THE BLOG
06/11/2014 12:09 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

Something Like Meat But Not Meat

Did you feel that? That visceral, whole-body shudder? That weird, painful spasm in the national colon?

Something rather dire has transpired, is why. Something creepy and banal, fatty and soaked in synthetic hormones, blasted with bleach, injected with filler, ground up with various leftover animal bits, grease, feces, oil fumes, a few million fingernails, lost and desiccated dreams.

It's just capitalism at work. Again. It's just one heavily toxic megacorp buying up another toxic megacorp and all of it making a perverse sort of sense, given how Tyson Foods is one of the largest (and scariest) industrial meat purveyors in the land, and its new, $8 billion acquisition, Hillshire Brands, makes some of the weirdest and most fat- and preservative-encrusted "handheld" (it's a category) meat-like products in the universe (Jimmy Dean, Sara Lee, Ballpark Franks, et al) -- the kinds of products that, shortly after you eat them, cause your vision to wobble, your heart to seize and random extremities to lose sensation for a few hours. You know, just for fun.

We're used to it by now, are we not? Giant, blandly evil companies that have your best interests nowhere in sight coming together to make you even more sick and addicted to chemically blasted, malformed food products for the sake of massive profit, and to hell with your regulation and your concerns about animal treatment, national health, obesity rates, spiritual well being, the very definition of "meat"?

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Of course we are. Thanks to "ag-gag" laws, the fawning adoration of a majority of the Supreme Court, the FDA/USDA's lax rules on what constitutes safe and edible (not to mention "all-natural," "organic," and "food") and the efforts of their own armies of lobbyists to crush any new oversight, these companies now have so much power to produce whatever they want, however they want, they merely chortle in your face -- and the face of your sick, fat kids -- as they flick away meager million-dollar fines, toxicity studies and even shocking new books that detail their vile practices.

I read multibillion-dollar acquisition stories like this, scan the list of largely Frankenstein-ian products Tyson and Hillshire Brands make, read up on their massive industrial slaughterhouses, their numerous cover-ups, their enslavement of family farms and farmers, how misshapen are millions of their animals and how little awareness most of the populace has regarding any of it, and I momentarily find myself wondering how the hell they get away with it without some sort massive consumer backlash, recoil, karmic implosion.

Then I remember: They have all the weapons. All the influence, all the tax breaks, all the lawyers and lobbyists and money. These are the companies who buy the congressman who write the laws blocking improved factory oversight, food education programs, better labeling. They write the ag-gag laws preventing activists and whistleblowers from documenting just what sort of abuse and negligence goes into the making of your frighteningly mass-produced sausage.

Did you know six states have now made it a crime to film or take photos of activities in any industrial slaughterhouse or megafarm factory floor? Did you know many other states have similar laws pending (a few have, thankfully, failed), laws that would send you to prison for revealing the horrendous animal mistreatment, contamination and appalling conditions in any major slaughterhouse or industrial megafarm?

True. These companies believe you, the ignorant consumer of way too much hormone-injected, Big Ag meat, have no right to know how those animals were treated, what they were fed, how the were slaughtered, how their ocean of toxic fecal waste is handled (hint: it's not), how many tons of antibiotics were shot into them so they don't die from all that abuse (80 percent of all antibiotics in America are used on industrial farm animals, not humans). Isn't that nice? Now please shut up and eat your McNuggets. See you at the hospital.

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From where I sit, it all feels foreign and strange, like it's all happening on some sad, faraway planet -- until I remember that I live in San Francisco, a most radically uncommon bubble of progressive thinking, conscious living and stupendous food quality. I remember to fall to my knees in humble thanks for his madhouse foodie town, for how absurdly spoiled we are in terms of quality, options, education. Tyson is a bit player here, at least as far as higher-grade fare is concerned. But I can't help but wish it wasn't just us.

It's exceedingly easy to forget most of the country has no real alternative to heavily processed, industrial food products like Tyson's malformed meat -- that most people cannot, as I can, walk out their front door and, within a few blocks, find everything from handmade artisan bread (The Mill), some of the best coffee in the country (Four Barrel), or ridiculously perfect meats from a rock-star butcher who sells not a single factory-raised animal (4505 Meats).

It's an embarrassment of food awareness riches. There's gourmet, locally sourced, sustainable, organic Mexican, Mediterranean, vegan food, pizza, sandwiches, along with artisan brewpubs and wine bars. There's not one...

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Mark Morford is an award-winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate, the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor at San Francisco's Yoga Tree, and the creator of the Yoga for Writers series of workshops and retreats. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...