Duck hunting with Megan Nix — “To know what something is, you need to know where it comes from….”.

Here’s another great story by Denver food editor Megan Nix, excerpted from the Denver Post where it’s called “Convenience vs Ethics in Food Choices“:

The author, from the about page of her blog, considering some food choices.

Picture from the "about" page of Megan Nix's blog ( -- considering food choices.

“My grandpa’s dog Gretchen was for hunting, not for loving. She spent more time outside than she did with humans, and I had to trap her in the closet to pet her

I’d roll my knuckles down her ridged spine and whisper nice things to her, but she would just stare out the yellow crack in the closet, indifferent and distanced. She didn’t seem to mind her relegation to the animal world. It was around then that I decided not to mind my place in the food chain, either.

Grandpa gave the pheasants to my grandma with one hand under their heads and the other cradling their slick, limp bodies. She lowered them into thyme and butter, shoulder to shoulder in a casserole dish.

My grandparents taught me that animals deserve tenderness, but that we also use them to enhance our lives.

At that time, a meal’s setting started with the rustling of reeds, the first V of wings over a sunlit lake. Today, it reads like this: a vacant field and a factory’s long shadow. Stench and slaughter. Chemical injections, electric probes, polio.

In college, I started veering away from meat in grocery stores and started eating ducks my friends had hunted in southern marshes. We fried catfish in iron skillets, caught crabs in shallow water. When I moved back to Denver, I met my fiance, Luke, who took me fly fishing on the Colorado, where he eventually proposed. I don’t mind that we scheduled our wedding around hunting season.

The spoils of my relationship are not only fish and venison, but also becoming part of a family built on the gentle, patient awareness that Luke and his brothers learned from their father on annual hunting trips. Long nights of cold and moonlight and the lonely bugle of a wandering sow will teach a good man how to truly listen.

Of course, despite my fortunate circumstances, I’ll admit that when it comes to meat, convenience often trumps ethics. Those trucks with the gigantic gleaming Big Macs lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds whisper good things to me. Though I can usually resist the late-night drive-thru lane, on occasion, I do still eat store-bought meat. But I haven’t stopped reading the latest reasons I shouldn’t.

Picture titled The Duck Hunt by Etheldred B. Barry from the book the Little Colonel in Arizona, 1904

Picture titled "The Duck Hunt" by Etheldred B. Barry from "the Little Colonel in Arizona", 1904

In the ’50s, chickens took 12 weeks to reach four pounds. Today, in a commercial chicken factory, it takes a chicken only six weeks to reach that same weight, and we’ve engineered them to have bigger breasts because white meat is what we like. We also bred most of the brains out of them so they couldn’t get feisty. Now, they are slow, top-heavy sad sacks. Speed up the growth (through 23 hours of overhead lighting and high-energy feed), and you have sick birds offset by high sales.

Ninety-eight percent of the chicken in the U.S. comes from large corporations. These lame hens never see the sun. Overhead lights deprive the birds of melatonin, which means they are more likely to become diseased. Despite the use of antibiotics (to which we are becoming increasingly resistant), the Consumer’s Union reported that 70 percent of supermarket chickens have campylobacter and/or salmonella bacteria.

The fast-track growth practices increase the birds’ demand for oxygen, which increases their right ventricles, which fail, which kills millions of birds worldwide, which costs the industry $500 billion per year.

Which would make my grandpa say: What in the Sam Hell are we thinking?

It gets worse. Most cows in the U.S. are on feedlot diets (fed corn and grain instead of grass). As many as 30 percent of them are plagued by acid indigestion, then ulcers, then the bacteria that sets up shop in their livers. Other maladies: dirt eating, diarrhea, polio, convulsions. Adding insult to injury, cows that collapse are electrocuted or forklifted to standing because a “downer” cow cannot be sent to market.

This meat then makes its way to school lunches.

