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Want Healthy?
Here's How ... No Bull!

by Michael Braunstein

The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn."

Did you ever wonder why Little Boy Blue was supposed to get the cow out of the corn and back into the meadow? Cows aren't supposed to eat grain. They're supposed to eat grass.

Well, in America, cows don't eat grass. In fact, in America, cows aren't even vegetarians. Oh, they're supposed to be, of course. But in days past, the cow chunk you ate for dinner last night, most probably might have existed on a diet of dead cats and road kill mixed in to fortify his "cow chow." Really. Recently, rules have changed and help keep so-called "animal by-products" out of cattle feed. But there are other, more questionable protein sources in our meat supply chain.

In the past, "Cow chow" included a protein enhancer added to the feed that is the by-product of rendering plants. Rendering plants grind up the remains of dead animals, including their tumors, their bones and the contents of their intestines, boil it down, and when the stuff dries it's added to animal feed. Howard Lyman (author of Mad Cowboy) quotes an estimate that "75% of the ninety million beef cattle in America are routinely given feed that has been "enriched" with rendered animal parts." He also notes that 25% of that "enricher" is fecal matter. Yum.

In the mid-'90s in Los Angeles, the city's animal shelters were accused by animal rights groups of hastily executing cats before owners had a chance to claim them. The protesters pointed out that it was a greed thing. The city of Los Angeles sells the cat and dog and rat bodies, along with any other carcasses they can gather, to rendering plants for a pretty penny. All ends up as animal feed. How much? L.A. alone sends two hundred tons a month of dead cats and dogs for rendering. Lyman also notes that all European Union countries ban American beef for import because of the continued use of growth hormone additives in the feed. And up to last August, the Food and Drug Administration allowed cows to be fed protein from dead cows. Dead cows are now supposed to be kept out of the mix because of concern over the spread of Mad Cow disease, something Lyman suspects is already here in America, and has been for years. When a cow dies from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow disease), its brain looks spongy, as if eaten away by worms. Hence, the name. In a human the effect is the same. If a cow eats food laced with the renderings of dead cows that may have fallen to the disease, that cow will acquire the disease. A big problem with Mad Cow disease is that researchers don't suspect a virus or a bacteria that could be sterilized with the rendering process. Instead, the culprit that rots a person's brain is believed to be a small fragment of a rogue protein, called a prion. Proteins don't die.

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Howard Lyman gets the point across in his book, Mad Cowboy. Time to quit kidding ourselves. Unless you're an addict, (nicotine, alcohol, heroin, sex, etc.) the single most effective physical thing you can do to improve your health is to become vegetarian.

People tip-toe around that subject a lot. There probably aren't many health care providers who say "Don't eat meat," especially in Omaha, an historical stronghold of carnivorous proclivity. But it is ironic that last week saw the closing of the Stockyards Exchange Building and the cessation of official market announcements on the price of bull ... er, beef, in Omaha. Unfortunately, the closings don't signify a trend toward meatless eating here but only the shift in the industry away from what once appeared as the romantic lifestyle of the independent rancher and cowboy of the plains. Now slaughter food is veritably manufactured at mega-industrial complexes where thousands of hogs or cattle are raised from manger to charnel house at a single location.

Before looking at the health advantages of a vegetarian diet, consider what a cow eats. Cows eat grass, right? Wrong. Cows are supposed to eat grass.

I'll never forget my first morning waking up in Glastonbury in southwest England's Devonshire county. (It's the countryside town where King Arthur's buried.) I ambled down the cobblestone mainstreet and stopped in a small store. I asked for some milk because I didn't see any in the tiny cooler. The shopkeeper pointed to some small glass bottles in a case by the door. "Here?" I asked. "Why isn't it refrigerated?" "What for?" he replied. "It was in the cow a couple hours ago?" I thought about shying away from this strange, room-temperature white stuff, but I was aware of then looking like an American spoiled by his own culture; exactly what I feared the milk was. I bought a bottle and walked outside, following the keeper's admonition to shake it up, ("Cream's on top, y'know.") When I tentatively put it to my lips and drank, it was like no milk I had ever tasted. Sweet, creamy. I was certain it must have been sweetened or flavored. It wasn't. I went in and bought another. Later my friend Mimi explained. "Devon," she said "is famous for dairy. And the milk is sweet because that's what cows eat. Grass. And grass is sweet."

