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It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
December 28, 2003 11:17 AM   Subscribe

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Alton Brown analyzes the current Mad Cow scare. If you watch FoodTV, you may have seen his show "Good Eats" or at least read a previous thread. His rant reminds us that there are consequences to our lust of more for less.
posted by cowboy (27 comments total)

 
Please also see Fast Food Nation.

Good link, though!
posted by tittergrrl at 11:42 AM on December 28, 2003


When he says "there's a problem with the idea of more for less," I believe this, but it's really tough to work against, because he's talking about what "markets" tend to do -- that is, the behavior that consumers and producers tend towards when their only decision making criteria is economic, especially as the gap between producer and consumer grows.

I see this as illustrative of one of the problems with the invisible hand fundamentalism and the neo/classical theory that underlies it. Useful, to be sure, but when markets are the only guide, there's no provision for unforseen consequences, other than... oh, we'll come up against reality, someone (hopefully someone else) will lose money, get sick, and/or die, and it'll all work out in the long run. And even with forseeable or present-tense consequences, the afforementioned producer/consumer gap presents such an opportunity cost for obtaining information looks high enough at the outset that people avoid it at either end.

I don't shop at Wal-Mart anymore, except as a last resort for an immediately needed item. When friends ask me why, and I begin to explain what some possible impacts of their business practices could be, most of them don't see this as an opportunity to learn more and become a more conscious/informed buyer. They respond "but it's so *cheap*" and think I'm weird.
posted by weston at 12:16 PM on December 28, 2003


Sometimes "doing the right thing" costs money. That's true whether it's shopping at a store that pays a living wage instead of WalMart, or repairing a leaky pipe correctly instead of wrapping it with duct tape and calling it a day, or feeding cows decent food instead of ground up cows too sick to stand up anymore and "chicken litter". But in the long run -- and I think this is both Mr. Brown's point and weston's -- doing the right thing costs less than dealing with the consequences of doing the cheap thing.
posted by ilsa at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2003


"We are to blame because our culture has come to value two qualities above all else: 'cheap', and 'more'."

As opposed to other cultures, which go out of their way to spend more for things.
posted by HTuttle at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2003


Europeans seem to be willing to spend more for things, as a rule. Switzerland and Scandanavia, for example, have the highest standard of living on the planet, as well as the highest tax rate. But back to beef ... japanese kobe beef is highly prized, and worth about as much as gold.

So, yeah, many other cultures are willing to spend more for their meat and bread than we are... think about that, next time your chewing on your hamburger helper or ramen noodles.
posted by crunchland at 2:24 PM on December 28, 2003


As long as the FDA allows agribusiness to totally screw up the food chain by forcing cows to become cannibals...you're likely to get weird things like mad cow disease. But there is a solution for those who love a good steak.

Small ranchers. Small ranchers who pasture feed their critters and don't use hormones, antibiotics, or commercial cannibal feed. You can go here, the Eat Well Guide, plug in your zip code and find stores, ranchers and suppliers of clean healthy critters. The price isn't significantly more expensive than the grocery store...but the food is a whole lot safer.
posted by dejah420 at 2:40 PM on December 28, 2003


Imagine the size of the US herds vs the size of the British cattle herd. In Britain, they test 40000 head of cattle a year for the disease. In the US, they test 4000.

The sound of the other shoe dropping will be when the cattle industry starts explaining their reasons for lobbying the FDA to so totally under survey cattle for the disease as to be statistically irrelevant.

I heard on the news friday that US Beef is a 160 Billion a year business.

I would imagine the beef growers of America are now lobbying for liability caps, cuz once people start dying of this, there will otherwise be asbestos-sized toet claims. They saw it coming, and proactively looked the other way.

Maybe US Beef can force Canada to indemnify them since it seems its all their fault.

[Thanks for the nifty link Dejah]
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:22 PM on December 28, 2003


Bah that site presented as Ranting is plain old insanity ;

I'll go further and say it's an attempt to shift blame from industry to consumer by accusing consumer of wanting cheap (therefore bad) meat instead of expensive (therefore good) meat. Bullshit , or cowshit if you so like.

Anybody with half a working brain knows that cheap is not always equal bad ; for instace if one steals something it comes for very cheap ($0) yet the thing stolen could be a sports car. So it's cheap and it's very good, how comes ?

Because the equation unexpensive=cheap=bad is the same kind of equation as littlemoney=$10=sexy , it's quantity=quality , an impossible equation.

