The Little Picture Versus The Big Picture

I should be dead right now. At least twice over. Antibiotics saved my life two years ago. I had strep throat so bad that my throat had almost swollen shut. We owe a great deal to antibiotics. We really do. People don't die every day of things like strep and wound infections because of antibiotics.[1] Which is why the overuse of antibiotics is a big hairy deal. When it comes to humanity's war on disease there is no plan B. In case you missed it, the CDC is panicking--well, maybe the word 'panic' isn't quite the right word. 'Panic' implies chaos. Perhaps deeply alarmed is better? Either way. It's serious. Which leads up to the episode of The Daily Show that I saw last night.

If you can start at 14.29, that's where the pertinent part of the episode starts.[2] He's interviewing Martin Blaser who wrote a book titled Missing Microbes. Watch the interview. I learned a few new things. For example, I'd never associated allergies with beneficial microbes before. It makes sense in a "our bodies are complex systems and microbes are a huge part of what we are" way. Take a drug that kills all microbes and certainly the good is going out with the bad. I'd never thought of this along the lines of extinction before. Actually, I'd never really thought about extinction events on a microbic scale at all.[3] So, yes. Interesting and important, but... I can't help look at the bigger picture. For a start, medical use of antibiotics is out-strapped by industrial agriculture by a factor of... well... a lot. (From the article, "But agricultural uses deserve special attention, since they account for 70 percent of the antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States, and since they provide resistant bacteria with a direct route into people's kitchens.") So, pardon me while I get a little bit snippy about doctors waggling their fingers at us regular Joes/Jos. If every single patient followed their doctor's prescription exactly and if every doctor only prescribed antibiotics when it was medically necessary, we'd still be in this mess. This isn't about a few doctors and patients being lazy. This is about a whole industry abusing drugs and the animals for which they're responsible.

Normally, I'm not a huge animal rights person. I eat meat--in limited amounts--but do eat it. I wear leather too. As I see it, we're all a part of the great wheel of life. So, sure, we kill cows and eat them, but I firmly believe that those animals should be treated humanely before they're killed. It's important to me on an ethical level, and not just that. It's also more healthful for human beings in the long run. So, here's the problem. You see, factory farms don't just use drugs to fatten their animals. They're using them because factory farming requires the animals to live in extremely compact spaces. Because of this, disease is a much bigger problem. Animals are weaker, bacteria breeds more readily, and those diseases are passed from animal to animal much more swiftly. Factory farms can't exist without antibiotics, and they exist because... greed. It's short term thinking at its worst, pure and simple. Anyway...

I like that the microbic aspect is new information. I do. I also love the idea of targeted antibiotics being developed as opposed to broad spectrum antibiotics. It gives me hope for the future. I'll definitely read the book. However, it makes me angry when the wrong people are being singled out--not out of a sense of injustice, but in a sense of it's pointless. Seventy percent of the problem is factory farming. Doesn't it stand to reason that we should focus on that at some point?
[1] At least in countries where antibiotics are readily available.
[2] Although, Stewart makes a great case for retiring the use of "like a girl" in a derogatory way.
I've never been a veggie person, either, until I recently acquired a roommate who is both vegan and expends calories at a ridiculous rate. So he's shaped like a carrot. Following the daily evidence of his continued health my consumption of frozen chicken thighs dribbled away and disappeared, then the cheese went, and finally the butter. Trips to the store are so damned cheap now. Between frozen veggies, canola oil, and vittles pre-cooked-from-dry my meal prep is essentially the same as it was before.

Unfortunately, I have not myself become more carrot-shaped. I would have to actually eat less for that to happen; veggies and grains are not a magical diet. But at least I'm making the same statement now about Tyson Foods that I made ten years ago about Microsoft. I'm not well-off enough to get free-range fair-trade organic garbanzo beans or whatever, but the amount of fuel and antibiotics my economic activity demands has fallen away by a digit or two at least. And I still don't feel guilty when I inhale a burger every few weeks. Maybe a little nauseous from the gut-wobble afterward, but otherwise I feel both virtuous and un-priggish.
My doctor loves to tout the vegetarian diet largely because he knows if he does patients will eat more veggies and less meat but they aren't likely to go 100% vegetarian--if that makes sense. I know I can tell the difference right away when I've been eating what my husband eats (crap-food.) The instant I go back to the salads I *feel* better. Sadly, over time I understand bad food effects your metabolism and well wrecks everything. It takes it's toll, and it's harder and harder to recover. (Hell, we all get old too.) I think the important thing is to take care of yourself as best you can. I've seen sites that list the foods it's more important to go organic with. (Foods that are more often packed with pesticides and such--green beans for example.) You don't have to have organic *everything*. Just go with organic in key foods.
Heh. Right next to you on my feed was the latest post by Ferret Steinmetz: "I’m Going To Eat Goop For A Solid Week, And Probably Not Die", about the non-food substance "Soylent", dreamed up by a bunch of Silicon-valley techies too cheap to subsist on ramen. Also meatless.
Yeah. Nothing about that sounds good to me. First of all, why in all the world would they name it 'Soylent Green'?
Why? They are young and ironic. The concept has some appeal to me, though, a kind of techie cutting-of-the-Gordito-knot.
There I days when I want to punch the next young white guy that says he's doing something to be 'ironic.' ;)

I like my sense of taste too much to do that to myself. Bleh.
Like you I have become a person who doesn't eat a lot of meat. Unlike you, I live on an island where ethically raised meat (beef and lamb) is easier to source than factory farmed crap. So while I totally agree with the points you are making about the massive dangers from feed-lot raised meat stuffed with antibiotics, I also know it isn't always easy.

But, if we insist on, and only BUY ethically raised meat, this becomes the point where I think we, the consumers, can make a difference.

And I can't resist saying to Andrew above. Vegetarians don't count in this battle. If you're not going to eat meat anyway then your opinion (€€€€'s) don't count. BUT on those occasions when you do want a burger, don't buy a piece of chemical laden crap from The Big Yellow. Buy a chunk of good steak, grill it and some mushrooms carefully and have it with a glass of good red wine or a craft beer
But, if we insist on, and only BUY ethically raised meat, this becomes the point where I think we, the consumers, can make a difference.

Unless we're lied to by food industry labels. I've been having trouble explaining to my husband that "natural" on a label is meaningless in this country. Corporations are fighting hard to strip away regulations around what is legally labeled 'organic' for some time. All kinds of unhappy crap is going on in the US. For example, there is a certain percentage of wood fiber that is allowed in food here. No joke. It's called "cellulose." You see that, you're basically eating wood chips.
Much of the same crap is going in Eurp! as well. The same rapacious multi-nationals have their evil tentacles everywhere. So what can a girl - or guy do? Well... start by recognizing that ALL prepared foods are your enemy. It's not only the cellulose and E-numbers, it's the insane amounts of SUGAR and salt and sugar that are in them to hide the taste of the other shit.

If you're not already, become a good basic cook and make your own meals from fresh ingredients. OK - tinned tomatoes are OK - but read the labels. I'm not saying you need to spend for organic, Some of the prices those .... charge are insane. But, as much as possible: fresh and local. Are their Green Markets in your city? If not, why not?

With regard to meat...this is a bit like the campaign to support independent book stores. Find a local meat shop. Make friends with the butcher. Bring him - or her cookies, and let them know you want to buy good quality local meat.

I know it's not easy. Gods know we all have more than enough on our plates these days, but it's your health you're fighting for. And if you feel better because you're eating properly you'll have more energy for the good stuff. :-0)