Stories tagged meat

Aug
17
2011

LOL
LOLCourtesy dan mogford
Can you believe it’s been almost two whole years since you had your last Science Buzz Extravaganza?!

What a bleak two years those were, eh? In that time you’ve probably been married and impregnated, and then birthed a really boring baby. What did you name it? “Dullton”? “Cloudface”? “Eeyore”? Or could you not even think of a name, because everything has just seemed so boring and pointless?

You know what? I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’ve just been so preoccupied in the last couple years, what with the economy being so bad and all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep my horseracing operation financially feasible. But I think I’ve finally figured it out—whenever one of my horses looses a race, I have to stop setting them free in the woods. Or, if I really need to get that loser out of my sight, I’ve got to at least sell it to a glue factory or restaurant. (Sure, get all self-righteous. You’ve clearly never eaten horsemeat, or stuck two pieces of paper together with horseglue. Unparalleled experiences.)

So the Extravaganza is back! At least as a limited edition. I was so excited to do it, I couldn’t even wait for the usual Friday post. And so a Wednesday Extravaganza it is! A Food Extravaganza! A Foodstravaganza!

You may be aware that the Science Museum will soon be opening an exhibit called Future Earth, which explores how the many billions of us humans will get by in the coming decades. You might also be aware that food is going to be a big deal in our future (there will be more of us, and we’ll be eating more stuff that takes more resources to produce), and so, as both a Future Earth worker bee and a consumer of food, a couple of stories caught my eye this week.

Story the first: humans of the 20th century weren’t the first to screw themselves over with agriculture.

Whoops! A little background information: agriculture isn’t screwing us over—it’s keeping us from starving. However, in our effort to keep ourselves from starving (a noble goal!) we’ve converted about 40% of the land surface of the Earth into cropland and pastureland, and not all of that is sustainable. I don’t mean that in the “cute animals have nowhere to live” way, I mean it in the “we weren’t always careful, and have caused tremendous environmental degradation” way. When farming practices allow topsoil to be stripped of nutrients, or erode too extensively, or contaminate water sources, it’s bad news. But at least we aren’t the first people to have done it. According to some recent archaeological work, ancient Peruvians were up to the same tricks. By looking at the ancient trash pits and the buried plant remains in the desolate-looking Ica region of Peru, archaeologists found that the area’s residents originally survived by gathering shellfish and the like from the coast, but eventually transitioned to an intensive agricultural lifestyle—that is, they cleared a lot of land, and grew a lot of food. They grew corn, beans, pumpkins, peanuts, and chillis for hundreds of years, and all was well. Until it wasn’t. It looks like they cleared too much of the natural plant life, and flooding, erosion, and nutrient depletion became problems (the natural trees and shrubs fixed nitrogen nutrients in the soil and held dirt and moisture in place in a way that the crops couldn’t.) The whole area went to pot, and the locals had to go back to eating snails, mussels and sea urchins again. Aw, nuts.

So what could they have done? For that matter, what can we do, if it looks like our conventional food sources can’t sustain a human population which will rapidly exceed 7 billion?

That brings me to my next story! Oh, good!

You know what everybody likes? Animal protein, also known as “meat.” The problem there is that animal protein requires animals to produce it, and not all animals make it very efficiently—a cow, for instance, eats about 30 pounds of cow feed to produce each pound of steak. There are more efficient creatures out there, but we don’t usually eat them: bugs.

Naturally, we’ve talked about bug eating on Science Buzz already. But that focused more on bug eating (or entomophagy) as a concept). An article I read this weekend examines bug eating in practice, and it’s pretty wild.

While the story does talk about some straight up bug recipes (e.g. “mealworm fried rice”), it also looks at a company in the Netherlands that’s already raising and processing insects just for their protein. The advantages of farm-raised bugs are that you get a pretty generic, healthy product (it sounds sort of like … hotdog filling, or something, but without all the fat) from animals that require less food and produce a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases created by normal livestock. However, efficiently separating the bug meat from the rest of the bug parts is a challenge, as is processing it without having it turn funky. Apparently, in the mysterious world of bug meat, funkiness is very much a possibility. But, really, when are we ever totally free of the threat of funkiness?

