controlled study--which is a criticism which would essentially rule out any meaningful scientific study of diet and health. Almost all the studies establishing a connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer were observational rather than randomized controlled studies. I don't think any ethics board would approve of a randomized controlled study of cigarettes in any case.

The meat study may or may not be "crap science," but your link certainly doesn't add an ounce of weight to the claim that it is.


I think the "Gnolls" link does provide some reason to be skeptical of the latest round of red meat studies. The very low accuracy of the survey methodology is especially striking. The problem is selective skepticism. If you apply the tools of critical thinking only to positions you want to disagree with, you will deceive yourself -- even if your criticisms are usually smart and accurate. These days it seems like there's a laser-focused science skepticism for everyone -- decide exactly what you want to believe, and you can find a blog that helps you discount all contrary evidence.

Much (or possibly most) published science is of low value. So if you scrutinize your opponents' science carefully enough, you will always find reasons to doubt it. But you have to be very careful what conclusions you draw from this.

(I liked your comment, yoink, and I was trying to write something similar myself. For some reason, though, I feel compelled to point out that you probably could do an ethical RCT on smoking and cancer -- recruit smokers and have the treatment group quit. The general point that it is infeasible to study many important things via RCT remains. And how can a peddler of a "paleo" diet criticize other people's food science on the grounds that there are no RCTs? Are there RCTs of the "paleo" diet?)
posted by grobstein at 12:58 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say this affected the way I eat as much as me getting older and fatter and wanting to eat better for the sake of my health. But I'm glad I can go to a fast food place and order healthier food now. Taco Bell's Fresca menu and I are good friends.
posted by byronshell at 1:19 PM on March 15, 2012


And how can a peddler of a "paleo" diet criticize other people's food science on the grounds that there are no RCTs? Are there RCTs of the "paleo" diet?

I think you'll find that he just knows that it works. He don't need no steenking RCT. Or even a steenking observational study.

I feel compelled to point out that you probably could do an ethical RCT on smoking and cancer -- recruit smokers and have the treatment group quit

Your problem is that the study has to be double blind to meet his high standards. So somehow you'd have to be administering tobacco smoke to some of them and some indistinguishable non-tobacco alternative smoke to the others. I guess is you had randomly selected tobacco smokers who were willing to quit but not necessarily committed to quitting that would address the ethical problem. The double blinding would tend to be broken, though, by the obvious side-effects of tobacco withdrawal.
posted by yoink at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2012


it doesn't matter if you're eating an organic kobe beef steak or McD's hamburger

Kobe beef steak: 100g serving = 240 calories.

MacDonald's Big Mac: 540 calories And 1040 mg sodium too.

the claim is that the food supply chain used to get meat into the burger is somehow harmful. But if it's really harmful, then where is the harm?

You mean, besides the periodic food poisoning due to the incorporation of feces in the meat? These are regular events, and they tend to be lethal for children. Or maybe you are wondering what could be the harm of the hormones and antibiotics? Or perhaps it just doesn't matter, contrary to all the evidene collected by people like Pollan, that these animals are stuffed with a food they would never normally eat, grain, instead of grass?

To me, the way the hamburger is delivered this is about more than obesity, though Schlosser is right that the obesity problems is especially acute for poorer populations with minimal access to anything but processed and fast food. It is about the quality of the calories and the contamination in the food supply. And again, the issues with the food industry are much, much broader than meat or obesity or regular contamination of the meat supply.
posted by bearwife at 1:31 PM on March 15, 2012


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it?

A friend in the medical profession once claimed that nearly all cases of what people call "24 hour stomach flu" are actually mild-to-moderate food poisoning -- that real flu cases take much longer than 24 hours to recover from.
posted by aught at 1:46 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


As bearwife pointed out, the use of high amounts of antibiotics in factory farmed meat is a concern. If we shouldn't be giving our kids antibiotics constantly due to the fear of creating super-bugs, why should we turn a blind eye when it's done to animals?

Waste runoff from factory pig farms was classified as toxic waste (that's in one of the books, but I don't remember which), and workers need to use breathing apparatuses while working. It seems that banning these conditions is at least as important as banning smoking in bars due to concerns about staff health.
posted by Crash at 1:49 PM on March 15, 2012


Yoink: which is a criticism which would essentially rule out any meaningful scientific study of diet and health. Almost all the studies establishing a connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer were observational rather than randomized controlled studies.

Yes this doesn't dismiss his argument that a 12% increase in a study proven to have 30% error in data collection makes the conclusion suspicious at best.

Yoink: I think you'll find that he just knows that it works. He don't need no steenking RCT. Or even a steenking observational study.

Et tu brute? How do you actually know that he "just knows it"? FWIW, I know the owner of the gnolls site (I've known him for more than 20 years, actually) and while I don't agree with his rhetorical style and I find some of the points that he uses to justify paleo questionable1, I do know that his analysis and research skills are beyond reproach.

I do not promote paleo, but I am, however, wary of anything that is based on correlation implies causation, especially with high error rates. So I would politely suggest that before you continue ad hominem, you might want to explain why his arguments are incorrect - is the FFQ accurate? What kind of sampling errors were in the study? What was the error rate? Was there sampling bias? And after that, if we accept that they have identified the correlation, what kind of test can be done to cross verify it that isn't susceptible to the same fundamental problems? And if you can identify that, why wasn't it done?

Identifying a correlation, in my mind isn't science - it's statistics.