And on a tanget: maybe people ask for unexpensive meat because their wage is so low that they cannot afford to spend all of it on food ? Yet the bufoon is suggesting that cheap people is cause of the problem, while a prion is the most likely cause of MCD ; and the prion "infects" the cow thanks to recycling of slaughterhouse waste (WASTE) into "food" for animals. The reason for recycling being that of further reducing waste disposal costs so to increase profits (with the excuse of the process being eco-friendly so it must be good regardless of the consequences of such a recycling on human beings)
posted by elpapacito at 3:41 PM on December 28, 2003


Mad Cow Disease is a prion disease. Things are nasty. Protein functions are significantly determined by their shape. Thier shape is determined by how the protein folds.

Now see the problem is that a protein can have many folded configurations. Some of the 'normal' configurations are at a higher potential energy level than others. In some cases exposure to a protein or a part of protein folded at a lower energy level will induce a normal functional shape to refold to a shape that is non functional (for its purpose). It is very very hard to treat this. No chemical change has occurred, just a change in shape. So the system relying on that protein breaks down. And as more and more broken folds are in a body it just refolds more and more normal ones. The typical 'treatment' is to stifle the production of the protein and its precursors (and host the host survives) and help the body flush/consume the bad folders out of the system.
posted by MrLint at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2003


Anybody with half a working brain knows that cheap is not always equal bad ; for instace if one steals something it comes for very cheap ($0) yet the thing stolen could be a sports car.

The author never said that cheap is, as a rule, bad. He's merely pointing out that beef consumers care more about price than quality. And anyway, your example doesn't apply. If you want a nice cut of beef, you go to the supermarket. If you want a sportscar, you go to the dealership. You don't walk out of the grocery store with standing rib roasts and sirloin steaks shoved down your pants, do you?

maybe people ask for unexpensive meat because their wage is so low that they cannot afford to spend all of it on food ? Yet the bufoon is suggesting that cheap people is cause of the problem, while a prion is the most likely cause of MCD

But not everybody is living paycheck to paycheck. I alsways see a lot of expensive cars in the grocery store parking lot.
posted by crank at 4:18 PM on December 28, 2003


Don't worry, it's all canada's fault. Everything will be back to normal shortly.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:25 PM on December 28, 2003


Don't worry, it's all canada's fault.

Time for another war!
posted by billsaysthis at 4:46 PM on December 28, 2003


crank:

To get the price of beef down. Why? Because we like it that way

He's generalizing.

That’s right, Mad Cow disease isn’t the beef industry’s fault, it’s not the USDA’s fault, and it’s surely not the cattles’ fault. It’s our fault

BLAME SHIFT in front of your eyes, not even hidden

If we valued..*omissis*we wouldn’t demand that it be cheapest, and in many cases lowest quality, meat on Earth

suggesting that cheap meat is in many cases lowest quality (that's possible and likely) and that it's less desiderable then meat with more desiderable qualities, including that of not being packaged with MCD

Maybe, just maybe if we ate *omissis*we’d be able to afford quality meet from an animal that was raised on honest to goodness grass

suggesting that if we give up eating meat daily, we could save money to buy better quality meat. If we need to save to buy better quality meat,it must be more expensive that everyday meat, otherwise why should we save ?

He's suggesting better quality meat can't be as unexpensive as cheap meat and that it is up to us
to save to buy better.

The "reasoning" behind his rant is that:
1)given that any industry wants to meet demand (to sell products for a profit)
2)if we demand unexpensive (cheap) meat
3)industry will try hard to deliver cheap meet

so far it's reasonable and obvious according to market demand-supply "rules"

but if "cheap meat" has diseases , that is _not because it is cheap_, it is because some industry is using
some methods to make cheaper meat that has got the undesiderable side-effect of making it _bad_ for our health.
So the method is the cause of MCD contamination, not the cheapness of the method, neither the demand for cheap meat.

So we may as well demand cheap meat, but it's up to industry to find a way to make it cheap and NOT unhealthy, it isn't consumer fault (as the author is stating) that the cheap meat produced has MCD, because

1) to begin with, demand for cheap meat is not equal to demand for cheap meat with MCD, consumer hasn't demanded a ticket to afterlife with meat flavor.

2)many consumer have no clue on how to produce meat, that's why they buy it from specialized industries that sell
meat for a profit; if they knew how to raise cattle etc. they wouldn't be paying money to industries for that.

So by not producing the cattle themselves, they give total control of the production chain to industries ; so
how could the consumer be the cause of insertion of MCD in the production chain ? Their demand for cheap meat
doesn't justify using unhealthy production methods per se.

Consumer can demand better quality for less money, it's up to industry and in industry interest to discover how
and to quit blame shifting by proxy.