In any case, I’d like it if your takeaway message of this extravaganza was this: You should eat bugs, and like them, or you will be forced to eat bugs (and you probably won’t like them). Amiright?

If you can’t handle a takeaway message with that much raw power, try digesting this one instead: producing food has some serious challenges, so it behooves us to be innovative and foresightful with regards to our food sources.

Rendered insect meat!

Apr
22
2011

Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.
Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.Courtesy Another Pint Please...
Ok, Buzzketeers, buckle up for some meaty issues, juicy discussion, and humorless punnery. But first:

Do you eat meat?

Let me say off the bat that this isn’t a judgment thing. Yeah, I am judging you, but only on your grammar, clothing, height, gait, pets, personal odor, and birthday.

But not on your diet. So there will be no bloodthirsty carnivore or milquetoast vegetarian talk here. Y’all can have that out on your own time.

This is more of what I like to call an entirely unscientific poll about meat, the future, and your deepest secrets. (Depending on what you consider secret.)

When you get to the end, you can see what everyone else voted.

Tell us, do you eat meat? (click here for the poll)

Or jump right to the results.

Or go ahead and discuss this stuff.

Jan
13
2011

Fried insect pupae: You have to admit, they look a little bit delicious, right?
Fried insect pupae: You have to admit, they look a little bit delicious, right?Courtesy Steven G. Johnson
If you're as big a fan of Science Buzz as I am, you might remember us saying that eating bugs can be a bad idea.

(I doubt you are as big Science Buzz fans as I am, though. Do you have a large, Party of Five-style poster of Liza, bryan kennedy, Artifactor, mdr, Thor, and Gene hanging in your room? Didn't think so.)

Anyway, despite what we might have said, it turns out that eating bugs may in fact be a good idea. But it's a good idea that's never gonna happen. (When I say "never," I mean "not in my lifetime, so as far as I'm concerned, 'never.'")

See, there are lots of folks who eat bugs (it's called entomophagy). And it's not all Fear Factor-style disgustingness—the insects are often cooked and flavored, and, you know, I'm sure they're fine. Like Corn Nuts.

But there are a lots more people who get their protein from eating larger animals, like cows and pigs and chickens and turkeys and stuff. And for a long time some people ate cows and pigs, and some people ate insects, and the world spun along just fine.

Then, not too long ago, people started to realize something: raising enough cows and pigs and things to feed billions of people has a tremendous negative impact on the environment. You have to feed each animal many times its weight in plants before it grows to full size, and all the while its pooping, peeing, and farting. And before you start complaining about how you're too young to read "pooping, peeing, and farting," let me say two things. 1) The alternative was to write "defecating, urinating, and flatulating," and you are too young to read that; and 2) animal poop, pee, and farts have a huge environmental impact.

When animal waste leaks into water sources, it can make them unhealthy to drink, and toxic to live in (if you're the sort of organism that lives in the water. And the various gases (like methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide) emitted by animals and their waste are a major source of global warming.

So there. It turns out that those of us who eat meat are straining the environment quite a bit.

But what about all those edible bugs? How do they fit in?

Well, a group of scientists from the Netherlands just published a report on that very thing. They compared the emissions of common meat animals to those of a variety of insects, and found that the world would probably be better off if we raised and ate bugs instead of cows and pigs.

See, insects are able to turn the food they eat into protein much more efficiently than cows and pigs, because insects' metabolisms don't constantly burn fuel to maintain a regular body temperature (like the metabolisms of cows, pigs and people do). In the end, for the amount of mass they build, insects produce less greenhouse gases than pigs, and way less than cows. The insects' production of ammonia (a source of water pollution) was also much less than cows and pigs. The long and the short of the research is that if we were to have farms raising delicious mealworms, house crickets, and locusts, we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

But I don't have high hopes for any of that; it's hard to imagine seeing insect-based food items on the shelves any time soon. Here's hoping though, right?

Apr
20
2009

Last Friday a meat processing plant in southeastern Minnesota caught fire. When it did officials hurried to evacuate all 3,600 residents of the town of St. Charles, who may not have realized that they were living downwind of five huge tanks of the invisible toxic gas anhydrous ammonia.

