Monday, 31 October 2011

Spare Me The Beef

I can’t remember the last time I ate a piece of juicy beef steak. It was probably around the late eighties or early nineties. In any case it was around the time when mad cow disease broke out in Europe. Prior to that, student poverty had imposed a more or less vegetarian-lifestyle on me anyway, although I would happily revert back to being a carnivore whenever my budget allowed. However, the thought of ingesting diseased meat from diseased cows fed with with diseased food was enough to put me off the stuff for good. Beef had been off my dinner plate ever since.

Along with mass produced chickens; you know, the ones that grow really big and fat in a very short space of time, that spend their days in mass confinement and most likely injected with all kinds of weird hormones. I actually liked the taste of chicken, but again, the thought of consuming the meat of some unhappy animals, was a real turn off. Until now I can’t look at a chunky fried chicken drumstick in the eye without losing my appetite.

Some might put it down to preciousness or plain pickiness on my part, (for example, I wouldn’t say no to a carefully massaged and beer-fed Kobe cow’s beef or sample the meat of some happy hens should they come my way) however, giving up beef and chicken was a conscious choice I made one day as I reviewed the relationship I had with my food. And I can’t say that my health has suffered from the lack of these two animal proteins in the past two decades, (if anything I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution) though the impact on my mental health is questionable.
My point is, when it comes to the food that you put in your mouth, one can exercise some form of control. You have a choice. If you eat junk, then you treat your body like a garbage bin. And I am of the notion that eating too much meat is not good for you, and for all sorts of reasons you might think quirky.

For a start, the awful treatment of poor, innocent Australian cows at some Indonesian abattoirs recently only highlights the cruelty that humans could go to in order to satisfy their desire for meat. If I hadn’t given up eating beef two decades ago, I would certainly start now. Why anyone would want to eat the meat of an animal that had died an agonizing death is beyond me. If you don’t have much sympathy for the poor animals, just think about the impact on your body. Consuming all that bad energy can’t be good for anyone.

And why there should be Australian cows on Indonesian soil to begin with, strikes me as rather strange. All that moving the animals about must be expensive, uses up a lot energy and bad for the planet, not to mention terrifying for the poor animals. There’s no two ways about it: cattle animals are subjected to cruelty, in the way they are raised, fed, shipped around and slaughtered. If people can’t do without their daily meat then they should ensure that local cattle farmers are encouraged and provided the means to raise healthy, happy farm animals which, when the time comes, will meet a quick and dignified death for having sacrificed their lives to please the human palates. Otherwise, we would do well to eat less meat.

Besides, we all know that eating too much meat is not good. Being able to eat supersize hamburgers is not a sign of increasing wealth but of ignorance on how to take care of the body. If anything, people should be educated to eat less meat in general. It’s good for the health, easier on the wallet and kinder to the planet. Land used to grow feed for the cattle could actually be used to grow food crops for humans instead.

I know this will sound gobbledegook to some people, but I do think it’s high time that we took a really good look at what we put on our table and the whole chain of food system behind it. Mass production of food is important to feed an increasingly higher number of people in the world, but we can choose on an individual basis what food that we should eat more and what we should eat less. Global trade means we can now practically eat any food produced in any part of the world at any time. As countries get wealthier demand for more exotic and expensive food also goes up. People become further and further removed from the source of their food production and become dependent not on the local farmers and producers but on supermarkets selling imported goods flown half way across the world.

Not only have we lost touch with our food source, we have lost all respect for the food that we put on our plate, consuming it with no thought or consideration of how and where it was produced, manufactured and distributed and what long term impact it would have on our bodies and our environment.

Already the food we eat is killing us. Even being a vegetarian these days is not safe. From the mad cow disease there’s now the e-coli outbreak in vegetables in Europe whose source is still a mystery. Now I look at the vegetables in supermarkets that have travelled a long distance with suspicion. What dangers lie beneath those cherubic tomatoes?

If this continues, it looks like I might have to live on a diet of bread and water.

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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