It's on the evening news and in newspapers all the time. Not a day goes by that someone isn't talking about health, how to eat, what to do about obesity, heart disease and diabetes and our food supply. So it was no surprise to see Larry King devote an entire show to the questions 'Should we eat meat?' 'Is meat safe?'
Within the first minutes of the show, I was reminded why I never watch Larry King, or CNN, for that matter. In old-school, exploitive Jerry Springer style, he grilled the broken-hearted parents of children lost to E. coli poisoning. And right next to them was the attorney who represented a young woman paralyzed by E. coli poisoning in a burger and was there to speak for her and these mothers in their bid for some form of justice in these tragedies. Larry asked them dumb questions like 'Are you bitter?' 'Do you still eat meat?' (Shockingly, they all said yes, but only some meats. Jeez, what will it take?) Attorney Bill Marler, an expert on food borne illness litigation (that should tell us something about society) weighed in on the safety of our food supply and how not enough is being done to ensure that no one else suffers like this. He was right...absolutely right.
Then Larry King brought in the experts to debate whether or not meat is safe and healthy for people to eat, specifically ground meat.
There was Patrick Boyle, CEO of the American Meat Institute whose opinion that 'we are making significant progress in taking a very safe food supply and making it safer' was of little comfort to the mothers who had lost their children. And it certainly came as no surprise since Mr. Boyle's job is to justify and promote meat in our diet.
Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef famous for eating...well, pretty much anything and for hating all things Rachael Ray made the point that 'we have evolved so that we could chase down smaller, stupider creatures, kill them and eat them.' Lucky for him he's tall; he could easily be mistaken for one of those 'smaller, stupider creatures' with statements like that.
Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, PhD is a professor at University of Connecticut and an active member of the American Society of Nutrition. She spoke eloquently about the 'unique package of nutrients' we get from meat and how she feels very good about cooking it for her son. But with her work funded by the National Dairy Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the Egg Nutrition Center what more could we expect?
Jonathan Safran Foer, best-selling author of 'Eating Animals' was one of the two voices for plant-based eating. He spoke briefly about factory farming and the fact that the vast majority of the meat we buy is not grass fed, not organic and one of the biggest contributors to health problems and global warming. He was quickly drowned out by the outrage of the meat eating experts and Anthony Bourdain, who seems to be expert only at eating odd foods and being sarcastic. I am still not sure what he brought to the debate, especially when he tried to silence Jonathan with this gem of intellectual thought (she said, sarcastically): '...I would counter Jonathan's argument with just one word: bacon. It's so delicious.' I won't dwell on the fact that his counter was actually three words, but the ignorance of the statement said everything. He may as well have said 'Yo' Mama.'
And then there was Dr T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of 'The China Study' and professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, whose work was funded by the likes of Oxford University, rather than special interest groups. When he wasn't being pounced on, or spoken over by Dr. Rodriguez, Dr. Campbell made the point that not only is a plant-based healthier for humans in the long run, but that based on his research disease could actually be reversed, especially heart disease.
You'd think that Larry King would have been all over that, he being the founder of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation and with his own history with heart disease, but no; instead he allowed Chef Bourdain to criticize Dr. Campbell's arguments and call him silly.
And then he allowed Dr. Rodriguez to deliberately mislead a caller who asked if the leading cause of E. coli was not, in fact, agriculture like spinach, to which she replied that there were reports of outbreaks in lettuce and even peanut butter.
It took the sanity of Jonathan Safran to remind her that E. coli is a product only of animal agriculture and that while the vehicle may have been spinach the source of the contamination was run-off from factory farms. Dr. Rodriguez quickly retreated behind the 'that's outside the realm of my expertise' defense, jumped back onto her soapbox about meat being an important part of a healthy diet and Larry went to commercial break.
In the end, the most glaring facts were left untouched. Dr. Rodriguez spoke vehemently about how carefully and cautiously we have to prepare this food. Patrick Boyle talked about the tens of millions; no hundreds of millions of dollars spent to make meat safe to consume. Why is no one asking this: if it takes so much time, effort and money to make a food safe for human consumption, then is it really safe? Or are we just fighting nature, rolling the dice and hoping for the best? And if we lose a couple of kids along the way, well, that's the price of having the food we love on our plates. What is more important to us, health and wellness (of ours families, ourselves and our planet) or the fact that we want it because as Chef Bourdain said 'it's delicious?'
The program ended on Patrick Boyle with the last word, where he unwittingly indicted his entire industry. 'The industry itself,' he said, 'conducts millions of E. coli tests within our plants to better understand the effectiveness of our interventions. We need more interventions.' No one, not one expert was allowed to ask the obvious follow up question because the show was out of time. If meat is safe to eat, why do we need so many interventions to make it healthy to consume? And when is enough...enough?
This clearly pro-meat program had a foregone conclusion as it began. Too bad they wasted the time of great men like T. Colin Campbell in a venue de-valuing his expertise and using a plant based diet as a means to make meat look sexy and safe. They should have just stroked each other and talked about how much they love steak and been done with it.
So much for fair and balanced reporting by CNN. Oh, I forgot, that's Fox News. Not so different, maybe.