If you're not familiar with anhydrous ammonia, then you're probably not a farmer who uses it as a cheap fertilizer, a food processor who needs it to run gigantic refrigerators, or an illegal drug manufacturer specializing in Crystal Meth. All of these industries use anhydrous ammonia to produce things that other people in other places want to buy, be it vegetables, cold cuts or illegal drugs. And where there is anhydrous ammonia, there is the potential for terrifying and deadly accidents, from large-scale fires to smaller tank leakages that can injure or kill workers.

If the tanks at North Star Foods containing over 30,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia had burst in the flames of last Friday's fire, this could have sent a cloud of toxic gas floating through the area, injuring or possibly killing everyone in its path. Thankfully firefighters were able to prevent this from happening, but the plant burned to the ground anyway. According to the Associated Press, many residents now fear that they will lose their jobs if the plant decides not to rebuild.

But hold on a minute: You're telling me that you live in close proximity to 30,000 pounds of an invisible toxic gas, which almost burst into flames and could have turned your skin into putty or chemically burned your eyes and lungs, and when reporters ask about the experience, you tell them you are worried about jobs?

Not to be insensitive to the economic realities that rural communities face, but I'm not so sure I would want the plant to rebuild in my community. I'm also not so sure that the people who live in St. Charles have any other choice. As one of the people quoted in the AP article said, "Small towns can't afford to lose a business." What they didn't say was that sometimes economic growth means building a bomb in your backyard.

Tongues of flame lick the
Meat which will power our brains:
Cooking made us smart
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Sci-ku ™ -- haiku in the service of science!

Aug
14
2008

"He wouldn't make a mouthful": said William, who had already had a fine supper, "not when he was skinned and boned."
"He wouldn't make a mouthful": said William, who had already had a fine supper, "not when he was skinned and boned."Courtesy Radha Blossom
Hey, everybody! Remember yesterday?

I sure don’t. The last thing I remember is TGIF programming, and feeling really angry about something (it wasn’t the TV I was upset with, that much I know), and the next thing I’m aware of is waking up under the sink…in the yard! It was my yard, but not my sink. Weird.

Anyway, the last week is a little blurry, to say the least. What happened in this week? I only have a few clues to go on: new tattoos (did I get my own name tattooed on me, or the name of someone else called JGordon?), a new t-shirt (it smells like burned hair, and it says “Try me, Lincoln!”), and some Science Buzz blog entries.

Bloody noses? Bigfoot? I thought this was supposed to be a science blog! I was clearly out of my gourd—there’s not a test tube or a lab coat to be seen in those posts.

And then there’s the kangaroo meat post. I might have been on to something there: it’s about the environment, and animals, and Paul Hogan. Whatever was going on in my head, I seem to have momentarily surfaced near enough to lucidity to string several paragraphs of real words together. Words about eating animals and environmental impact. And stuff.

Wherever I was (geographically) yesterday, I like where I was going (mentally), and I have decided to pursue that train of thought.

The word, then, is “patal-bageri.” I mean “words.” Words.

The Indian state of Bihar, unwilling to be out-crazied by Australia, may be pursuing a new meat industry of its own: rat, or “patal-bageri.”

Like the Aussies, the welfare ministry of this state is hoping to kill two birds with one stone (except one of the birds will actually be a rat, and they probably won’t use a stone—maybe a hammer instead). Hunting rats would reduce the amount of grain lost to the rodents (naturally) as well as provide a cheap and plentiful supply of meat. Rat meat.

The minister of welfare has pointed out that the Musahar caste, of which there are 2.4 million members, have traditionally eaten rats for a very long time (“Musahar” roughly translates to “rat eaters” in Hindi), hunting them in their rice fields. If the Musuhars—one of the poorest castes in the country—can eat rats, says the minister, why can’t everybody else?

Someone got to this rat already!: Nuts.
Someone got to this rat already!: Nuts.Courtesy erik langner
The ministry plans to set up rat meat stalls in rural fairs, to give people a taste of the protein-rich meat, and hopes to eventually have “rat meat centers” in urban areas. The Musahars could be engaged to start rat farms, hopefully empowering them socially and economically (I have a feeling, though, that some people might still look down on rat farmers).

