The American Way of Beef
These days, the thought of ingesting hamburger gives many people pause. Massive beef recalls and books like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation have impressed upon readers' minds the image of the modern beef cow, packed tightly in an enormous feedlot, standing in a cesspool of its brethren's manure as it gorges itself on an excessively medicated mix of corn and rendered animal protein. Although livestock diseases have devastated farms in Europe, American factory farming has earned an especially bad name for its carelessness and inhumanity. As B. R. Myers wrote in his May 2005 Atlantic piece "If Pigs Could Swim," "Livestock are treated better in Europe because Europeans want them treated better. They are treated worse here because we hardly think of them at all. It's as simple as that."
Over the years, other Atlantic contributors have made note of America's declining meat standards and suggested alternatives to the federally subsidized farm industry, where the typical cow lives a short and unhappy life that leaves consumers with cheap, fatty slabs of beef. In "Back to Grass," his article in the May 2003 Atlantic, Corby Kummer makes a case for grass-fed beef—meat obtained from cattle that have been allowed to roam free throughout their lives and to sustain themselves on their natural diet of grass and silage. Beef raised in this way, he explains, not only tastes better, but is also leaner and more healthful. ...Such nostalgia for traditional ranching methods is not new. In "Caesar's Meat" (September 1960), J. Frank Dobie recalled the tasty steaks of yesteryear.
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