Friday, October 24, 2008

400 cows in six bites

On a recent trip to Florence I was drawn into the local outlet of an international fast food chain, which is conveniently situated within the train station. Being the sole destination for tourists that do not trust Italian food (unfortunately there are still a lot of them, but that will be the topic for another post), I am sure it is the most successful restaurant in the whole city - economically speaking.

Curiosity guided me through the doors: I wanted to eat a Hamburger. I wanted to see how long it would take me to eat 400 cows. Or the meat of 400 cows. A recent statistic I read in one of the many food magazines that are sent to me on a weekly basis confirmed that the average meat patty contains the meat of 400 cows. I found that a) very impressive and b) very frightening. I was even more frightened at the sight of this thin burger patty in front of me, which weighted a maximum of 200 grams. I tried to map out a pattern of 400 squares on its surface, but I quickly gave up. 400 cows for 200 grams of meat. That is half a gram per cow!

Shaking my head, I wondered where our food production has gone to.

But then the confusion set in. When do we know that we have crossed the line towards industrial food production? Let me give you an example: to produce our Sangiovese wine, we harvest two hectares. A total of 10,000 vines, which carry about 12,000 kg grapes, which in turn can be transformed into 9,600 bottles of wine. In realty, to produce a single bottle of wine, we would just need 8 vines, just as one cow would have been plenty for a beef patty. Of course, this is an extreme example, but is there a difference between 12,000kg of grapes going in to a bottle of wine and 400 cows going into a meat patty?

I guess the question at hand is: were those 400 happy cows? Cows that were raised in the open, had the chance to munch on some grass and run around and play, when they felt like running or playing? Did they have someone that gave them a name? Or were they raised in the dark, chained to concrete floor and fed with hormones to grow fat in the right places?

In order to make the right decision on what food products we buy, which ones we choose to nourish not only our body, but also our soul, we need to know where our food comes from. Who is raising the cattle, growing the vines and milling the grain. We need to be sure that our alimentation is in the hands of proud craftsmen that work with integrity. The famer that raises healthy cattle in an healthy environment, a butcher that buys his meat from a trusted farmer. Then, and only then, 400 cows in a burger patty might be acceptable.

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