But not everybody is living paycheck to paycheck. I alsways see a lot of expensive cars in the grocery store parking lot

While I agree that some people may rather spend more on a car then on good food (fools, imho) that doesn't mean
that if you see expensive cars the owners are buying cheap stuff ; they COULD be buying cheap stuff and maybe
they're buying cheap stuff, but that's because

1) they're bloody rich, but they like to buy cheap as a general rule except for cars
2) they're just pretending to be rich, but they need to even house balance by buying cheap stuff otherwise no car
3) some other reason I miss at this moment

The one you "don't see" are people that don't come with a car. They do exists, maybe they're not that many
but they still exists and (unless they're bloody rich , but hate driving) they may as well come to the store
because it's one of the few stores they can afford to buy at.

In other words, the presence of expensive cars doesn't _always_ mean the owner of the car _likes_ to buy
cheap or _wants_ to buy cheap, sometime they _need_.
posted by elpapacito at 6:22 PM on December 28, 2003


"Switzerland and Scandinavia, for example, have the highest standard of living on the planet, as well as the highest tax rate."

While I can attest that the part about Scandinavia is true, it's also worth mentioning that scandinavia is dominated by low-priced food chains, and the high taxes on luxuries (alcohol and tobacco) leads to large-scale smuggling of cheaper products from abroad and unlicensed production (With all the associated criminality).

The high standard + high tax formula may actually be a strategy for getting more (free health cover, for example) and paying less (the gov't buys health services on behalf of the entire population, thus getting a great bulk discount)

As an example: The gov't funds education of doctors and nurses. At first glance this looks like the nation is paying more for less. But on closer examination this leads to a surplus of medical personnel, so that the hospitals (who are also run and owned by the gov't) can pay them lower wages. Thus they are paying more in the short term, but less in the long term, so to speak.

Both these things just strengthens HTuttle's point, really.
All humans want more for less - most of all we want something for nothing.

Heck, all living organisms want more for less - that's basically what led us to evolve from single-cell organisms in the first place.
posted by spazzm at 6:52 PM on December 28, 2003


spazzm: so you want more work for less wage ? Deal, come sign the contract my dear :-)
posted by elpapacito at 7:01 PM on December 28, 2003


I've been curious, and unable to find any information, on the relations and possible links between the recent occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Washington and the recent wildlife management program in the western states to control chronic wasting disease (cervid spongiform encephalopathy) by shooting any deer that was acting "funny" and then testing a small percentage of those (last I heard, they were letting the rest rot in the wild because they didn't have the facilities to incinerate them). There's been something of an epidemic of chronic wasting disease in recent years, if memory serves.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 7:23 PM on December 28, 2003


spazzm: so you want more work for less wage?

spazzm didn't say he wanted to work more, or that scandinavian doctors had to work more. He just said they got paid less.

Of course, that smaller wage doesn't matter much if you don't have to worry about half a million dollars of med school debt. I'm not a doctor, but I'd gladly take a 40% paycut if my education and healthcare were publically funded.
posted by weston at 7:24 PM on December 28, 2003


weston: and he also said that all living organisms want more for less...so why shouldn't he want more work for less wage ? I wasn't referring to any doctor or to wage of any doctor, but rather to the fact that just saying that all living organism want more for less is quite a statement that can be easily derailed by not qualifing more or what and less of what.

For instance, if you are a living organism (I'll presume so :-) that lives according to that statement, you're free to get all of my garbage if you so wish and i'll charge you less to do so.
posted by elpapacito at 7:38 PM on December 28, 2003


We want more for less, but we trust and believe that what we get is safe--now we're learning that just like all other consumer products, until someone dies or gets injured or sick, there's no oversight. The recent onion thing at Chichi's or Chili's or whatever it was should have told us something, or the e.coli incidents at burger places before that.
posted by amberglow at 8:37 PM on December 28, 2003


Something interesting I came across this morning while looking into this. At Amazon.com they have a book, 'Mad Cow U.S.A." that this morning was selling for about $32, now it's up to $84. But what was really interesting was someone in the comments section, suggested you could get the book as a free download in pdf at;

www.prwatch.org/books/mcusa.pdf

I've spent all day reading it and it's a great book, with a great history of the disease, its epidemiology, and uncovers the truth about the beef industry and their ties to the Dept of Agriculture.

And for the person asking about the chronic wasting disease, this is a very informative article about it in Wisconsin. It's kinda long but alot of the same names come in it that came up in the above book.

http://www.milwaukeemagazine.com/122002/cwd.html
posted by tami3_3 at 8:58 PM on December 28, 2003


Wanting more for less is only natural. But one of the things government is paid to do is determine effective and safe limits on those natural marketplace urges.

Perhaps if the U.S. went through the sort of beef crisis that devastated the English and Canadian beef industries, and Americans start dying from Mad Cow Disease, Americans may start asking for a bit more regulation and testing.