1To me the evidence that the human body is meant to be omnivorous is in the dentition and the digestive tract, and that rules us out as 100% carnivore or 100% predator. I see the reality of the situation living in a balance point somewhere in the middle.
posted by plinth at 3:28 PM on March 15, 2012


yoink: “I think you'll find that he just knows that it works. He don't need no steenking RCT. Or even a steenking observational study.”

plinth: “Et tu brute? How do you actually know that he "just knows it"? FWIW, I know the owner of the gnolls site (I've known him for more than 20 years, actually) and while I don't agree with his rhetorical style and I find some of the points that he uses to justify paleo questionable, I do know that his analysis and research skills are beyond reproach.”

Er – isn't that totally beside the point? I mean, it's great that you know the guy, and I'm certain he's a wonderful fellow. But does he believe in RCTs? Does he post any examples of even observational studies that bolster his positions? I've poked around on the site, but I don't see any.

“Identifying a correlation, in my mind isn't science - it's statistics.”

Identifying correlations is an essential part of science. This whole "CORRELATION DOESN'T IMPLY CAUSATION!!!" thing has gotten quite out of hand. Just because correlation can be misused doesn't mean it's useless. You can't make any conclusions whatsoever scientifically unless you rely at some point on correlation. The point is to try to focus the correlation and eliminate other possible causes before concluding that causation is present.

By the way, if you want large-scale studies of health and nutrition, The China Study is, I think, a valuable source, and though Denise Minger has a good critique of it which is worth reading, she seems to think there's a lot of value there, too.
posted by koeselitz at 4:04 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not promote paleo, but I am, however, wary of anything that is based on correlation implies causation

Unfortunately for you there is literally no other way to deduce causation. Some scholars believe David Hume denied the reality of causation on this basis.
posted by grobstein at 4:15 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: Er – isn't that totally beside the point? I mean, it's great that you know the guy, and I'm certain he's a wonderful fellow.
Beside the point? Not really, no. Yoink stated, "I think you'll find that he just knows that it works." which I, in fact, do know from personal experience to be untrue. I probably shouldn't have validated an ad hominem argument with a defense.

I don't disagree that correlation isn't useless. I do think that in this case the data collection error, sampling errors and sampling bias in this study make the conclusions suspect at best. Please note my earlier words that I am wary of correlation implies causation, not dismissive (I do try to choose my words carefully). It invites scrutiny, as it should.

Identifying correlations is an essential part of science.
Again, I don't think I said otherwise and I stand by my words. Correlation is as much science as a test tube is chemistry.
posted by plinth at 4:47 PM on March 15, 2012


plinth: “Beside the point? Not really, no. Yoink stated, ‘I think you'll find that he just knows that it works.’ which I, in fact, do know from personal experience to be untrue. I probably shouldn't have validated an ad hominem argument with a defense.”

But thus far yoink appears to be absolutely correct; I can't see any discussions of scientific studies on the gnolls site, and all I do see is some pretty vague theorizing. You say that the maintainer of the gnolls site cares about science and does his research. Do you have a citation for that beyond a vague personal vouching for his character? I am sure that he seems like a very good guy and seems to do his research, but can you show us anything that indicates that?
posted by koeselitz at 5:11 PM on March 15, 2012


mule98J: "I just started a cat-fur business. I sell their hides to by food for the rats, which I feed to the cats."

Hüsker Dü got there first.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:29 PM on March 15, 2012


Read that as "Hückster Dü" at first and thought it was some kind of post-ironic scam site.
posted by grobstein at 6:37 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It invites scrutiny, as it should.

That kind of attitude certainly isn't going to win one any friends in the "allergic to MSG" crowd.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:15 PM on March 15, 2012


Anyway, my basic question is: If meat is so 'dangerous' how come more people don't get sick from it?

I would venture that quite a large number people get sick and even die from eating meat. I'm having trouble finding any statistics that just focus on meat, but I don't think one can assume that it's harmless.

It's probably not as dangerous as driving, but in it's a hell of a lot easier to curtail or forgo meat (or at least factory farmed meat) than to not drive a car.
posted by Defenestrator at 9:05 PM on March 15, 2012


Everything our parents said was "good for us" is bad: Sun, milk, red meat, college...
posted by ShutterBun at 10:06 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend in the medical profession once claimed that nearly all cases of what people call "24 hour stomach flu" are actually mild-to-moderate food poisoning -- that real flu cases take much longer than 24 hours to recover from.

Even more meaningful, the flu isn't a gastrointestinal disease.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kobe beef steak: 100g serving = 240 calories.
MacDonald's Big Mac: 540 calories And 1040 mg sodium too.
posted by bearwife at 1:31 PM on March 15


Yes, it has more calories, just as a bushel of broccoli has FOUR TIMES AS MUCH FAT AS A TABLESPOON OF OLIVE OIL!!!! Compare them honestly:

Kobe beef steak, 100g: 240 calories.
MacDonald's Big Mac, 100g: 252 calories

Let's dig up old Ray Kroc's grave, cut off his head, and shove garlic cloves in his mouth. Those 12 additional calories are a sure sign of sorcery!

There are a number of arguments against eating meat. You don't have to believe all of them to be convinced that it is better not to eat meat than it is to eat meat.
posted by pracowity at 11:33 AM on March 15


From that list: "Before adding ketchup, the biggest contributors to the "flavor profile" of a hamburger are the leftover blood and urine."

If you're going to serve up childish lies like that, why should we bother listening to you about the rest of it?
posted by a_girl_irl at 9:44 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one eats 100g of a Big Mac, a_girl_irl. While 100g is single serving size for Kobe beef.

And actually, a single 100g serving of sirloin -- rather than super fatty Kobe beef -- is 215 calories.

As long as we're making honest comparisons here.
posted by bearwife at 1:06 PM on March 17, 2012


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