The animals we eat

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Are the animals we eat today the same ones we ate 160 years ago?


They have the same names, but what's inside them in terms of nutrition, toxins, and even their genetics is not at all the same. In the following paragraphs we will investigate the animals consumed as meat in the 19th century and compare that to the meat available for consumption in the grocery today.

In the next post, coming soon, we will discuss the plants that we eat and the changes that have occurred in their nutrition, their genetics, and their toxicity over the years.

These sections are a brief introduction to the specific animal. Future articles will detail the methods and recipes used a century and a half ago.

TURKEYS


TURKEYS: THEN AND NOW

Turkeys are actually a native of the Americas. Ancient turkey bones indicate that Native Americans had started domesticating them at least 2000 years ago. The early explorers brought turkeys to Europe where they spread quickly. Chefs delighted in their 'fancy meat'. When settlers came later they brought turkeys with them and were surprised to find that the Natives had been farming them for centuries.

The turkeys of then are very different from the turkeys of now. They are the same species but what is in them when their meat gets to the table is quite different.

In the 19th century turkeys probably ate some of the same corn and grains that they do today, but they also foraged for seeds, ate grasses, bugs, worms, and whatever they could find around the farm. Their meat and fats were high in the amino acids and Omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for a healthy human diet.

Today the birds don't roam anywhere. They are tightly packed into small areas and eat pellets and stuff formulated at some animal food factory. They are given antibiotics not just to control infections when needed but continuous low dose antibiotics to make them grow faster. They are chemically altered to increase their size and accelerate their growth. Luckily hormones are prohibited by the USDA in pork and fowl.

The meat they bring to the table is much lower in nutrition and much higher in residual chemicals. It just isn't the same stuff.

CHICKENS


CHICKENS: THEN AND NOW

The story of chickens is similar to that of turkeys, except they did not originate in the Americas. Somewhere in Asia, probably Vietnam, people started domesticating chickens from a wild red jungle foul. From there chickens have spread to every corner of the planet (if a round planet actually had corners).

Chickens came to America via Spanish explorers, or earlier by Polynesians, no one is quite sure which. There are over 30 billion chickens on the planet and humans will eat most of them, the ones the Coyote's don't get.

The chickens of then are very different from the chickens of now. They are the same species but what is in them when their meat gets to the table is quite different. In the 19th century turkeys probably ate some of the same corn and grains that they do today, but they also foraged for seeds, ate grasses, bugs, worms, and whatever they could find around the farm. Their meat and fats were high in the amino acids and Omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for a healthy human diet.

Today the birds don't roam anywhere. They are tightly packed into small areas and eat pellets and stuff formulated at some animal food factory. They are given antibiotics not just to control infections when needed but continuous low dose antibiotics to make them grow faster. They are chemically altered to increase their size and accelerate their growth. Luckily hormones are prohibited by the USDA in pork and fowl.

The meat they bring to the table is much lower in nutrition and much higher in residual chemicals. It's just not the same stuff.

RABBITS


RABBITS: THEN AND NOW

Rabbits and hares (the jackrabbit is actually a hare) have been around for many thousands of years on several continents. Rabbit has been an important meat source since they are plentiful (sometimes too plentiful), easy to hunt, and easy to domesticate.

There are several native American rabbits and hares including the cotton tail rabbit and the jackrabbit. The familiar lop-eared domestic breed is from Europe.

The meat of the rabbit is rich in protein and vitamins, much more so than beef or pork or even chicken. It is a very low fat meat. Rabbit meat is so lean that a human could not live off just rabbit meat because of the lack of certain essential fatty acids. As a supplement to chicken, pork, and beef it was, and is, a beneficial part of a healthy diet.

During war times citizens have been encouraged to raise rabbits for food and to support the troupes. Rabbits are also an important source of fur for warm clothing.

In modern times rabbits are seen more as pets than food, but the popularity of rabbit meat has been increasing in recent years.

So far, since there is not a huge industry breeding rabbits for food the problems associated with hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering are not as alarming with rabbit meat as it is with beef, pork, and poultry. That could change if rabbit meat becomes more popular. In some areas such as New Zealand rabbits are seen as a pest and are generally exterminated. If you are looking for a substitute for high fat meat, eat rabbits.

CATTLE


CATTLE: THEN AND NOW

Cattle have been a part of the human diet since about 10,500 years ago. The ancestor of modern cattle is the 'aurochs' which were a wild and mean animal almost impossible to domesticate. For nomadic tribes that move around a lot it just wasn't worth the effort. It is so much easier to herd goats.

