Sunday, June 7, 2009

Addressing Bill Maher

Real Time with Bill Maher is an entertaining and educational talk show on HBO.  Maher is passionate about animals and food, and periodically he makes statements that need some addressing.  While I do not always agree with his beliefs, I applaud his interest in food.

On May 30, 2009, Maher interviewed the well-known Michael Pollan, who is well-known for his books The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.  He is a great story-teller, he really is, and partly because he sensationalizes half-truths in a way that makes the story interesting.

The conversation concerned two items that might need addressing.

(1)  Pollan discussed how he left a twinkie on his book shelf for a year or two and it never rotted.  The twinkie is so bad, he stated, that even the bacteria that makes food rott wanted nothing to do with it.

That is an interesting story, and goes well with the recent popularity of very, very fresh foods, but let us not overlook the importance contribution of food preservation.  Preservation has been a daunting challenge for most of humans' existence, and lack of preservation has been a major cause of nutrient deficiencies.  Besides, just because something is preserved so that bacteria cannot eat it doesn't mean it is bad.  Your tap water is purified by chlorine, which kills bacteria that would otherwise make you sick, but certainly doesn't make you sick.

(2)  Pollan discussed how beef packaging tends to use pictures of cows in a pasture, but cattle are really held in a feedlot, up to their knees in manure and eating an unnatural diet that makes them sick.

Most cattle are indeed sent to a feedlot before they are slaughtered, but they do spend a large part of their life in pasture, and the breeding stock tend to spend all of their lives in pasture. Plus, feedlots are not the vulgar place he describes. Their manure is not cleaned out every day, but feedlots tend to locate in very dry, warm areas that make the manure dry out very quickly, and turn to a dirt-like substance.  The cattle LOVE, their "unnatural" diet, much more than grass.  Although it can make them sick, they are managed in a manner that makes this sickness very rare. While cattle would rather have more room and cleaner ground, they prefer their grain-diet to grass, and consequently might prefer the feedlot to a pasture.