Five Million Pounds of Bad Meat

I happened to read a charming, albeit nauseating little news item that tried to skulk by unnoticed recently, wherein it was announced that the Huntington Meat Packing Co. of Southern California was expanding its recall of possibly E. coli-tainted meat, from just over 860,000 pounds to ... wait for it ... five million pounds.

Five million pounds of bad meat. Sounds like a fun movie title. Or maybe a nickname for Congress. While pondering the number, I did some quick math. But being lousy at math, I also did some quick research.

All-knowing Google informed me that the average head of cattle, say a 1,200-pound animal, results in something like 500 pounds of usable meat, give or take. Interesting! Or not.

Ergo, five million pounds is the rough and chopped-up output of about 10,000 animals. Ten thousand head of cattle is, freakishly, only about a tenth -- if that -- of what the largest industrial feedlots in Idaho, Texas, California, Nebraska and elsewhere have on their tortured and tormented, methane-choked properties at any given moment (Broken Bow in Nebraska can hold 85,000 head. Simplot in Idaho can process up to 150,000. ConAgra's frightening Montfort lot in reeking Greely, Colo. is so big it chokes your very soul). Which is just all sorts of disgusting. But there it is.

(Oh, and by the way, five million pounds of meat is also the equivalent of about 30,000 average-weighted humans, or one big, sold-out Dave Matthews concert in San Jose. Hey, we're all dead meat in the end).

It gets so you lose sight of the scale of things. Five million pounds? Seems like a lot. It seems epic and sickening and a little horrifying.

And then you realize that it's not. Really it's just a drop in the giant meatbucket that is the Western diet, a thimbleful of the staggering tonnage of industrial foodstuffs we consume every day, much of it loaded with poison and antibiotics and hormones and environmental burden; that includes millions of enormous animals that should be eating grass but are instead being force-fed land-ravaging grains and 10 billion gallons of drugs per year so we may satisfy our ravenous appetites for far, far more unhealthy meat than we actually need....

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