First, a warning: This article may be considered extremely gross or nauseating by some readers. It's about where red meat actually comes from and the mental distortions maintained by people who eat large quantities of animal products. So, a courtesy warning: If you're easily sickened by talk of meat processing, I recommend you stop reading this article right now and don't read another word. I especially recommend that you skip the second half, which contains very graphic (but true) language about the meat processing industry.
I have a question for all the red meat eaters out there -- people who eat steak, sausage, bacon and hamburgers: Why don't you eat cow's brain or pig's brain? Most people will gladly eat the ribs of a cow, or the rump ("rump roast" anyone?). They'll eat the legs and wings of a chicken, but they won't eat the brains of these animals. Why is that?
I asked a few meat eaters this question, and they said, "It would be gross to eat the brains." I find that very curious. If they're eating the rump of a cow, or hot dogs made from parts of the cow carcass squeezed through an AMR (advanced meat recovery) machine, it seems like they're way beyond the gross factor. In response, one person asked me, "Why do you think we should eat the brains, anyway?"
The nutritional profile of cow brains
Good question. I don't think people should eat animals at all, but if you're going to eat them, the brain is actually one of the most nutritionally-dense organs found in any animal. From a nutritional standpoint, the brain
is the best source of healthy oils in all land animals. In fact, human children who grew up eating the brains of animals have healthier brains and nervous systems than those who didn't.
Animal brains are also a very good source of cholesterol, and even though cholesterol has been named as a dietary culprit over the last few decades, that information is now largely understood to be incorrect. Cholesterol itself is not the culprit. Cholesterol doesn't cause heart disease. In fact, you need to consume some amount of cholesterol to be able to manufacture essential hormones.
Today, there's a lot of talk about healthy fish oils and cod liver oil. What is cod liver oil but the oil that's squeezed out of the liver organ of a codfish? In the same way, cow brain oil, if there were such a product, would be the oil squeezed out of the brain organ of the cow. They are essentially the same concept, and they both produce very healthy oils from a nutritional point of view. Everybody knows, for example, that DHA is an important oil for the brain health of infants and children. Those who eat more DHA have been clinically proven to be smarter in adulthood. And guess what's found in cow brains? DHA.
In fact, some of the best animal sources of DHA are the retina, the brain and another bodily fluid that's too gross to mention here as a food source. It's interesting that people who eat beef skip all the parts of the animal that would enhance their own brain function, isn't it? A lack of dietary DHA promotes heart disease, Alzheimer's, dementia and poor cognitive function. Poor cognitive function (i.e. a poorly performing brain) causes people to make poor decisions about diet, such as eating more beef. And so the cycle continues.
It's beef, stupid
It's no exaggeration to say that people who eat lots of beef, but who fail to eat the DHA-rich parts of the animal or supplement with other sources of DHA (such as fish oils) display lower intelligence than people who follow plant-based diets with DHA supplementation. It doesn't mean that eating beef makes you stupid. Rather, it means that the dumber a person is, the more beef they're likely to eat and the less likely they are to seek out and consume healthy oils like DHA.
If you don't believe me, walk into any cowboy steakhouse and try to strike up a conversation about healthy oils and nutrition. You'll be met with blank stares that look dumber than the cows from which the steaks came in the first place. Let's face it: Cowboy steak lovers do not exactly represent the more sophisticated thinkers in society today. There is a nutritional reason behind that. The "pioneer diet" or "cowboy diet" is not one that maximizes brain nutrition for infants or adults. And when expectant mothers are deficient in brain-supporting nutrients, guess what happens to the IQs of their children?
Three reasons to avoid red meat
This brings me to the third reason why I don't eat meat from mammals, by the way. The first reason is because excessive red meat consumption is bad for your health. The second reason is because it's inhumane to kill mammals for their meat
. And the third reason is because I would never want to be associated with the kind of people who live on steak and animal products as primary food sources -- those cigarette smoking, steak eating, pro-war, wife beating alcoholic numnuts who think global warming is a hoax and that that the whole world would be better off if we all just ate more beef and drank more milk. (That association has a strong basis in fact, by the way. In the United States, rates of alcoholism and wife beating are much higher in towns, cities and counties that consume and produce more beef. The statistics clearly show this association, as you will see for yourself if you do a little digging on the subject. I can't say whether this holds true for other countries.)