There were a few groups of humans at the time that had settled down and they did indeed tame a small herd of these fierce creatures. All the cattle today show a genetic link to these wild oxen. Cattle are now prevalent all over the planet.

In the 1800 cattle were an important source of not only meat but for leather and tallow and other byproducts. Tallow at the time was actually more important than the meat. Tallow was used to make candles, lubricants, soaps, and cooking oil. Hide and Tallow companies were big business. Cattle were bread for high fat content, leaving the lean and trim Texas longhorn to almost go extinct.

Eurpean Wild Ox (aurochs)

Beef represented a much smaller percentage of the diet in the 1800's. The value of cattle for milk, hide and tallow were a much bigger concern at the time. Most of the meat consumed by humans was pork, poultry, mutton, fish, and goat. Slowly over the course of the 19th century the percentage of meat consumption increased so that by the turn of the century beef consumption was about 42 percent of meat consumption.

I have this question today. Is the meat of the 19th century the same meat as we have today?

The answer is no. Although herds were increasing in size they never reached the concentration that they have today where they pack them in at almost 150 animals per acre. That's a lot of beef in a small place.Although calves start out eating grass the feed lots change their diet with high levels of grain and what they call "growth promoters" (hormones) and "disease preventer's" (antibiotics).

Cattle, unfortunately, are ruminants. They are designed to eat grass. They are not designed to eat grains. As a result their conversion rate of pounds of grain to pounds of beef is very low compared to other animals. That makes beef expensive in terms of $'s and in its overall economic and environmental impact. There are many who believe that feeding grains to ruminants is just plain stupid. One cattle expert exclaimed:

"feeding grain to ruminants is biological and economic nonsense: it is a misuse of arable resources, a misuse of a ruminant animal's objective potential, it is polluting, it is dependent on whims of economic policy and it is driven by commercial gain, not human need."('rskov 1999)

More troubling to the consumers of the meat than the high price is what comes with it. Those "promoter's" are still in the meat to some extent. So eating grain fed beef from the feed lots comes with a dose of hormones and antibiotics.

Even more important is that the balance of fatty acids is strongly biased in the direction of Omega-6 instead of a balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6. This low concentration of Omega-3 promotes inflammation and can lead to heart disease.

Our ancestors in the 19th century were eating a completely different animal. If you are looking for beef then look for an organic grain feed longhorn and enjoy a lean and healthy bite of beef.

GOATS


GOATS: THEN AND NOW
Goats have been domesticated and used for milk, meat and hides farther back than humans can remember, over 10,000 years ago. Goat is still one of the most popular sources of milk, meat, and cheese in the world.
Goat meat is one of the most nutritious. It is healthier than beef, pork, or mutton as it is lower in fat and cholesterol. It has more minerals than chicken and is lower in saturated fats than other meats. Goat is low in omega-6 and adequate in omega-3 due to their plant based diets. You can't call them 'grass fed' though since if left on their own the prefer other types plants over grass.

So with all the healthy benefits of eating goat did Americans in the 19th century eat a lot of goat? Not so much. Most goat and goat products were for personal use on small farms.

Goat has never been a big industrial product in the US. That is beginning to change. Goat consumption is increasing now and is one of the largest growth items in US agriculture. Most of the increase is from the increasing popularity of goats milk and cheese and the increasing ethnic population for which goat has been a staple.

There is also a movement started by Heritage Foods called 'No Goat Left Behind' which is trying to introduce goat as a menu item in fancy New York restaurants.

Goat meat is also kosher (Jewish dietary law) and halal (Islamic dietary law).

Watch out though, if goat suddenly becomes popular. No doubt large factory production of goat products will bring with it grain fed ruminants (an insult against nature) and hormone and antibiotic laden meat that no wise human should ever consume.

PORK


PIGS: THEN AND NOW

Pigs have been on this planet in one form or another for almost 50 million years. Domestication by humans began, depending on who you ask, between 13,000 and 7000 B.C. Pigs are hardy and easy to raise. They will eat almost anything, including garbage and dead things. They will forage for food on their own making it inexpensive to keep them.Their meat is easy to preserve; all you need is salt.

Pork has been for a long time, and is now, the meat most often consumed by humans. About 1,500 B.C. the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Arabs, and the Israelites all decided that Pork was bad. This may have a lot to do with what pigs ate, which included just about everything. They even ate poop. They even ate dead things including dead people. You sure couldn't sacrifice an animal full of poop and dead people to your God and expect him to be satisfied with that. Even though a large population of humans will not eat pork, it still remains the most consumed meat by humans on this planet.