BSE isn't the main reason Lyman, a fourth generation cattle rancher from Montana, sold his ranch and became vegetarian 15 years ago. It's just plain unhealthy to eat animal flesh. With all the bad things in meat - all meat - there's reason enough. And Lyman gets to the heart of the matter, so to speak, when he holds the meat industry as culpable for heart disease and cancer as he holds the tobacco industry for lung cancer. He actually compares the two and labels the meat industry the more insidious because it cloaks its product as part of a healthy diet. As Lyman and others point out, we now know it is completely possible to have a balanced and healthy diet and not eat any animal flesh at all. Lyman makes a point to remind readers that fish and chicken are not vegetables and "... they are not health foods."

While acknowledging the obvious fact that one can become a vegetarian and still eat poorly if you eat "junk" food, even though it may not have meat products in it, Lyman just repeats what common sense and modern research has been telling us for some time: vegetables are good for you. That also is not news, but it is being explained by a man whose family for generations had depended on people eating meat. As a Montana native, he knew that not eating meat was a little off the beaten path. But also as a Montanan, he and his neighbors were concerned about the damage cattle raising does to their state. When he expanded to a global view on becoming a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he saw what a meat diet was doing to the planet.

It is amazing that individuals care so little about their own health that we keep in the lamentable habit of eating so poorly. But what really amazes Lyman is the indefensible disregard for the health of the planet as a whole.

Anyone who has seen any mainstream publication over the past few years has seen enough articles about this and that of vegetables being so good for you. Hardly a day goes by without something being brought to light about it. Lyman doesn't go into all the health benefits for individuals so much, but he does put things in a global perspective in a rather personable way of writing. He reminds us that not only is meat poisoning our bodies but our eating habits are leading to ecological disaster that may be too late too avoid.

Eating meat is not cost effective, planetarily. Period. Lyman cites Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet as a way of noting it. For example, it takes 32 pounds of grain to create a pound of beef. One-half pound of grain is a subsistence daily ration for a human. That means 32 people can live on the grain needed for one pound of beef if they ate the grain instead of the beef.

Even worse is the havoc that cattle ranching is wreaking on the ecology. Around the world, 27,000 square miles of land are turned into desert each year. Over time, that is the usual result of clearing forest land for grazing. 70 % of the water used in the already water-short eleven western states goes to livestock production. The water to raise just ten pounds of beef would be enough for a household of four for a year! 90% of the open federal rangeland is used for cattle grazing in those states. And, the beef raised accounts for only three per cent of the beef eaten in the USA. If we gave the range back to nature, we wouldn't even notice the dent at McDonald's! Most of the grain grown in the midwest goes to cattle feed. That grain is produced by irrigating and taxing the great Ogallala Aquifer beyond its limits. Already farmers from South Dakota to Kansas and Texas, from Missouri to Colorado have had to stop farming because of dry wells. On the fringe of the aquifer, the supply is already out. At current usage the underground water table will be dry in a few short decades. It took millions of years to fill it. It will never fill up again while humans are using this planet. The list of ecological doom goes on.

Lyman sums it up in a simple statement. "Humanity is rich in folly, but it's hard to think of a folly more mind-bogglingly stupendous than that of transforming infinitely rich, diverse, dense jungle into desert in a few years' time for the sake of a few more hamburgers." He is astounded that we actually need to support the razing of the tropical rainforests to bring more beef to our country. "It's humbling to think that, even after turning over the greater share of our public land to cattle ranchers, and in spite of the massive feedlot operations fouling our country, we Americans still need to import beef to satisfy our collective demand for heart attacks."

Lyman paints a persuasive picture. Meat isn't good for you. It harms the planet the way we are satisfying our craving. And we don't have much choice anyway. Very soon the resources we have simply won't support the "plague of cattle." He does suggest going vegetarian and mentions that you would be in good company. "Some people may say you're a fool. Don't worry about it," Lyman writes. "Other vegetarian fools include Plato, Socrates, Einstein, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Emerson, Franklin, Pope, Newton, Pythagoras, Ghandi, DaVinci, Voltaire, Milton, Darwin, Schweitzer, Shelley, Shaw, the Dalai Lama, and, last but not least, Madonna."

Perhaps the most convincing argument to me is not that those people are vegetarian but the disgusting news that cows aren't!


Be well.

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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.

Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.

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