The Beef With Going Meatless, Colltalers
There’s a common argument made about non-vegetarians speaking up against meat. Not unlike the suspicion that’d greet predators standing up for their prey, those not committed to a plant-based diet have hardly a leg to stand on when the conversation gears to personal choice and health concerns. Further clouding the issue, research on eating habits is usually biased by industry funding.
The Hitler’s diet factor often follows the demolition of would-be anti-meat preachers, turning the discussion into similar derbies about whose god is the best. A moot point indeed. But the meat issue is resilient, if not fibrous, and in recent years has involved a relatively unexpected, but powerful component: the environment or, as you’ve guessed it, radical climate change.
Overpopulation and income inequality have always been behind the depletion of Earth’s limited natural resources, and our ability for timely replenish them. But extreme changes in weather patterns are beginning to take precedence, responding for a whole array of concurrent illnesses of contemporary society, which includes wasteful means of production, monoculture, and many others.
The meat industry however is overdue for reevaluation, as it’s spending more and more of arable land, water, and government subsidies just to keep up with a growing demand. And that comes mostly from the U.S., closely followed by emerging China.
Meat consumption in these two nations alone has already reached an unattainable level, with potential to compromise efforts designed to contain it. You see, the world envies what Americans have had for too long: 200 annual pounds of meat per capita.
The industry is near total dominance among the food segment of the U.S. economy, despite a recent surge in vegetarian and vegan farming production. The so-called meat lobby in Washington is a powerful influencer of policies and has no match when it comes
to protect and maintain its interests. Elected officials and politicians fear them even more than its close ally, the NRA.
Worse, most are not even aware of how much of their personal alimentary choices is dictated by a platoon of corporate lawyers working 24/7 to enforce favorable conditions to the meat industry to thrive. And thrive it does. In 2012, total meat and poultry production in the U.S. reached more than 93 billion pounds, according to the North American Meat Institute, an industry group.
Beef and ‘beef variety’ exports, too, are a weighty arm of trade balance, at over $800 billion exported last year only. That feeds a lot of lobbying dollars in Congress, used to ward off initiatives such as Meatless Monday. After a Dept. of Agriculture newsletter recommended employees to support the initiative, based solely on its health benefits, it had to back off, with a disclaimer.
‘The U.S.D.A. does not endorse Meatless Monday,’ read the terse statement just a few days later. Even taken out of context, such a position is an oxymoron, as promoting health habits for Americans is among the agency’s tenets. That is, until actual dollar figures come to the fore. The statement was followed by ‘spontaneous’ displays of support by politicians. Surprised yet?
Reality is, though, on the account of sheer power to fund and control votes and influence in the highest spheres of power, the meat industry’s contribution is not as nearly impressive. According to its own figures, meat companies offer direct employment to less than a million workers, which is a number usually associated to single manufacturers, not to an entire segment of the economy.
NAMI claims that U.S. meat production employs over 6 million people, but only when it adds what it calls workers at ‘ancillary’ industries, which may include everyone, from truck drivers to delivery people. They could even be vegans, for all we know.
But size and scope of an industry, be it politically powerful and articulate as it may, should not per se be an indictment of its product. Nor the fact that it may cause harm to public health, at least, not as far as free will and choice and all that are concerned.
What really may have changed the equation is the fact that current means of livestock production in the U.S. mostly, but many Western economies too, are not just inadequate but damaging to the environment. And unlike what some may have heard, the problem is not the cows’ farting either, but their dehumanizing, antibiotics-loaded living animals-as-food-product approach.
We’ll get into the inevitable animal aspect in a moment, but for any discussion about finding ways to feed billions in the most effective and sustainable way, it’s not always wise to take the moral or compassionate route. It can turn a rational search for solutions to a complex issue into an fruitless shouting match, usually won by whoever preaches the loudest. It never works.
Climate-changing gases, or the catastrophic droughts in California, Brazil, the Caribbean, and parts of Eastern Europe this year, can’t be resolved by deciding which set of moral or religious precepts is the godliest, even if such a matter could ever be settled.
Neither the devastating effects the return of El Niño is expected to inflict on world crops can be regulated based upon ancient rituals. Otherwise, thousands of sacrificed virgins to old gods of the weather would’ve really saved their peoples from extinction.
Which is not to say that a certain level of individual commitment and sense of responsibility doesn’t count. On the contrary, and it’s at display when such a well-heeled industry is frightened by a commendable but limited effort such as Meatless Monday.
Individuals do make a difference, even before they take the leap of deciding to stop eating meat, or at least, restrict consumption. Or not. Keep in mind that those who still have a choice of shopping for food alternatives, and can afford paying more for them, are not in the majority. As global Poverty Lines rise, we see less and less choice to most people, not the other way around.
And if compassion does not necessarily make for sensible public policies – or birth control by way of medical procedures wouldn’t be at all needed -, it’s still important for guiding personal choice. Which brings up the issue of animal-as-food vs animals as individual, sentient beings, here on their own volition, and not bound by any natural law to serve as our diet.
Even though animals do fulfill a vital agricultural role, turning inedible grass, scraps and garden waste into nutritious food, we’ve long lost the scale by which such role is in any way viable. While such model may’ve worked in the past, now it’s leading to massive environmental disruption, massacre of millions of corralled animals, and grow of a brutally unscrupulous industry.
Worse: all this unconscionably institutionalized cruelty, for which most of us remain oblivious or blissfully ignorant, has been consistently failing to make a dent on world hunger. Most likely, its product it’s mainly catered to the privileged and the well-fed.
We’re reproducing faster and faster, and yes, environmental damage caused by carbon fuels – of which the industry is one of its main pillars -, along geopolitical and, we grant it, moral quests, do contribute as much to an unbalanced and unequal world as the meat industry. Curiously, all these issues are, in great part, a global governmental failure to promote sensible policies for growth.
That does not exempt, however, the role of big, multi-billion dollar corporations, and their insane pursuit of the bottom line at all costs. Neither of what individuals can and should do, even if they have to take the lead where private and official institutions show no inkling to do so. After all, as it is, improving the world may be up to the Davids’ benefits, not the Goliaths.’
Many of us routinely forget the power of small decisions, actions we take every single day, and how they can compound to building a beneficial, or toxic, situation. What to eat is just one of such decisions, and albeit small, is obviously crucial.
There’s an argument to be made about how to go about changing the world, and a million discussions as to why nothing anyone can do will help it in any way. But it’s the power of choice between the two that may make any difference. So it happens that today is Monday, and no one will be asking you to stop eating meat. But just today, would it be at all possible? Enjoy November. WC