You are what you eat?

I braced myself as the ship tossed from side to side in the grips of the wake from a passing ship. The children were sprawled out and cross-legged all over the deck. They squinted up at me, there heavy heads were crooked back so far that they appeared to grow directly out of their shoulders. They resembled turtles pulling back into their shells. “Show no fear” I thought to myself. If wasn’t their necks that scared me, it was their complete lack of inhibition. They were filter-less and fear-less.

“Miss Emily, where do baby fish come from?” “Miss Emily, why does that man have a funny nose” “are we going to drowned” “Why is there trash in the ocean” “Why does the captain smell like crackers?” “What is that on your face?” “Miss Emily, are you an alien?” “I’m bored” “Miss Emily, I have to go number two” It is amazing the things that can fly out of a child’s mind during a 20 minute environmental science class on a tall ship.

Every once in awhile, I would get a question that would soften my fearful lips into a broad smile.”Miss Emily, you say oysters have gills and that makes them able to breathe under water. Does that mean that if I eat an oyster, I’ll have gills too?” bright kid. “Unfortunately it doesn’t work quite like that.” I said grinning. This kid had heard the old saying “you are what you eat”. Although our food doesn’t bestow us with the ability to adopt biological qualities of other animals, we do adopt some degree of the stuff that is in the food we eat. I explained to the kid that when he eats oysters, he is not only eating the oyster, but also eating everything that the oyster has eaten. “What to oysters eat?” The kid asked. “well, they are filter feeders. They feed on plankton and also filter things like metals and fertilizer runoff from the water ”

“EWWWW fertilizer?”

“well, not exactly… it isn’t as bad as it sounds..” I replied. What else could I say?

This morning, I ran into Dave at work. He was brandishing a newspaper clipping about some farm in Germany where they were feeding their chickens some sort of toxic sewage. I don’t have the details of the story because I heard it second hand, but it did spark an interesting conversation about the dangers of eating high on the food chain in the modern food climate.

Most of the meat available today comes from animals eating the same corn and soy based diet that the paleo eaters are trying to avoid. Grain-fed meat often has a higher ratio of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids to omega-3′s, and contains some of the saturated fats that are more associated with raising cholesterol.

Since I am going to be eating more of a meat based diet, it is even more important than ever that I know what my food has been eating. I found a recent review article that talks about the characteristics of grass-fed meats versus grain-fed meats. For those who like to geek out on science, the link is here. For the rest of the readers, here is a cute little summary that I yanked from the Internet. It came from a grass fed beef site, but the data seem to be in agreement with the review article I mentioned (see the data on “mixed cattle”). Another benefit to eating grass fed meat is that the risk of E. coli poisoning is almost non-existent, whereas grain fed animals are more susceptible. Since the risk is so low with grass-fed meats, the farmers don’t have to treat the cattle with antibiotics!

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