Now let’s go next door to the neighbors of the family we have just visited. Family Number Two consists of an older couple, nearing retirement, whose high blood pressure and general aches and pains have led them to become more health-conscious. They are concerned about cholesterol and saturated fats, and so they eat very little red meat anymore. When they do, they make sure it is lean, and they cut away any fat that remains. They are especially concerned about nitrites and the other chemicals that are added to frankfurters and luncheon meats, and they have totally eliminated those economically wasteful, additive-laden foods from their diet. Instead, they eat chicken and fish, which they feel are much healthier. And they don’t eat too much of these they know that four or five ounces a day provide them with enough protein.
They have changed nothing else in their diet, except possibly lowering their sugar intake and trying to eat more green vegetables and fresh fruit. They’Ve bought a vegetable steamer, perhaps, to help conserve vitamins lost in boiling vegetables, and they like to nibble and serve nuts and seeds with dried fruit rather than candy, cookies, or potato chips.
They’ve invited you to Sunday dinner, and are serving roast chicken as the main dish.
If you ask them why they eat chicken now as often as they used to eat beef, they’ll tell you an interesting story.
“ We used to feel that chicken was pretty much for the poor people,” says the husband. “ It’s less expensive than beef, and we used to get it sometimes, but we thought of beef as the normal American diet one of the privileges of affluence.
“ But you know, we’ve been doing some interesting reading lately. Did you know that in many societies the poor people eat a healthier diet than the rich? The Oriental aristocracy, for instance, used to eat white rice that’s why most Chinese and Japanese restaurants offer white rice with the food; it’s considered more elegant than brown rice. The poor peasants who worked for them, meanwhile, ate brown rice. The aristocracy suffered nutritional deficiencies even in good times. Lack of B vitamins can cause beriberi and pellagra. The peasants, having the benefits of brown rice, only got these diseases when they couldn’t get any rice at all.
“ So we feel that by eating ‘peasant food’ we may have taken a step down socially but it’s a step up nutritionally.”
This couple is partly right. They have taken a step up nutritionally but it is only one small step. You can feel better about digging into dinner with them but only a little better.
The Real Story of Chicken
They may believe they’re eating peasant food, but if they have an image of the chicken being raised in a beautiful, pastoral scene at a farm of its being fed grains by a woman wearing an apron as it clucks merrily through the day, laying healthy eggs and cooing softly on its roost in the evening that image is sheer illusion. Their chicken was born and died in a factory an animal factory, as Jim Mason, leading farm animal rights advocate, calls it.
Today’s chicken lives without ever seeing the light of day. In fact, the light in its artificially created environment is controlled so that it will remain subdued. It is packed so tightly together with two to four other birds in a tiny twelve-inch cage that it cannot even flap its wings it can barely move at all. Its beak is often removed so it won’t peck its cage mates to death in frustration. Its environment is temperature-controlled. Its food comes by on conveyor belts.
Naturally, getting no exercise or fresh air and living under such crowded conditions, such a bird is extremely susceptible to disease. By comparison to birds that were once allowed to roam and peck and grow healthy, today’s chicken is tasteless. It is usually killed at four or six months of age, or earlier.
Instead of providing fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, the businessmen who boast about how good their chickens taste find ways to disguise inferior quality. The chemist has replaced the farmer. Artificial dyes are added to chicken feed to give the pasty whiteness of the factory chickens’ flesh a more natural golden color. To give the chickens flavor, some are injected with an enzyme called hyaluronidase and a mixture of seasonings such as nutmeg, thyme, and garlic. The enzymes help dispense the herbs throughout the bird. The fragrant aroma of the herbs and spices will overwhelm the acrid scent the enzymes give off during cooking. The diseases to which the chicken is susceptible, due to its brief, unsanitary existence, include coccidiosis, a parasitic condition. To help keep down these infections certain breeders use drugs that will kill all bacteria. Antibiotics and nitrofurans made from poisonous arsenic could be part of the bird’s diet. Arsenic, in the form of arsenic acid, has been fed poultry since 1950. Still, more antibiotics may be added after the chicken is slaughtered: chicken carcasses are sometimes dipped in the antibiotic solution to increase their shelf life to up to twenty-one days. That roast chicken may be older than you realize. Antibiotics serve the same purpose in chicken factories as in cattle feedlots. They protect against infection when the conditions are filthy, and they affect growth.
Most people think when they get sick after eating chicken, that they have ptomaine poisoning or salmonella poisoning. Actually, what might be the cause of severe diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting in some cases is a twenty-four-hour virus whose identity they have mistaken for salmonella. This virus is found in eggs and chicken and is not easily diagnosed. Upward of perhaps 40 million Americans suffer from it each year.
The worst viral disease to which chickens are susceptible is leukosis, viral cancer-specific to chickens. It is estimated that nearly 95 percent of all chickens have leukosis
Whatever bacteria exist in the chicken when it is killed may be multiplied many times by freezing. It’s not the freezing that does it; the problem is, frozen poultry may be thawed and frozen again many times before it is shipped. Once shipped, it may be as long as two years before it is sold. Be glad you are being served fresh and not frozen chicken this evening.
So the Sunday chicken dinner that you are eating with Family Number Two might still contain chemicals, just like the roast beef at the first house. There are probably fewer chickens that are smaller, and since they live a much shorter life than cattle, the chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides from the feed have less time to build up in their system. But this is a far cry from healthy “ peasant fare.” And the friendly, thoughtful people with whom you are dining would probably be sickened to realize the cramped, sunless, and wretched conditions under which their chicken was bred.
Eggs from Factory Chickens
The sick state of the chickens is reflected in the eggs they lay. Take a look at your eggs tomorrow morning. Egg yolks are supposed to be firm, round, and yellow. Are your firm, or are they watery, with a soupy consistency? Whatever their appearance, like the chickens, they probably contain some of the pesticides used on the grains fed to the chickens, along with the antibiotics deliberately added.
Tonight’s leftovers will end up as tomorrow’s chicken salad. It probably has not occurred to Family Number Two to eliminate storebought mayonnaise from their diet. One ingredient of mayonnaise is eggs. Now, the eggs that are used to manufacture mayonnaise are not necessarily the ones you buy they could be the ones that have a hairline crack; the ones no one would buy at the store for fear of salmonella infection. Yet the mayonnaise manufacturers may be glad to buy them at a discount, not knowing if they are cracked.
The eggs that drop on the floor and crack may also be sent to a manufacturing plant where the yolks and whites are separated, flash-frozen, and sent to bakers. There they may be incorporated into a wide variety of baked goods. It is fortunate that Family Number Two rarely eats store-bought cake anymore.
Poultry is not a very good substitute for beef in the diet. While it may be given fewer hormones, tranquilizers, and antibiotics, that is only because its life span is shorter. The miserable, dark, crowded, and stressful conditions under which it is raised require that it be dyed and injected with enzymes and herbs to mask its poor quality. Infections due to unsanitary conditions are suppressed with antibiotics and arsenic-containing nitrofurans. Sometimes the carcasses are dipped in antibiotics to lengthen their shelf life. These may not be effective in preventing bacteria levels in frozen poultry from building up due to repeated thawing and refreezing.