The eating of rats obviously has kind of a stigma to it, but it’s certainly not unheard of—in cultures that don’t specifically forbid eating them (Islam and Judaism, for instance, have strict taboos against consuming rat meat), rats may be eaten as a crisis food, or regularly with other bush meats. Cane rats make up fully half of the locally produced meat in Ghana (check out this picture of a soon to be delicious cane rat).

I might eat rat meat, but it’s good that I don’t have to eat rat meat (it’s nice to have control over that decision). Should anyone be unable to wait for the patal-bageri industry to arrive on American shores, however, here are some recipes for rats (and mice):

Something Thai

Rat and mouse recipes

And some more

Aug
13
2008

How convenient!: Jumpmeat, with a little pouch to hold more jumpmeat!
How convenient!: Jumpmeat, with a little pouch to hold more jumpmeat!Courtesy .robbie
Y’all got kangaroo knives, right?

What? You don’t have kangaroo knives? Well… I mean… what… How do you cut your kangaroos up, then?! This is madness! Cats and dogs, living together! Ewok Adventure! Sour candy! Madness!

I think there must be some kind of misunderstanding. A kangaroo knife isn’t necessarily like a big Crocodile Dundee knife* (although, that is a really nice kangaroo knife). No, pretty much any sharpish object can be a kangaroo knife. So, yes, a knife can be a kangaroo knife, but what else? A chipped rock? Yes, what else? Sure, a jagged piece of scrap metal would make a nice one. Anything else? A sharpened spoon? Very good, yes, a sharpened spoon could work. A fingernail? Well, I suppose it depends on the finger and the nail, but maybe.

I think you’re getting the idea. But why do we need all of these kangaroo knives in the first place? To be honest, it’s probably only the Australian Buzzketeers out there (maybe?) that would have any use for them, but it doesn’t hurt for the rest of us to be prepared. See, a recent article in the journal Conservation Letters recommends that expanding the kangaroo industry in Australia, and shrinking the cattle and sheep industries, would significantly cut the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, growing the kangaroo population to 175 million by 2020 (and reducing the cattle and sheep populations proportionately) would eliminate 16 megatons of greenhouse gas, or 3 percent of Australia’s total emissions.

It’s not just any old greenhouse gas that would be cut, either—we’re talking about methane, one of the stinkiest, hottest, greenhousiest greenhouse gases of them all. Ruminants—animals that chew cud and have multi-chambered stomachs, like cows and sheep—produce a lot of methane, up to 60 percent of global methane emissions†. A dairy cow can produce about 50 gallons of methane gas a day! Kangaroos, on the other hand, produce only about one third of the methane of a ruminant animal does. And, as a little environmental bonus, kangaroos’ large, padded paws are much easier on the land than the hooves of ruminants, and contribute less to erosion.

But what are we supposed to do with all these millions of kangaroos? Eat them, naturally. (This is where the kangaroo knives come in!) Kangaroo meat is reportedly high in protein, low in fat, and it has high concentrations of conjugated linoleic acid (a chemical that seems to have anti-cancer properties, and tends to reduce body fat in humans). But, you know, it’s kangaroo meat, which some people may have a problem with**.

It’s difficult to say, too, what the other environmental ramifications of increasing one animal’s population dozens of times over might be. Maybe the kangaroos could be trained to eat rabbits, or something.

Assuming y’all had some kangaroo knives, do you think you could deal with eating kangaroo? You know, for nature?

*Doesn’t Paul Hogan look like he’s about to do something just awful to Manhattan there?

†The EPA’s website says that ruminants only account for 28% of global methane emissions. But that’ still a lot.

**The kangaroo meat industry actually held a competition to come up with a new name for the meat that didn’t conjure up images of doe-eyes and fuzzy little faces. The finalists included kangarly, maroo, krou, maleen, kuja, roujoe, rooviande, jurru, ozru, marsu, kangasaurus, marsupan, jumpmeat, and MOM (meat of marsupials), but the winning name ended up being “australus.” Australus was for sure not the best name. The best name was “jumpmeat.”

Dec
27
2006

Raw data: The Food and Drug Administration will soon be deciding if meat from cloned animals will be able to be sold to consumers.
Raw data: The Food and Drug Administration will soon be deciding if meat from cloned animals will be able to be sold to consumers.

