Giving Up Meat – Christina Pirello

Christina Pirello
Americas Cooking teacher

It’s so wonderful to have my friend Christina share her incredible wealth of knowledge and charismatic way of teaching as a monthly blogger on my site. I will be guest blogging on Christinas site, but I reckon I got the best deal!!

Christina is the Emmy Award-winning host of the television series Christina Cooks, which airs weekly on over 200 national public television stations nationwide as well as on the Create network. It has also aired in over 50 countries on Discovery Health. Christina also offers trips and vacations to exotic destinations from Caribbean cruises to tours of Italy. In 2008, Christina founded The Christina Pirello Health Education Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing America’s relationship with food, with community outreach, media programs and several in-school programs designed to teach kids to make healthier choices before it’s too late. She works closely with the city of Philadelphia on various school and farm market programs under the umbrella of The Initiative.

Christina has written six cookbooks including the bestselling Cooking the Whole Foods Way, which was recently named the “Healthiest Cookbook of the Decade”
I think I pack a lot into my life, it’s just as well I love her to bits as her incredible achievements make me sound like a mere amateur!!!
She is so generous in heart and shares her work openly with the world. I remember 7 years ago I asked if I could ‘borrow’ some of her recipes when I was writing my first book. Borrow she said….. use whatever you need…rather unique wouldn’t you say! Christina’s work is powerful and inspiring so please log onto her website and sign up for her fantastic newsletters. Enjoy Christina’s blog, the first of many.

Giving Up Meat
Can we, in fact, live healthy, vital lives without meat on our plates? It’s a question that I have tried to answer for people in my 25 (plus) years as a vegan.

49% of Americans eat meat daily. 80% of Americans eat meat four or more times a week on average. That’s a lot of meat; more than 200 pounds per person per year, to be exact. To give it up, even for a short time would be a challenge for most people. What would we eat?

More and more people want to know what’s in the food they are eating, so we might as well begin with those burgers and steaks sizzling on the grill on these balmy summer nights. What, exactly is in the meat you are eating? Is there more to your burger than meets the eye? Sadly, the answer is yes.

It’s time to pay attention to what’s in our food and our meat is the perfect place to start. When it comes to animal food, the idyllic images we have of cows, pigs and chickens lazily grazing in sun-dappled pastures is far from the truth, even if the pictures on the labels imply otherwise.

The majority of meat production is now completely dominated by factory farms: 95% of pigs, 78% of cattle and 99.9% of chickens to be precise. The film Food, Inc. ’showed us, in graphic detail, the none-too-pretty journey from farm to table of most animals. In the majority of instances, animals are fed completely un-natural diets, which is a big part of the problem with conventional burgers. See, it’s like this. When cows are grass-fed and eating a diet natural to them (they are vegans, ironically…) their meat contains less than 2 grams of saturated fat per ounce, while grain-fed, factory-farmed cattle contain just under10 grams of saturated fat per ounce. That’s an astonishing difference and the main reason heart disease is associated with consumption of red meat. It’s no small thing to consider the ramifications of about 12 grams of saturated fat in a 6-ounce steak versus almost 60 grams.

And if the saturated fat isn’t enough for you, there are the antibiotics used to keep the animals from becoming diseased living in tight quarters and the steroids used as hormonal growth promotants. There are the links to water pollution from runoff from cattle farms. There’s the methane pollution from cows…well, passing gas, I think is the polite term. Makes that sizzling steak seem really yummy…and socially responsible.

But it doesn’t end there.

Since the 1940’s, factory farms have employed the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics for healthy animals to help ensure they do not get sick. The animals live in un-naturally tight quarters; a sick one can infect the whole herd. So we dose them up before they become diseased rather than change the conditions in which they live…because that would cost money. These preventive drugs have another benefit, but again, hardly for the animal. It turns out that these antibiotics also make the animals fatter faster, which maximizes profits! So it’s a win-win for the factory farm ranchers. They fatten animals quickly and offset the disgusting unsanitary conditions in which these creatures are forced to subsist until slaughter, packed into feedlots and confined enclosures where an enormous amount of feces serves as the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and disease to spread from one animal to another. Sound delicious yet?

