Eating High off the Hog

November 19, 2010 in Health by Mary Ireland

When I was growing up, my family owned 20 acres around the house we lived in. An uncle would buy calves from the dairy and pasture them on our land. My sisters and I would feed the calves with bottles until they were old enough to eat only grass and hay. Later my uncle would take the calves to another pasture for a while and then to be slaughtered. Neither my parents or my uncle talked about the connection between the meat my uncle would bring to the house and the calves we had fed. This silence probably stemmed from the reaction my sisters and I had when one of the calves died in an accident – we cried for days.

Apart from the calve raising experience, as I was growing up there seemed to be a strong relationship between meat and money. The phrase, “how now ground cow” was my mother's 'thanks' for stretching the food budget. My father frequently referred to people who were doing well financially as “eating high on the hog” – meaning that they were able to afford the choicer shoulder and loin cuts. After I began working, it was nice to be able to afford steaks for Saturday night cookouts. I sometime wonder if American’s obsession with red meat is somehow tied to a subconscious show of status.

I find it interesting that the phrase “eating high off the hog” is also used to describe someone living extravagantly or beyond one's means. I think as far as eating red meat is concerned, this interpretation could mean living beyond our nutritional and our ecological means - as Mark Bittman talks about in What is Wrong with What We Eat.

There are a number of studies that support the premise that eating red meat increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD):

  • Data from the 26-year Nurses’ Healthy study of 84,136 women aged 30 to 55, found 2210 incidents nonfatal infarctions and 952 deaths from CHD. Taking into account age, smoking, and other risk factors, higher intakes of red meat, red meat excluding processed meat, and high-fat dairy were significantly associated with elevated risk of CHD. This study found that substituting other protein sources reduces risk of CHD as follows:
    • 30% substituting nuts
    • 24% substituting fish
    • 19% substituting poultry
    • 13% substituting low fat dairy
  • Data from the Physicians' Health Study (1982-2008) of 21,120 men (mean age 54.6 years), found that a higher intake of red meat is associated with an increased risk of heart failure (HF).
  • Data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study which was conducted over a 10-year period found that those who ate the most red meat – about a quarter pound of meat per day - were more likely to die of any reason than from those who ate the least – a couple of slices of ham a day.
    • Women who ate the most red meat were 36% more likely to die for any reason; 20% more from cancer and 50% more from heart disease.
    • Men who at the most red meat were 31% more likely to die for any reason; 22% more likely to die of cancer and 27% more likely to die of heart disease.
    • The study also found that those who ate the most white meat were less likely to die than those who ate the least amount of white meat. In this study, experts stated that people don’t need to eliminate red meat from their diets, but “should avoid eating it everyday.”
    • According to Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, not only would a major reduction in the consumption of red meat have significant health benefits, it would also reduce the impact of large-scale livestock production water consumption, pollution, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.

While there are initiatives to increase the omega 3 fatty acid content of red meat and reduce the impact of cattle production on the environment, it will take time before the results of these initiatives are implemented on a large-scale basis. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, gives an interesting talk about a different approach to raising farm animals. Until more nutritious and sustainable options are available, substituting chicken, fish, beans and legumes for red meat several times a week will contribute significantly to your health. I find that combining a small amount of any of these sources of protein with wheat berries, vegetables and spices provides a tasty and satisfying meal, leaving me feeling much better than I would after eating a burger or steak.

With Thanksgiving next week, it is time for me to clean out the frig and the cabinets to make room for the foods that will part of that celebration. It is in this spirit that I offer this recipe for Clean out the Cupboards and Refrigerator Soup. Unfortunately, I didn't have any frozen or refrigerated wheat berries to add the the soup!

Cleaning out the Frig and the Cupboards Soup
This soup is about whatever you have, so don’t feel restricted by the ingredients list or directions – just make it suit you, your taste and whatever it is that you need to use up.


1/4 cup mung beans
1/4 cup lentils
1/2 large onions diced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers finely chopped
1 Anaheim pepper finely chopped
1/2 large zucchini sliced
1 carrot sliced
1/2 sweet potato sliced
1 red pepper chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 small squash chopped
8 cups water
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried majoram
Salt and pepper to taste


Combine water, beans, onion, garlic, jalapenos, Anaheim pepper and spices in a large pot.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 30 minutes or until the beans are soft.

Add remaining ingredients.

Simmer until vegetables are soft.

Serve with a slice of The Best Corn Bread Ever.

Gather ingredients and chop vegetables.

Bring water, onions, garlic, beans and chilies to a boil.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer.

Serve with a slice of The Best Corn Bread Ever.