Three-quarters of the nation’s antibiotics go straight to CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Recently, the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service engineered a vaccine for sick, shipped cows, licensing it to pharmaceutical giant Schering- Plough. We now have two powerhouses feeding off each other and feeding us problems. All these pills and bills seem to be small bandages over our festering food wound.

I think you have to know where a thing comes from to know what that thing really is. In a grass-based ranch, farmers usually have less than 150 soil-enriching cows and can tell them apart by looks alone. They often follow their animals from the stress-free pasture to market, making sure the process is pain-free.

These are men my grandpa would have liked.

Duck hunting picture via the Food Freedom blog reprint of this story.

Duck hunting picture from the Food Freedom blog reprint of this story.

Grass-fed animals (the kind you can find on small farms, in the deli if you ask for it, or in the wild, where it still exists) are higher in all kinds of goodnesses: omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid, Vitamin A. They are lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. The risk of E. coli is nearly nil. According to the American Grassfed Association, if a person switched from their average 66.5 pound consumption of feedlot beef to a grass-fed diet, they would reduce their yearly calories by 17,733.

The list goes on. The lesson is that when meat quality slides, it brings morality — the producers’, the buyers’, the quality controllers’ — down with it. To eat well should not mean to live a privileged life. The FDA needs to make it easier for people who don’t sustainably farm, hunt or fish to purchase from those who can.

For now, the solutions are to ask before you eat, to write to your representative and tell him that the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR 2749) makes little mention of factory farms or school lunches and should. Or you can to head to the hills with a rifle, which is what I eventually did.

You could argue with me about eating meat, but my grandpa was a bird hunter who married a butcher’s daughter, and I’m about to marry an elk-hunting fisherman. Meat-eating is probably in my genes….”

Read the rest of this story on the Denver Post website.

Read the author’s blog here:

Here’s an earlier story on the Bovine by Megan Nix, about “The High Cost of Cheap Food”.

And now a postscript on that U.S. bill HR 2749 which will be before the house this week. This is a letter from Tami Wahl, director of the American Association for Health Freedom, dated July 27th, 2009:

“HR2749 is set on the House Suspension Calendar for a vote Tuesday or Wednesday of this week— WE UNDERSTAND THAT THE BILL MAY BE MODIFIED BUT THE NEW LANGUAGE HAS NOT YET BEEN RELEASED!  A bill considered on the suspension calendar means no amendments are allowed and only 40 minutes of debate is permitted equally divided between the opponents and proponents of the bill.

A bill of this scale needs to be carefully and extensively debated and open for amendments!  The implications from such an expansive bill could be detrimental to consumers’ access to healthy foods and to the prosperity of small business owners.

Since we have not seen the revised bill, we only know what the bill originally looked like—which wasn’t good.  Our primary concerns remain:

(1) establishing an annual $500 user fee that subsidizes giant food processors at the expense of small and family-owned businesses which is simply unfair; 

(2) lumping small farms and processors into the same category as large agribusiness operations, and creating complicated regulations without special rules for small businesses; 

(3) allowing the FDA to directly regulate farming practices—be it a large commercial farm or a small organic operation; and 

(4) increasing the FDA’s authority dramatically with no corresponding increase in oversight of the agency such as unlimited access to any and all records—without cause—and the ability to impose substantial criminal and civil fines—without a showing of harm—for administrative violations.  

How can a Representative thoroughly review over 100 pages and have an informed vote with only 40 minutes of debate?  

Please telephone and/or email your Representatives to voice your concerns—let her/him know that this bill needs a thorough review and should be open for amendments!

Thank you for taking the time!”

See the Bovine’s earlier post on HR2749


Filed under News

2 responses to “Duck hunting with Megan Nix — “To know what something is, you need to know where it comes from….”.

  1. thebovine

    BTW, in case you didn’t notice, the title of this piece is a nod to Joe Bageant and his blog (and book) titled ” Deer Hunting with Jesus” — dispatches from America’s class war.

  2. njadams1

    Absolutely awesome article. Thank you for shedding light in a way that the everyday consumer can understand what convenience meats actually are.
    Great writing!!

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