The Union of Concerned Scientists says that about 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are not distributed by doctors, but by livestock producers. When a farmer can walk into a feed store and purchase a 100-pound bag of tetracycline, we need to worry about the quality of meat they are producing. As Jonathan Safran Foer points out in Eating Animals, the factory farm system is dysfunctional, broken, unethical and destructive to the environment and human health.

We try ball players in open court for the use of performance-enhancing steroids, but yet we eat them on a daily basis in our burgers, steaks and ribs. Yup. Steroids, similar to the ones athletes use.

According to Cornell University research, they describe hormones in meat and dairy production to “make young animals gain weight faster. They help reduce the waiting time and the amount of feed taken by an animal before slaughter in meat industries. In dairy cows, hormones can be used to increase milk production. Thus, hormones can increase the profitability of the meat and dairy industries.”

There are a variety of hormones produced by our bodies that are essential for normal development of healthy tissue, but synthetic steroid hormones used as pharmaceutical drugs have been found to affect cancer risk. For instance, lifetime exposure to the natural steroid hormone, estrogen is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. We should be concerned about the hormones being added to our foods.

As early as the 1930’s, farmers realized that cows injected with compounds drawn from cows’ pituitary glands produced more milk. However, it was not until the 1980’s that it became possible to harvest enough of this compound for large-scale use in animal production. In 1993, the FDA approved the use of rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone also known as bovine somatotropin, rbST) in dairy cattle. Current estimates by manufacturers of this hormone indicate that 30% of the cows in the U.S. may be treated with these hormones.

The female sex hormone estrogen was also shown to affect the growth rates in cattle and poultry as early as the 1930’s and once they understood the chemistry of it, it became possible to make the hormone synthetically in large amounts. In the early 1950’s, synthetic estrogen was used regularly to increase the size of cattle and chickens. Be clear…estrogen.

In modern animal production, there are six different kinds of steroid hormones currently approved by the FDA for use in food production: estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate. Estradiol and progesterone are natural female sex hormones; testosterone is a natural male sex hormone. Zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengesterol acetate are synthetic growth promoters, which are hormone-like chemicals that cause animals to grow faster. Currently, federal regulations allow these hormones to be used on cattle and sheep, but not on poultry or pigs.

But only because they have not been shown to work on poultry or pigs. Not because they are worried for our health.

Here’s how clever these guys are. They give the steroids to the animals in the form of a pellet planted just under the skin of the ear. The ears are thrown away at slaughter, so there is less likelihood of hormone residue left in the animal in the edible meat because federal regulations prohibit the use of the hormones in this manner. They can hide the use of hormones this way and be able to say on their labels that no hormones were added to the meat. And some of the steroids are available in a form that can be added to animal feed so again, they can legally say on labels that no hormones were added to the meat.

Dairy cattle may be injected under the skin with rbGH which is available in single-does packages to reduce the chances of accidental overdose. How nice.

Estradiol, progesterone and testosterone are natural sex hormones produced by the animals’ bodies. So there is no regulatory monitoring of these hormones because the regulators tell us that they can’t separate or tell the difference between the hormones used for treatment, those produced naturally by the animal and those administered by the farmers for growth. But a tolerance level has been set up for the synthetic hormones, which is the maximum amount of a particular residue that may be permitted in or on food. They don’t monitor the hormones that can do us the most harm, just the synthetic ones.

The levels of naturally produced hormones vary from animal to animal to be sure, but there is a range that is known to be normal. They say it’s not possible to differentiate between the hormones produced naturally by the animal and those used to force growth, but that isn’t true by their own logic. If we know the range of normal hormone levels, wouldn’t it stand to reason that levels that exceed normal ranges should come into question?

To add insult to injury, the FDA also tells us that since they can’t regulate these natural hormones, they can’t tell how much of the hormones remaining in the meat is from the treatments. Scientists are working on creating a better system to measure steroid hormones, but for now it’s a crap shoot.