Of course, there are lots of smart people who still eat a little beef from time to time. But they're eating less with each passing year, and they're especially avoiding processed, packaged meats (which are now known to cause various cancers). In a few years, the only people left eating large quantities of red meat will truly be the uneducated, ignorant consumers in society who either don't have access to good information about nutrition or are incapable of understanding it. I don't mean that in an insulting way, just a demographic way. There's always a segment of society that doesn't have the education or intelligence to figure out how to make healthy food choices. My point is that if you choose to buy and eat red meat, you are clearly labeling yourself as one of those people. Thus, the simple act of eating red meat or feeding it to your family is self-insulting (at many levels).
Eating mammals is inhumane
Beyond the personal health consequences of red meat, I believe it is entirely unethical and inappropriate to raise any kind of mammal -- which includes cows and pigs -- for the purpose of consuming their flesh or organs. I am not advocating that we consume cow's brains, either. In fact, I believe that if we were a cultured society, a compassionate society and an advanced society, we would never use mammals as sources of food, entertainment or commercial revenue. I think it is far more acceptable to eat fish, but even then, many practices in the fish harvesting industry are unacceptably cruel.
Getting back to cows, let's remember that cows are living, breathing, feeling beings with strong social structures, memories and families. I don't think it is ethical to eat any part of a cow, but my challenge to those people who do consume cows is, if you're eating the ribs, the rump, the shoulder and the spinal fluid squeezed out of the carcass, why is it that you think it's gross to eat the brain of a cow? The brain is one of the healthiest organs in that animal in terms of providing essential fatty acids for human consumption.
My hope in asking you to consider that question is that you will realize how irrational your beliefs are about foods, especially about meat. There's a great disconnect between the meats people consume and the animals those meats came from. When people think of a piece of ham, they don't think about a living, breathing mammal from which that ham was sliced. When people think of a piece of steak, they don't think about the cow breathing, walking around and giving birth to calves. People don't think about the animal that these foods come from. There is a great disconnect between the food on the plate and the genuine source of that food.
When I mention cow's brains, many people suddenly have a strong emotional reaction... "Yuck!" They imagine images of an actual cow having its brains scooped out and fed into a machine to squeeze out oils. That's a rather nauseating image for many people. But of course, this is almost precisely how hot dog ingredients are processed, and people seem to have no problem whatsoever eating hot dogs. Why? Because they don't associate the food item with the source. They even gave it a name to make you forget it's from a cow. People think of hot dogs as food objects that are made that way automatically, like, say, a potato or carrot. But there's nothing natural about hot dogs, nor the way they're made.
For the most part, consumers would just rather ignore the whole story about meat processing -- the slaughtering, the bleeding to death of the cow, the hanging of the carcass, the carving of cow flesh and the processing of that meat through beef factories and carcass squeezing machines. Somehow they mentally delete all that and just bite into that sausage, hot dog, pepperoni, sandwich meat or whatever else they happen to be consuming at the moment. Basically, they eat like mindless idiots.
Selective awareness is a very important skill when you eat meat. It allows you to ignore the reality of what goes into the food you're swallowing. If you were actually present at the factory where those hot dogs were made, you'd probably vomit.
If you're thinking this whole article is way too gross, you're right! It's beyond gross. And yet it's the same stuff people are buying, cooking and swallowing every single day. It's the stuff ignorant parents are feeding their children. I think it's disgusting, and the dirty little secret of the meat processing industry is that if consumers were truly aware of how their meat products were processed, meat sales would collapse overnight. The industry goes to great lengths to shield the public from any awareness about meat raising, slaughtering, packing and processing. Not to mention all the environmental impacts of raising cattle, by the way, which are quite devastating and worthy of their own article.
Where do the cow parts really go?
Aside from everything we've talked about here, there is one really interesting point that may take you by surprise: There is nothing that goes to waste in the carcass of a cow that's slaughtered. Farmers who sell cows to meat-processing facilities get a certain amount of money for them. Those meat-processing facilities sell every part of the cow they can. They sell hooves, tails, skin, tongues, meat, bones, blood and brains.
So here's a question for you: Where do you suppose cow brains end up? I'll give you a hint. The USDA only bans cow brains being used in the human food supply when they come from cows over the age of 30 months. Cow brains are listed right on the label for some headcheese products, but there is no law requiring them to be listed when used to make ingredients like beef broth or beef flavoring (yum!). Got the picture? Water runoff from boiled beef brains, plus MSG. That's beef broth, folks.
Most cow brains actually end up in pet food. That may be one reason why Fido seems smarter (and healthier) than the average U.S. beef eater.