A few pigs were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1493. A few more by DeSoto in 1539. When settlers came they brought pigs from may different countries of many different breeds. Pigs were an essential part of every farm being used for meat and lard or sold for cash or traded for other commodities.

Lard was an important commodity for cooking oil and for lubricants. When corn became cheap in the Midwest excess corn was feed to pigs who gained fat rapidly making them excellent producers of lard. Pigs that were fed higher protein foods grew slower and were better producers of bacon.

After WWII the demand for lard diminished rapidly and the breeds noted for lard production have almost disappeared. The days when every farm had a few pigs are rapidly disappearing. Large vertically integrated industries now control almost all pig farming from the selection of the genetics to the promotions in the grocery store. The few pig farmers left usually work as a contractor for the large corporate farms. With the advent of the large corporate farms the genetic diversity of pigs is becoming increasingly narrow. Only pig breeds that serve the needs of the corporation are used and other breeds are disappearing.

When animals are kept in cramped quarters there is an enhanced danger of infection and disease, so antibiotics are used to control that threat. In addition to preventing infection antibiotics are also given continuously in low doses because it makes the animal grow faster. The continuous use of antibiotics in large populations of animals promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Test performed on the meat available in the grocery show that it contains both traces of the antibiotic and strains of resistant bacteria. Pork, like chicken, should be cooked sufficiently to kill these pathogens. Luckily hormones are prohibited by the USDA in pork and fowl.

As with beef and other meats our ancestors were eating a completely different animal. Not only are the genetics different but the pigs that foraged in the forest eating a variety of foods is almost completely gone. With the loss of genetic diversity and the loss of diversity in a pigs diet we are now eating (if you eat pork) a strange an unnatural source of meat.

SHEEP


SHEEP: THEN AND NOW
Sheep have existed for at least 2.5 million years. Domesticated sheep show up in our history shortly after the end of the big glaciers.
Humans at that time hunted wild sheep (the Mouflon) and most likely would find or capture lambs and raise them in captivity. The Mouflon is smart and rugged and it has hair instead of wool. Through selective breeding over the milennia humans have created a domestic sheep with lots of wool and a lot stupider than the wild ones. That makes them much more valuable since they provide wool in addition to meat and milk and the dumber sheep are easier to keep in a herd and under control.

Wool has been used as a covering for mankind throughout recorded history although it was originally worn as a fleece. It took another 7000 years for us to figure out how to spin it into yarn. Once we learned how to make clothing with wool it became an important commodity. By the 17th century wool was two thirds of England's foreign commerce. Wars and conflicts of all sorts, including the American revolution, were waged in part over arguments about the wool trade.

THE MOUFLON

The early explorers also brought sheep along when they visited the Americas. When settlers came they brought even more. Sheep rapidly became an industry, mainly for wool which was an early export from the colonies (and really upset the British who saw it as competition), and also as a source of food.

Sheep are a ruminants and like cattle and deer eat mainly grasses and leaves. They have specially designed multiple stomachs in order to process this hard to digest plant matter. Sheep converts forage more efficiently than any other ruminant and can forage where other animals cannot. Sheep farming was prevalent in the 19th century and resulted in many quarrels between the sheep farmers and the cattle ranchers over access to grazing land.

Both lamb and mutton (the meat from a mature sheep) were popular food items. During WWII however, the rations sent to the troupes included a lot of canned mutton. When the soldiers returned home so many of them swore never to eat mutton again that its popularity declined rapidly.

Today, unfortunately, sheep and lambs (lamb is a preferred meat over mutton which has has a stronger flavor and is tougher to chew) are sent to 'finishing lots' where they are feed grains (not a food a ruminant should eat) and dosed with both hormones and antibiotics to promote faster growth. This continuous use of antibiotics can result in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, some of which may still be on the meat at the grocery. Runoff from feed lots and from farms where manure is spread for fertilizer allows some of these antibiotics to get into our water supplies.
The FDA has for years tried to restrict the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic uses but has been blocked by a few powerful congressmen who favor the meat industry.

These are the animals that we ate years ago and still do. There are a few others such as squirrel, snakes, and buffalo but that is beyond the scope of these articles. Stay tuned for our next article about the plants that we eat.

With all that we have learned about the dangers of eating modern meats you might want to consider eating just plants. If you do, and I'm sure a lot of you already do, remember to supplement. There are some very important chemicals, such as vitamin B-12 that normally come from meat and deficiencies in these vitamins can be very dangerous and damaging to your health.
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The use of these reference is for their information content. We do not indorse or promote the opinions or conclusions of the authors of these sources.
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