Final Project: Meat and the Masses

For my project, I wanted to focus on a main source of food for the world, especially for the United States: meat. Recently, various meat and fishing industries have been under attack for the horrific exploitation and abuse of the animals that end up on many of our plates. From fish to cattle, the meat sold in stores predominantly comes from huge industrial juggernauts that mow over their small-sized and sustainable competitors.

My articles included the dangers of fishing and cattle industries as well as potential solutions. “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler,” a New York Times article from January 2008 focused in on some of the terrible truths about the meat industry. The article touches on the awful treatment of beef cattle from birth to slaughter, and all of the chemicals that really go in meat products sold in stores. The article also highlights Americans’ addiction to red meat, giving a few surprising factoids about the average American’s protein intake (110+ grams daily!) Essentially, the article attempts to raise awareness of the harm that comes from an overdose of meat. From greenhouse gasses to water pollution from waste, industrial farming is incredibly unhealthy for the environment. Not to mention, the same grain and corn that was used to fatten the cow could be turned into food for human consumption. The article ends on a hopeful note that the trend toward green and organic products will turn the meat industry on their backs. [Link]

Fish are often considered more environmentally friendly in their capture and processing. This could not be farther from the truth, so I included an article entitled “Is Fish Farming Safe?” to highlight these points. In the article, many sad facts are revealed about modern fish farming. Farm-raised fish are taking over wild schools, fish lice and other diseases are afflicting surrounding sea life, and the fish, which are said to have similar neurological systems as humans, have no laws ensuring humane treatment. Even more disturbing are the types of fish we choose to produce. Instead of bottom feeders and “sustainable” fish, such as catfish and carp, we choose large game fish that are hard to breed and even harder to keep alive. It takes an excessive amount of wild fish ground into meal to sustain farmed game fish. As the article states, “this depletes the world supply of protein.” The article also highlights various methods of sustainable farming. Perhaps these methods will gain headway, but it will certainly take a huge sea change to get there. [Link]

My final two articles focused on some possible solutions. Essentially, sustainable and family farms are considered to be the main solutions. Shifting the consumer weight from industrial farming to small-scale farming would do a lot of good, but a move like this seems implausible for many reasons. These points were brought up in discussion. [Link] [Link]

The class discussion shifted between Lauren Richie’s, Taylor Rhodes’, and my articles, which were all food-related. A main point that came up in all of our articles was the daunting opacity of the meat and food industry. Because of this opacity and lack of real words about the business, many people feel they don’t need to do any snooping. Essentially, they trust the products that are put in front of their noses. For many others, researching is absolutely not something they want to do. The class consensus was that humans are unwilling to research their products (where they came from, how they were produced, how the various parts of production were run, etc) because of an enormous guilt of doing something they feel is wrong. This guilt leads to a studied ignorance, as Lauren’s articles phrase it. To avoid feeling guilt and changing their behavior, people simply ignore the problem entirely.

After discussing the many faults of the meat industry, a number of students raised their voices in favor of sustainable and small-scale farming. This was countered by the fact that the meat industry had a vice grip on production to the point that any small-scale farming is essentially squashed. Not only this, but the meat industries have amazing power over lawmakers. After all, the huge meat-guzzlers have plenty of money to fork over to their favorite candidates that have few restrictions on their industry. How can we change these controls? Primarily, honest policy makers would make a difference. However, nice guys rarely make it into the political realm, so changes toward fair policies seems unlikely in the short run.

What interested me the most was this: If all of these people are aware of these details, then why do they continue supporting the meat market? The class agreed that each consumer has the responsibility to know their products and, if they disagree with the methods used to produce them, not purchase them. However, there are many problems with such a method of dealing with the of the food industry. First and foremost, if one person boycotted every product produced by people or animals that were maltreated, they would more than likely starve. With the exception of farmers’ markets and locally grown foods, it’s difficult to find any product that is truly clean, despite being labeled “organically grown” or “cage free.” Additionally, as previously mentioned, most of these industries are opaque and give people little information about what’s really happening in their factories. Regardless, it’s my opinion that consumers underestimate their power. In this class, the dolphin-tuna incident has been discussed many times, an instance where people boycotted a product because of maltreatment of sea life. Change occurred quite rapidly. As more and more disgusting facts are being unearthed around the meat industry, perhaps the masses will stand up against the terrible conditions for animals and people alike.

This point brings me to my next topic: vegetarianism. To my surprise, this topic has not been discussed at any length whatsoever. I wanted to ask for some opinions about this way of life. Some said that despite their knowledge of this dirty industry, it’s a hard lifestyle to swallow. Simply put, most people like their meat, whether for religious beliefs or simple taste preferences. It’s hard to argue with personal preferences. The conversation shifted to misconceptions of vegetarians and meat-eaters’ preaching. For some, vegetarians push their lifestyle on people who eat meat, and for most of the vegetarians in the group, they found themselves ostracized in a world of meat. We discussed some possible reasons for this. An interesting and probably accurate point from an American standpoint was that meat is idolized as a masculine food. With this point of view, vegetarianism would emasculate whoever chose to try it. Though I’m sure people in India would disagree with this mindset, it is definitely true that Americans push meat on the masses with their “MUST EAT MEAT” propaganda.

What this discussion came down to was basically “to each his own.” Once information is made available of the banes of the industry, it is up to the individual to take action that is appropriate for them. If this means bottling up guilt and eating meat, so be it. If this means cutting all meat products from one’s diet, so be it. However, if the choice were seen as a stance of power instead of simply avoiding a guilt trip, perhaps some progress would be made to clean up a very dirty industry