so, given that, i find it quite interesting how casual we all are around the use of antibiotics.

now, before some of you get all up in arms that i am just a “spoiled american” trying to get people to go without needed medicine and die from everyday infections, hear me out…

it wasn’t long ago that people gave their family members antibiotics for every sniffle or cough, regardless of the origin. some people of the old school still believe so firmly in the magical powers of antibiotics that they will take an antibiotic on the slightest provocation, and think its use is warranted in pretty much every case. we have certain family members who, even when told something is viral in nature (i.e. not bacterial, and therefore unable to be cured by taking antibiotics), or that something will pass or isn’t that bothersome, will still wonder aloud why we don’t just take a course of antibiotics and get it over with.

i think these people get their faith because they either saw firsthand or heard firsthand accounts of people whose lives were literally transformed by antibiotics. when they first became safe and widely available, antibiotics did indeed transform the ability of people to survive things like war wounds and routine surgery. they wiped out diseases that formerly might have wiped out people who couldn’t have fought them off.

so let’s get that out of the way and stipulate that i will grant you all of those points.

fast forward to now:

just a few short years ago, the medical establishment became aware that antibiotics were being too over-prescribed. many people became afraid, with good reason, that this over-use of antibiotics would lead to more and more virulent strains of bacteria.

because, being evolving creatures, bacteria are smart. as drugs get better at killing them, they get better at surviving the onslaught of drugs aimed at wiping them out. so it creates an ever-escalating cycle of more-powerful drugs and more-powerful bacteria. and then you get things called “super bugs”.

these are things like C-Diff, and MRSA, and some other staph infections that are so good at skirting death-by-antibiotic that there are only a few things out there that will still work against them. and scientists worry (a lot) that soon these super-bugs will overcome those antibiotics as well.

the american academy of pediatrics just released a recommendation that their doctors stop routinely prescribing antibiotics to treat childhood ear infections- once thought to pose a danger of rupturing the eardrum and leading to further problems- and now take a more “wait and see” approach. this is on top of already tightened guidelines on antibiotic use that are regularly given out to all of their members.

but, even more shocking is that doctors regularly deny cancer patients access to antibiotics for fear of creating those same spectral super-bugs. there is such a fear that with the drug cocktails they are already receiving that it would be an ideal environment for growth of these mega-bacteria (perhaps because of the absence of a properly functioning immune system to keep them in check? i don’t know- i’m speculating…) (and i hope it isn’t just because these people have a diminished life expectancy; here i’m being just a cynic. but i hope i’m wrong…), so cancer patients often go without antibiotics that could help them with certain infections. and this is all in an effort to protect against development of drug-resistent antibiotics.

HOWEVER…

the meat industry still regularly uses sub-theraputic doses of antibiotics in their cattle feed because it helps the cattle to grow faster.

that means they can get to market sooner.

that means less cost for feed and housing and such per pound of meat by the time it gets to the consumer.

so, more profit margin for the big producers!

hurray!

unless you ever get sick.

or eat meat.

or come into contact with anyone who gets sick.

or come across any of the various by-products of that meat, or the meat industry (including the run-off from the manure lagoons and other gross things i won’t bore you with here…).

so, what gives?

again, we have to be smart consumers.

we have to vote with our dollars and our questions, in health care and in food shopping.

ask what your doctor is prescribing and why. find out what other alternatives are available to a given course of treatment and make a decision out of wisdom and not out of fear. you will never know if you don’t ask.

and remember that they food you buy comes from somewhere (although honestly sometimes i prefer to ignore this and just watch the total add up on the cash register instead. sigh… it’s hard to be human, right???). but, really, even the things we ask the managers in stores have ripple effects- so even asking questions will create a buzz. you may not be able to afford that grass-fed organic beef this week or this month, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chat with the manager of the meat department about how much you would love to see him find a source closer to cut down on the shipping costs to make it more affordable (but, keep in mind that it will cost a real farmer more to produce a quality product, and that is fair, so you should expect to pay more. however, you will be getting more “bang for your buck”- in many more ways than one. karma, anyone???). sometimes it’s worth adapting a few recipes to stretch your purchases so you can take less and do more. so instead of a huge $10 industrial-raised steak, you might buy a smaller $10 pasture-raised, hormone-free piece of meat that you could use in a stew. it will taste better and sit better with you. and you could share with a friend🙂

i certainly don’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean i don’t think it isn’t worthwhile to ask the questions…

have a great weekend!

addendum:
i just thought of this while i was washing dishes and pondering all of the people who are stuck buying industrially-raised meat. while i don’t believe we can necessarily revolutionize the industry, you never know how many people it will take to reach a critical mass, or what exactly the tipping point will be to get them to reconsider some of their current practices. there is recognition from many in the industry already that lots of what they are doing is unsustainable long-term economically as well as practically. so, given that, it may truly be worth a few minutes of your time to call or write to whatever company you buy your meat and/or poultry from and ask some questions. give some feedback. tell them what you’d like to see more of and what you’d like to have less of. have facts at your disposal, but don’t overwhelm the poor customer service rep with reams of data, and always be respectful and polite. we may not be able to change everything, but even if we can get one step closer to a humane and reasonable system, i think we can count that as a victory. better a step in the right direction than complacency and learned helplessness, right?