Curtain Raiser

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

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6 thoughts on “Curtain Raiser

  1. eremophila says:

    “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.” Hear hear!!
    If city people would take the time to investigate the sources of what they put into their bodies, they would suffer a great shock, and so mostly they avoid it.
    The meat industry in Australia is a very powerful body, with their eyes only on increasing profit. Here’s what happened after a report from WHO on processed meats… : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-27/comparing-sausages-with-cigarettes-is-a-farce/6885320

    Liked by 1 person

    • Colltales says:

      It’s not just in Australia, of course. Even though the WHO report is flawed (reason why I decided not to make too much out of it), it was enough to rattle some golden cages. They may be powerful but like bullies, they’re so not used to be confronted, that when that happens, they crawl into a panicky hole. Hopefully momentum will catch on; people do have to investigate what they put into their bodies. Thanks for your input, Eremophila. Cheers

      Like

  2. Fernanda says:

    Muito legal!
    Parabéns!

    Como tudo nesse mundo dos homens é ditado pelo dinheiro, a indústria vegana tb vai crescendo e querendo abocanhar a sua parte. Não tardará para que tenhamos a carne artificial, que já está quase saindo dos laboratórios. Mesmo gosto, mesmas propriedades, mesmo tudo (dizem eles) . O mesmo com o queijo e seus derivados. Essa nova indústria está vindo com tudo e cabe a nós apoiá-la. A indústria, qualquer uma, é sempre cruel, não se importando muito com nada além do lucro, mas são os consumidores, sempre, que as fazem prosperar ou não.

    Como em tudo, é a pressão, é a campanha constante, as manifestações, os apelos de todas as formas, que vão tocar as pessoas para mudarem suas atitudes.
    Começo a ver esperança para um mundo sem carne. Quanto mais pessoas falam nisso, maior a demanda por alternativas. Sei lá, talvez mais uns 500 anos…
    São as nossas atitudes diárias, as nossas escolhas, as nossas falas que mudam o mundo. Afinal, ‘we have just one life to live’ and I don’t believe in reincarnation!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sacrificing quality for quantity has led to the position a lot of carnivores in the U.S. and Europe find themselves regarding meat.

    Far too much meat sold today comes from animals that have never been exposed to sunlight, let alone a blade of grass, despite what the picture on the packet would have us believe.

    Buying less meat for the same price can even be the best deal, especially where frozen meats are concerned, as they are pumped up with so much water, which disappears on cooking. But even ‘fresh’ meat from big name supermarkets can contain a lot of water. Fine for those who like paying for water by the pound at meat prices, but not for those of us who know how real meat tastes. Eat less meat, less often and you’ll be surprised how much better it tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Colltales says:

      That’s a good tip. In the U.S., more than water, you get a lot of antibiotics too with every pound. And for some of us, who grew up on a fresh, just-out-of-the-backyard-slaughterhouse meat diet, the taste is almost never that great. Worse, I find, though, is that due to lack of alternatives, one winds up eating bad-quality meat just because it’s available everywhere and easier than to find better alternatives. Cheers

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn´t want to appear to be gloating by mentioning it, but I might as well with the opportunity you give me. Meat is still very good in Spain with much of it raised on real farms. We generally buy small amounts from local butchers of which there are still many here in Conil. In London it wasn’t so easy, but there were a couple of good butchers nearby when I lived there, let’s see . . . oh no!, it’s not far-off 20 years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

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