I went to interview a farming family a couple of weeks ago for our new book in progress.
The family is struggling to get a financial toehold using humane and sustainable practices. They sell their organic vegetables and the meat from their pastured livestock to the local community.
The dad told me about a job he had a few years back, before the family got rolling with their organic farm. He said he had worked on a turkey farm. He went on to say that, in summer, it was quite common for a whole building of turkeys to die during a heat wave.
"What happened to the dead ones?" I asked him.
"Oh, same thing that happens to all dead poultry and poultry parts, all the feathers, scraps of skin, bone, sick animals, everything."
"What's that?" I pressed, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.
"All the carcasses and waste get melted down in a big vat, into a thick, sticky oily soup."
"Oh....and what happens to the soup?"
"Well," he continued, "it's used to make lifestock feed. See, the corn or soybeans for the feed are ground up into a dry powder. They need the melted waste to bind the powder together, so it will form pellets. Look at the feed in a Tyson plant, or any big livestock operation. It's pellets. Greasy pellets. Or pick up a handful of dogfood. It'll leave a greasy feel in your hand. The melted livestock waste is used to bind dogfood and catfood too."
I know he's right about livestock feed being pellets. I've seen the pellets on the factory farms Sara Kate and I toured for our book Veggie Revolution (amazon.com).
Tyson pellets that pour out of the automated feeders for broiler chickens are yellow-gold. I asked a Tyson farmer what they were made of, he said he didn't know.
But anyway, the real point of this story was to say that the farmer told me that one day one of the pipes carrying the melted swill out of the vat clogged up. He was appointed to get in the goop waist-deep and unplug the pipe. He said it clung to him like glue. When he got out, they couldn't clean it off of him. Wound up having to scrub him down with gasoline.
So....the chickens and the pigs and the cattle and all the animals that provide the meat at our standard supermarkets, those animals are all eating that glop with every bite. So if we eat it...then...
As I got ready to leave the farm family's lovely acreage, I was patting their little collie and I mentioned that my dog recently died of cancer. The farmer said, "Is that surprising? Think what the dog's been eating." Whoa. That was a totally new thought. Waste soup.
So I guess my conclusion here is, folks who want to eat meat will be making a healthier choice if they eat pastured meat, or organic meat. You can find out who your local providers of such meat are if you check out www.eatwild.com. Or shop at a natural food store such as Whole Foods Market or Earth Fare.