Personal Health

Gonzo Gastronomy: How the Food Industry Has Made Bacon a Weapon of Mass Destruction -- Readers Write

AlterNet readers had a lot to say about a recent article on the health and environmental impact of bacon production.

Despite increasingly alarming rates of obesity and a national obsession with thinness, bacon -- the fattiest of meats -- has enjoyed a gastronomic renaissance.

In "Gonzo Gastronomy: How the Food Industry Has Made Bacon a Weapon of Mass Destruction," Arun Gupta notes that nowadays bacon features prominently in both high and low cuisine. Fast-food restaurants stack their offerings with obscene amounts of bacon. Foodies have also become enchanted with the fatty meat, coming up with ever-more bizarre bacon-themed foods, including bacon ice cream and bacon-infused vodka.

But while few have illusions about the health effects of gorging on greasy, fattening red meat, most bacon connoisseurs don’t realize just how dangerous bacon really is -- for both our health and the environment.

Gupta writes: 

While bacon's harmful effects were once limited to individual consumers, its production in vast porcine cities has become an environmental disaster. The system of industrialized hog (and beef and poultry) farming that has developed over the last 40 years turns out to be ideal for breeding novel strains of deadly pathogens, such as the current pandemic of swine flu. If a new killer virus appears, like the Spanish flu that killed tens of millions after World War I, factory farms will have played a central role in its genesis.

Gutpa details the environmental degradation caused by factory hog farming and how the giant, industrial pig farms endanger our health on a mass level.

He concludes, "The Frankenstein monster that is factory farming is leading to a Frankenstein monster of a deadlier kind."

Our readers had a lot to say about Gupta's piece.

pfgetty points out that there are alternatives to feedlots -- ways to produce pork products responsibly:

Bacon of some sort has been eaten since man has been man -- wild hogs have been hunted and captured, their meat cooked, for tens of thousands of years, far longer than the cooking of wheat or rice. And bacon is responsibly produced today, if you can find somebody doing it and selling it in your area.

eksommer agrees, arguing that responsibly produced meat is not harmful to people or the earth:

It would really be helpful and truthful if the authors of these anti-meat articles would remember that humans are omnivores and that the meat from humanely raised or hunted animals eaten in appropriate amounts is not harmful to people or the environment. Animals eating animals is biological fact on this planet. I would prefer to see these authors taking the industry to task for disgusting husbandry methods rather than scaring readers about meat and dairy. It is the process (including pasteurization) that is killing us. Buy locally from small organic farmers who raise their animals with love and respect.

blurider makes the point that fatty meats like bacon are, in fact, essential to our diet:

The latest science reveals that fat does not make you fat! Starches (metabolized as sugar) and sugar make you fat. Sugar and cheap, processed carbohydrates are responsible for our nation's obesity epidemic. A reasonable amount of animal fat in the diet, along with plenty of healthy fats are necessary to good health, hair, skin and joint function.

The latest science about heart disease suggests that animal fat doesn't cause cholesterol, and cholesterol doesn't cause heart disease either! See "balance" above.

Protein is necessary for muscle mass, and muscle mass increases the metabolism levels, so with enough muscle mass you are losing weight while you sleep or watch TV. Loss of muscle mass is one of the biggest problems of aging and age-related injury and disease.

But xvictor disagrees:

Bacon may have been great for those living in caves and subsisting on roots and wild berries tens of thousands of years ago. Hunting also burns a lot of calories. Nowadays we go to the supermarket, and our bodies are the worse for it.

raiders757also argues that bacon should not be eaten in excess:

It's not good for you at all. If your going to splurge on bacon, do so when you cook it for yourself. Make bacon a special treat, not part of your meal or breakfast. It's good on almost everything, but that doesn't mean you should eat more than one time a month.

grmartin writes that our culture has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about consuming meat that masks the dirty impact of meat production on our environment and our health:

Don't ask, don't tell ... In the old days we could see where our food came from, often from our own back 40, or that of the neighbors'. Not always pretty, but at least the facts were known. Now it comes from huge and complicated systems and industrial sites well out of view. The final product is designed and packaged to conceal any connection to its source and processing. The whole system depends on us not knowing, and not wanting to know, the nasty facts. Mainstream media is of course a pillar of the conspiracy. Enjoy that, Baconator!

donl51adds that our system of meat production is yet another example of American excess and overindulgence:

In this case especially, in this country, it's called capitalism. Follow the money. We are a nation of overindulgers. How many freaking men's underarm deodorant choices do we really need? We created the fast-food eatery because we're always on the move ... we're going to cram as much in our short lifespans, even if it kills us. And guess what! It is ...

Zeugitai brings up another unappetizing point:

Pig urine and feces make their way into America's rivers all over this nation, along with uncountable tons of other "shit." Iowa has recently "relaxed" its restrictions on what and how much of it can be dumped into its rivers. That is the predictable trend. Commercial interests rule this lousy system of "government," and they always have and they always will. We "elect" the greediest and most duplicitous pigs to govern us. We can expect no better treatment.

"Porcocracy," it should more rightly be called. Government of, by, and for people who have come to resemble pigs in their consuming, myopic lusts for money, food, sex and power. 

Moore Hognutz takes a different tack, arguing that part of the reason many Americans depend on meat from giant plants is that few can afford to buy locally produced food:

Arun Gupta has presented a thoughtful, balanced description of what we eat and why. Most commendable. Bravo, Gupta. I now look for a follow-up describing the barbarity of the meat-processing plants.

Still, the problem remains that locally grown produce and meat costs more in farmers markets than food from 10,000 miles away in the most expensive supermarket (Whole Foods). Eating good food is a luxury fewer and fewer of us can enjoy.

Low-income people do not live as long as rich people because they cannot afford decent food.

ObamaISAmerica writes that although it is sometimes difficult to avoid unhealthy, factory-produced food, there are non-expensive ways to try:

Seriously, there are so many amazing things you can cook using a variety of grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts. ... I was raised a vegetarian, and my entire family for generations has been vegetarian (we are Indian from India, originally -- the vegetarian part). There are so many easy and filling recipes that are all natural and healthy and so ridiculously tasty that just don't require meat at all. Shoot an e-mail for suggestions!!!

Also, not eating agro-produced meat is a hugely important thing if we are going to save the planet. Seriously. We are the consmuers. If we demand locally produced, or start gardens in our own backyards/patios/under our windows or in our communities, we could all have really cheap and fresh produce. So important!!! Agro-industry is so polluting! This article doesn't even mention the labor side -- in order to keep prices so low, they often exploit workers, charge horribly low wages, overwork their employees in horribly unsanitary conditions, etc. Funding these agro companies also encourages them to abuse our fellow humans.

It is a cycle of destruction ...

Tana Ganeva is an associate editor at AlterNet.