From available evidence today, speaking as a dedicated consumer of two-inch-thick sirloin steaks, it'd be a moooooooooove in the right direction.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:00 PM on December 28, 2003


But not everybody is living paycheck to paycheck. I alsways see a lot of expensive cars in the grocery store parking lot.

But that is how they are paying for the payments on the car. As a society, we tell people that they should own the biggest, most expensive automobiles. You should buy for Ford Behemoth, or your Lexus, or your etc., even if it means you don't put any money away for college for your kids, because cars are what is important.

So they buy the really expensive automobile, with its astronomical payments, plus counting in the payments for their astronomically priced house in the subburbs they also could barely afford, because they are afraid of the "urban element" and what you have is they have enough for 60% grade ground beef and generic macoronni in their food budget.

This in turn really reflects back on societies push towards all things grand and expensive, at the expense of the little pleasures in life. To sit down to a well prepared meal of an excellent cut of steak from a local butcher shop, a potato grown from the ground instead of from a factory, some fresh pasta, fresh vegetables instead of from-the-can. We are forced to live on convenience, because people have to live far away in the subburbs, and they have 5 minutes to prepare their 20 cent meal because they spent the last hour and a half sitting in traffic because they couldn't bear to live closer to the city, and pay a lot less for their house than they did in their tidy subdivision. And of course they had to stop for gas half way home, because that car that have guzzles it 2 mpg.

So we drive, live away, and eat crap. Live in homes and automobiles no normal person could afford, at the cost of eating well, and feeding children well. And we wonder why there is an epidemic of childhood obesity? It's because parents shovel crap down their throats. I had someone tell me "well, Little Debbies are a cheaper snack than fruit" and so we put the processed sugar laden crap down children's throats, because with having 3 cars and an overpriced home, we can't afford an apple or an orange for them. It fuels their addiction to sugar, which leads them to soda. From soda, they then become addicted both more to sugar and to caffeine.

And now, we have hyper-active kids that get no exercise, eat loads of sugar and caffeine, and we wonder what is wrong with them. Well, it must be ADD, after all. It's the only solution. So let's fill them full of pills to calm them down. So we've got kids on the uppers of sugar and caffeine, and downer of ritalin. And yet, we turn around and tell them, "drugs are bad."

Until we learn to embrace the normalcy of food, and the concept of living within our immediate means, this cycle will continue, and this country will continue to get fatter and fatter. And strange and weird diseases will continue to crop up in meats, and soon other foods as well. Genetically modified this, factory grown that. But a cheaper house in the city, get one Hyundai for the family, walk to your local butcher shop or grocery store, buy local produce, local meats. You'll be eating well, living in a nice home, probably made of better materials than the crap-box in the subburbs (brick buildings? what a concept.), and you'll be getting exercise from the walking. Everyone from adults to children will be healthier. And we won't have a big brain-wasting disease problem on our hands, either. By embracing a local marketplace, we can enable ourselves to be healthier and happier.
posted by benjh at 6:38 AM on December 29, 2003


The meatpackering industry not only insures itself (which should be illegal if we cared one bit about safety) it also has the political clout to declaw OSHA and get legislastion passed that allows it to process sick animals.

Its a classic accident waiting to happen scenario and they/we've been warned many times. The most popular example being Fast Food Nation.

Hopefully, I don't think the rest of the world will begin importing our red meats back until there are some real changes back home.
posted by skallas at 9:10 AM on December 29, 2003



posted by rusty at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2003


OligopolyWatch!
posted by billsaysthis at 11:00 AM on December 29, 2003


So we've got kids on the uppers of sugar and caffeine, and downer of ritalin.

Ritalin is a stimulant ("upper").
posted by kindall at 11:13 AM on December 29, 2003


So they buy the really expensive automobile, with its astronomical payments, plus counting in the payments for their astronomically priced house in the suburbs they also could barely afford

I don't think it's the people with the $3k/month mortgage payment and another $800/month in car payments who are struggling to put quality food on the table. Obesity, which is often associated with poor diet, is more prevalent in lower income populations.

We are forced to live on convenience, because people have to live far away in the suburbs, and they have 5 minutes to prepare their 20 cent meal because they spent the last hour and a half sitting in traffic because they couldn't bear to live closer to the city, and pay a lot less for their house than they did in their tidy subdivision.

I costs more to live in the city. Compare the cost-of-living in NY or SF to the suburbs. Most people in the US live and work in the suburbs.

Until we learn to embrace the normalcy of food, and the concept of living within our immediate means, this cycle will continue, and this country will continue to get fatter and fatter. And strange and weird diseases will continue to crop up in meats, and soon other foods as well. Genetically modified this, factory grown that.

Anti-consumer rant aside, you agree with the author. So do I.
posted by crank at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2003


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