You may be asking how harmful these steroid hormones really are. Things get a little murky here and so the conclusion is ours to draw…and the risk is also ours to take.

Early puberty in girls has been associated with a higher risk for breast cancer. Family history, height, weight, diet and exercise are also known risk factors to be considered. Steroid hormones have long been suspected to cause early puberty in both sexes.

I am not sure what it will take for us to be more concerned about eating animal foods. How many beef recalls, egg recalls, salmonella outbreaks, e-coli contaminations, under-cover exposes of unsanitary practices in meat packing plants will it take before we realize that factory farming is polluting the planet, destroying our health and contributing to unspeakable cruelty. Have our brains gone to mush? Are we immune to suffering in ourselves and in others? Do we not care about our own health and the health of the planet? Do we just talk a good story and carry our little canvas bags to the store and breathe easier because we have done our part for ‘greening?’

What do we do? What if you’re not ready to hit vegan eating full on?

In my view, organic meat is not the answer and never will be, but it’s a baby step in the right direction (that direction being a plant-based diet with veggie and bean burgers sizzling on the fire). But for now, as you transition to a healthier way of eating, look for USDA certified organic meat that is grass-fed. It will cost you a pretty penny, but if you choose to eat meat, what is your health worth? You are guaranteed that certified organic meat is free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other toxins. However, you will need to look even harder to find certified organic, grass-fed meat. Grass fed doesn’t mean organic; organic doesn’t mean grass-fed.

The same goes for your eggs, dairy and cheese. Look for organic, grass-fed products and in the case of eggs, cage-free. These will not be that easy to find, but they are worth the search because they will give you what you want…animal food without the things you don’t want…additives, pesticides, hormones, steroids and other toxins.

How an animal was raised and what it was eating before it was slaughtered will become more and more important issues as we strive to make healthier choices for ourselves and the planet. Simply stated, if you’re not ready to be vegan, you’re not ready…yet.

I can wait for you to get here.

But until you do, if you aren’t sure where your burger comes from, you might want to think twice about eating it.

As you watch the happy families in the Norman Rockwell-esque settings of Boston Market commercials and drool over the chicken, skin glistening surrounded by starchy side dishes, what you are really seeing is a hormone-laced toxic animal that was raised and slaughtered under the most un-Rockwell-esque conditions.

And here’s a great recipe to help you catch vegan fever!

Chicken-less Salad
This amazing salad has fooled some of the biggest chicken salad fans. It has all the ingredients that make a great chicken salad, except the bird! Served on bread or on a bed of lettuce, this salad makes a great meal.

1 lb. brick tofu-extra firm*
soy sauce
spring or filtered water
3 ribs celery-diced
1 small red onion-diced
1 red pepper-diced
1 teaspoon each basil, sage, rosemary, oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
1-1 1/2 cup Tofu Mayo**

Preheat oven to 400o. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Slice tofu 1/4-inch thick. Place slices in a shallow dish and cover with a mixture that is 1 part soy sauce to 4 parts water. Allow tofu to marinate for 10 minutes. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes until a deep, golden brown and crispy on the outside. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle them. Then, shred the tofu slices with a sharp knife, creating irregular, angular pieces, reminiscent of shredded chicken. Mix with vegetables, spices and Tofu Mayo until ingredients are well-incorporated. Chill thoroughly before serving. This salad is great on a bed of fresh, crisp greens or served as a hearty sandwich.

Tofu mayo

8 oz. firm tofu
3 tablespoons stoneground mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons brown rice syrup
sea salt
juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook tofu for 5 minutes. Drain well.
Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth and creamy.
* Note: You can buy baked tofu in natural foods stores. MY favorite brand is the locally produced ‘Fresh Tofu’ from Easton, PA. It’s perfect in this recipe.

**Note: You may also buy a non-dairy, vegan mayo in any natural food store.

My own book ‘Macrobiotics for all Seasons’ is available on my website

In good health

Marlene x

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