Recently the WHO World Health Organization finished an in depth study concerning the connection with the high consumption of processed meats in a western diet to certain types of cancer. The study, which began in 2014, gathered over 800 separate studies on the effects of red meat on the human body.
Red meat is defined as any mammalian animal protein that is processed in anyway to improve flavor or enhance shelf life. This includes drying, curing, smoking, enhancing flavor or the use of preservatives. The conclusion of the study was the categorization of read meat in the same carcinogenic grouping as alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking as being deleterious to human health.
Okay so what’s new?
The idea that eating large quantities of bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats on a regular basis isn’t the best thing for your health, isn’t such a new concept. But the connection between colorectal cancer and the high consumption of read meat has been proven and colorectal cancer is one of the deadliest and hardest to treat.
Okay so what?
I personally love hot dogs and deli meats and when I can I buy good quality and natural meats with no extra fillers or processing. But as a former college student I can tell you that the only thing that mattered to me when buying food from the local grocery was cost.
And the fact is that the price difference between factory farmed, mass-produced meat and local, organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, no added growth hormones, and non-GMO is quite large.
A hamburger at a large fast food chain can sometimes cost less than a dollar and at the most can top out at around 5 or 6 dollars depending on what state you’re located in. The above mentioned meat first of all doesn’t currently exist at any fast food locations I know of,and if it does, I can guarantee it won’t be cheap.
The production of meat,even in a factory farm, is still high. Storage, feed, medicine, electricity, water; just to name a few of the costs associated with raising livestock should make for much more expensive meat products.
But the reason for this is the government subsidies that make ingredients at fast food and large meat processing plants cheap for consumers and cost effective for businesses. This allows these companies to sell their product cheaply and in large quantities and consumers are buying it as fast as they can produce it.
This efficiency and sheer volume of meat that we get from this factory farm style of meat production and processing comes at the expense of quality. There is a reason that these meats are giving us cancer, along with other mass produced foodstuffs.
The production of these proteins with it’s addition of chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, GMO crops for feed and unsustainable growing practices is slowly poisoning us from the inside, and now we have the proof.
So now that we know what we already pretty much knew, what can we do to change or at least begin supplementing our diet with alternatives to processed meats that are still high in protein?
This is where sustainable alternative agriculture can and will play a huge part. Alternative agriculture being a systematic approach to agriculture that seeks to reduce pollution, enhance sustainability, while improving overall quality, efficiency, and profitability. A subcategory of this is a method of raising both protein and produce called aquaponics.
Aquaponics can be used to raise fish species like tilapia, trout, or catfish organically and chemically free. The fish in an aquaponic system are raised sustainably in that the issues with commercial scale production of these fish are mitigated or entirely eliminated through aquaponic practices.
The sustainable benefits in an aquaponics system is that the waste from the fish is recirculated and used for the quick and efficient growth of fruits and vegetables that can be easily integrated into our diets. Fertilizers are almost entirely excluded from this process and the most serious issue of the disposal of the waste is solved in one fell swoop.
With this type of agricultural production it is feasible to continue to produce the massive amount of protein we need and will need while making sustainability and health the main focus. Furthermore fish offer a healthy protein source along with vital nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The USDA already recommends that an average adult should try to eat seafood at least twice a week for a healthy diet, this number will only increase with more people looking for healthier proteins and more concerned about the cancer and processed meat relationship.
Growing these fish for a burgeoning population is already being done around the world but as stated in my previous article the current practices need to change to allow for efficiency but also sustainability.
As our need for healthier fish protein increases so does the demand for larger aquaculture facilities. These have obvious benefits over raising cattle including less land use, less water use, and less feed use to produce the same pound of protein.
This is where aquaponics can and will step in to make the production of fish for protein even more efficient and environmentally sound and sustainable.
With the introduction of aquaponics into the aquaculture practices that we already have in place, in the larger sustainable agriculture context, we can start to move towards this healthier form of protein. Adding forms of sustainable and healthful proteins to our diet will be a necessity as we continue to see the negative long term effects of the current industrial food system on our environment and our health.
By: Stefan Babjak