(Not) Nice to Meat You

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about people’s bad health habits are well known. The best example, of course, are the billions of dollars spent trying to warn people about the devastation that cigarette smoking may cause.
The graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by the nasty habit, tough rhetoric and even government-sponsored draconian laws restricting its practice, as it happened in New York, have all but failed to make a real dent in the profits of the tobacco industry, let alone the smokers’ pleasure.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Since last century, growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: the rise in global temperatures.
Top world’s climatologists already have no doubts that it’s really happening; what they’re focusing now is on the compilation of comprehensive lists of other possible culprits, besides our all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds are raised, slaughtered, processed, shipped and purchased for your dinner sake, spending an immeasurable amount of natural resources and fuel in the process.
It’s unfair to blame the cows for contributing to global warming, based solely on the sheer scale of greenhouse-effect gases that their upkeep releases daily into the atmosphere. The auto industry is still the biggest cause of air pollution so far.
But if one puts two and two together, along with the current pace of population growth, we’re coming to a point that, healthy wise, we won’t be able to afford not even a single cow’s fart, before the contamination of chemicals and heavy metals on the air and water compromises our future.
But let’s have a quick view of some of the factors often involved in any discussion about meat consumption, such as its processing industry, ethics involved, cultural and religious dynamics, and a bit of what can and has been done to face head-on such an overarching issue.

As far as food production is concerned, meat processing in this country and other industrialized societies, is alternately appalling, a health hazard, an irrationally cruel enterprise and, ultimately, one of the most wasteful industries around.
Which doesn’t make much of a difference on the economic bottom line of whole nations, including emerging and impoverished countries. Most of them all have meat products as a central component of their trade balances.
As one of the world’s most powerful lobbies, the meat industry has plenty of cash to fight restricting government policies and influence politicians and high-rank officials alike. Its closely-related animal products industry extends this power beyond borders and political systems.
It may be counter-intuitive here to show and describe at length what goes on inside a heavy-guarded meat processing plant. But animal tight confinement, cruelty, poor hygiene practices, contamination, and what’s designed to optimize production (and supposedly protect it from diseases), over-medication, are certainly part of this sad picture.
Ted Genoways, a reporter with Mother Jones, and Bookslut’s JC Hallman, both recently wrote harrowing accounts of some of the common routines the mostly underpaid workers go through, inside a meat plant in Austin, Minnesota, and a chicken farm in New Jersey.
Both stories make for a short but deeply disturbing read, as they point to the unhealthy patterns and pragmatic disregard towards the animals that seem to drive these kind of facilities.
It’s impossible to find the identifying point between this virtually invisible, and utterly disgusting, world and the succulent steaks and crispy chicken nuggets being served to you.
But there’s growing awareness towards the precedence of what we eat, possibly influenced by renewed attention to high-end and exotic food, and so-called celebrity chefs’ interest in catering to a discriminating (and deep-pocketed) crowd of locavores and culinary critics.
Apart from humans, only four other species are known for practicing meat farming, and they’re all ants. Melissotarsus ants of Africa and Madagascar seem to raise insect herds for meat, not milk, which, if the findings are confirmed, may be the only other example in nature of domestication of a species by another.
Of course, they’d be as clueless as the FDA currently is, about whether to ban the use of Meat Glue, a white powder which sticks together scraps of beef, lamb, chicken or fish that would normally be thrown out. The result looks like a solid piece of meat that can be sold without having to disclose its origin to the customer.
The powdery enzyme, transglutaminase, derives from beef and pork blood plasma and it’s considered safe by some in the industry, despite being banned in European Union nations.
Still in Europe, an animal rights party proposed a bill this year at the Dutch Parliament that would make Jewish and Muslim butchers stun animals — mechanically, electrically or with gas — before they are slaughtered, so to eliminate unnecessary pain.
Representatives of both religions oppose the bill, claiming that it’d increase costs and is part of a growing animosity towards Muslims and Jews living in secular Netherlands. Kosher and halal conditions for processing meat are very strict, but do not take into consideration the pain of the animals.
In the end, it’s likely that some kind of compromise will be reached. The parliament is considering whether to issue licenses to religious organizations that can show that their method of slaughter causes no more pain than industrial slaughtering. But it’s not clear how that would work since the industry doesn’t release these kind of information.
Back in the U.S., as in most nations around the world, the debate between meat eaters and vegetarians, and vegetarians and vegans, and vegans and everybody else, rages on. And even those whose diet is not guided by adoption or rejection of meat, sometimes take it on the chin, since for some, only a clear choice of side makes moral sense.
It’s possible. But a World War I initiative, Meatless Mondays has been getting some attention, thanks in part to efforts of some meat-averse celebrities. And economical considerations, of course. Good quality meat, after all, doesn’t come cheap and often the decision to altogether skip it is not optional, but imposed by circumstances.
Sometimes, the stereotypical image by which each group is portrayed, dominates and, ultimately, trivializes the discussion about what should be the healthiest and most acceptable diet to adopt. And that includes futile religious notions of purity and a pseudo-divine mandate to follow.
But what’s at the core of the debate about the power of the meat industry lobby, is the ethics our self-appointed role of keepers of the planet, economical implications notwithstanding.
In what ways and to what extent are we superior to animals, that would justify our absolute power over their lives and death? How far concerns about individual choices being trampled by the well being of the whole society can be extricated from the overall need for all to share resources and create communal solutions?
Is there an effective way to improve the welfare of the animals, without having to altogether “quit the addiction,” as some vegan groups characterize meat-eating habits?
When does the animal moves from being a domesticated companion, a pet, to become food, and who should determine that?
Finally, as Gary Francione, who used to be a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals attorney, and them wrote a controversial exposé on animal rights groups, believes, if the there’s no moral justification for eating animals or animal products whatsoever, and such a decision should be deeply private, will we be able to ever settle the issue for good?
Because, if we’d stop regarding animals as mere “human resources,” as Francione and many ethicists and philosophers believe that we should, and society would ban their consumption by an authoritarian ruling, wouldn’t such ban be a moral void and, ultimately, crush the rights of the individual?

One thought on “(Not) Nice to Meat You

  1. fernanda says:

    Is the prohibition to kill other people an authoritarian rule?
    Why is it considered authoritarian when it comes to animals????


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