What's in your hamburger?

By Elizabeth Yarnell

Penicillin and its derivatives account for up to 3/4 of the documented deaths from severe allergic reaction — anaphylaxis — in the U.S. These deaths occur mostly in people with no history of allergic reactions to penicillin leading some scientists to believe that these unfortunate people may have been sensitized by eating meat or poultry from animals treated with antibiotics.

The humorous newspaper The Onion once ran an article praising McDonalds for helping out the poor by providing them with antibiotics delivered through their sandwiches. As with all humor, it wouldn't be so funny if it weren't true.

Industrial meat producers are toying with human health, contaminating our environment, and torturing the animals we eat in order to turn a bigger profit.

Antibiotics shoveled into poultry to enhance growth and make them disease-resistant are not eradicated through cooking and may contribute to the current explosion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Hormones fed to cows to increase milk production may be causing the early advent of puberty in young milk-drinking girls. Adding ground up animal parts to cattle feed in order to bulk up cattle faster can spread the prions that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as mad cow disease, that brings about a slow, inevitable death in some humans that eat the tainted meat. As recently as 2001, 13% of major US cattle producers were still adding animal protein to cattle feed. Every year brings more cases of infected cows that we are “assured” have not entered our food supply.

Our environment is suffering as well. Industrial pork is one of the most unsustainable foods on earth. North Carolina hogs produce more fecal waste than all the people in California. Hog waste from industrial pork farms flows into open-air pits 3 stories deep and 10 acres wide, contaminating water tables and putrifying the air.

These hogs are housed 100,000 to a warehouse, wedged into claustrophobic cages, too small to shift positions. Agribusiness chickens spend their lives in wire-meshed cages that cut into their talons and inhibit movement. All so we can have those addictive chicken nuggets. The sheer physical proximity of these animals breeds disease and ill health, returning us full circle to the overuse of antibiotics. 70% of all antibiotics produced go into our livestock.

The solution to these atrocities is simple: here, in America, we vote with our dollars. The way to eliminate these practices is to support farmers of free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals. I'm not saying we should all stop eating meat; that's a personal choice. Just that we can choose our meat wisely.

Look for free-range, vegetarian-fed farms that boast of not using antibiotics, hormones, or stimulants. Natural grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats only sell this kind of meat, and regular grocery store chains are starting to catch on. And don't forget about the eggs! The inside of my egg box asks: “How happy are our hens? They have the run of large ‘community houses’ where they can scratch, roost, exercise, and play hen games. They keep a special vegetarian diet that is high in protein, low in saturated fat, and contains no animal cholesterol, antibiotics, hormones, or stimulants." These are the kinds of eggs I feel comfortable eating and feeding to my family. As an bonus, naturally-raised meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products taste better and more flavorful.

Money that doesn't go to big agribusiness goes into saving our heritage of small family farms as well as helping to sustain natural, healthy environments. By treating our food animals properly we reap the benefits of a healthier population and a healthier planet.

Making the choice to reject industrially produced meat and poultry may cost a little bit extra now, but the more people participate and drive up demand for naturally-raised meats, the less expensive they will become. Even some fast food chains such as Chipoltle and Good Times Burgers and Frozen Custard are choosing to offer natural meats to their customers and finding that people are willing to pay a little bit more to enjoy them. The products you purchase now will have long-range effects on your health, the environment, and our society at large.

Try this recipe using naturally-raised beef and see if you can’t tell the difference.

All-American Pot Roast

Servings 2


12-15 pearl onions

2 potatoes, cut in 1/2" thick slices, then halved

salt and pepper to taste

1/2-3/4 lb. boneless chuck roast*

3 Tbsp. tomato paste

1/3 cup broth or stock, beef preferably

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup carrots, sliced medallions or whole baby

1 cup green beans, trimmed, cut into thirds

4-6 mushrooms, sliced thickly


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray the inside of a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven and lid with canola oil.

Peel the pearl onions and drop them into the pot. Intersperse potato slices among the onions. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place meat in next, and again sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, broth and Worcestershire sauce until fully incorporated. Pour 1/2 of the mixture over the meat. Add layers of carrots, green beans and mushrooms and pour rest of sauce over all.

Cover and bake for 48 minutes for medium/well-done meat and crunchy vegetables, 53 minutes for more well-done meat and softer vegetables, or just gauge it by waiting 3 minutes after the full-bodied aroma wafts from the oven.

* The thinner the slice of meat, the more tender the pot roast will be. Ask your butcher to slice it less than 2" thick.


There are endless ways to liven up this basic recipe. Here are just a few:

* Rub the meat with crushed red pepper flakes and white pepper before arranging it in the pot.

* Add 1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish and 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard to the broth mixture.

* Omit the Worcestershire sauce and instead add 1/2 tsp. each of dried marjoram and dried thyme.

Keep in mind that you can always add more salt when serving a meal, but you can never take it away if you’ve added too much during the cooking process, so go easy on the salt when preparing this meal.

About the author: Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant and the author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking, a guide to a guide to preparing quick, healthy and balanced one-pot meals. Visit Elizabeth online at www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com to subscribe to her free newsletter. The Glorious One-Pot Meal cooking method is unique and holds US patent 6,846,504.