Have you ever had that hamburger or steak that you liked so much you just wanted to eat it again and again? Well, you might be able to eat meat produced by the same set of animal genes for years and years if a plan for the sale of cloned meat gets government approval.

The federal government’s Food and Drug Administration will soon be deciding if meat from cloned animals will be able to be sold in your corner grocery store. Last week it received a recommendation from a study group that it okay the public sale of meat and milk from cloned animals.

"All of the studies indicate that the composition of meat and milk from clones is within the compositional ranges of meat and milk consumed in the U.S.," the FDA scientists concluded in a report published in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Theriogenology, which focuses on animal reproduction.

For several years, the FDA has put the brakes on commercial sales to the few companies that have been researching and developing cloned meat. But over the course of this year, those companies have been presenting a pile of evidence that they think shows cloned meat is safe to eat.

While there can be differences between natural-born and cloned, especially at the genetic and physiological levels, the cloned meat companies contend that there’s no difference between the meats that come from cloned or natural-born animals. But consumer protection groups are leery. And at a minimum, they think cloned meat products should carry special labels to allow people to know when they are buying cloned meat products.

One of the authors of the study supporting cloned meat notes that genetic differences between cloned and natural animals are most pronounced in the embriotic stages of development. By the time a cow, for instance, is mature, those differences are so small that it makes little or no impact on the quality of its meat or milk.
Even if cloned meat does get the FDA’s approval, there likely won’t be a huge jump in the amount of animals cloned for food production purposes. That’s due to the current economics involved with cloning.
Right now is costs about $19,000 to clone a cow. The more you clone, the cheaper the process gets. Six cloned cows would cost about $72,000, or $12,000 a piece. Naturally bred cows are a lot cheaper to reproduce.

But proponents for cloning meat-producing animals could have limited benefits. With certain breeds, cloning could help to promote strong, disease-free genes. Or a farmer might want to clone an unusually productive cow or steer. The cloned-meat industry estimates that only one-percent of herd would be made up of cloned animals. And some ranchers and farmers how have been experimenting with cloned animals admit that some of their cloned animals have already gone into our food chain. There is no process of checking if animals going to a slaughterhouse have been cloned or were naturally born.

Even if cloned meats to get the government’s okay, they might not prove popular with the meat-buying public. A recent national survey of consumers found that 64 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with animal cloning and that 43 percent believe that food from clones is unsafe.

Would you be willing to eat the meat of a cloned animal or drink the milk from a cloned cow? What do you think the FDA should do on this issue?

Feb
24
2005

"Mad cow disease"-also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-is a fatal brain disorder in cows. It's spread by contact with brain or other nervous-system tissue from an animal with the disease. An animal can be infected but not have any symptoms for years. But once the disease is active, it kills brain cells, leaving large, spongy holes. It also causes large clumps of abnormal proteins in the brain and quickly kills the victim.

Scientists still don't know for sure what causes mad cow disease. But the most likely theory is that abnormal proteins called prions (PREE-ons) damage nerve cells, causing loss of brain function and eventual death.

You can read more about prions and how scientists think they might cause mad cow disease:
click here

Scientists think mad cow disease came from a similar disease in sheep called scrapie. We used to feed cows meat and bone meal-from other cows, but also animals such as sheep-leftover after processing for human consumption. Cows ate food contaminated with scrapie and developed BSE. At the time, people thought that neither scrapie nor BSE affected us, so meat from BSE-infected cows got into the human food supply. People who ate the infected meat-probably hamburger or other processed meats-developed a disease similar to the cows'.

You can find out a lot more about mad cow disease and its human manifestation:
click here

The US government has made some rules to try and protect people here from the disease. It has banned the import of cud-chewing animals (cows, sheep, goats) and products made from them from Europe. It prohibits the use of any mammal products in food for cows. Cows with unidentified neurological disorders cannot be eaten. Drug companies can't use animal tissues from countries with mad cow disease when they make vaccines or other products. And people who spent more than six months in the UK (where the mad cow disease epidemic was first identified) between 1980 and 1986 are not allowed to donate blood.

Do the new rules make you feel safer about eating meat? Have you changed any of your eating habits since mad cow reports came out in the media?