Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil
The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known. One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
A week ago, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE, SAYS THE FOX
In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, the pseud0-president went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak, that all was fine, and would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? No likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoked was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
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.
ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH THAT?
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.
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: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still 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 (more)
* The Beef Of Going Meatless
* Meatless Time
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 motor industry is still the biggest cause of air pollution so far.
BEST POUND BY POUND LOBBYISTS
But if one puts two and two together, along with the current pace of population growth, we’re coming to a point when we won’t be able to afford not even a single cow’s fart, before 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 an appalling 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 entire nations, including emerging and impoverished ones. Most of them have meat products as a central component of their trade balances. And some simply can’t afford otherwise, at least for now.
The underpinning of the status-quo is the meat industry’s powerful lobby, and plenty of cash to assure favorable government policies, and influence politicians and high-rank officials alike. Its closely-related animal products industry extends this power beyond borders and political systems.
WHAT WE CAN’T SWALLOW
It may be counterintuitive 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 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 toward animals, which seems to be ingrained in the management of 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 increasing alarm about 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.
ANT FARMS & MEAT GLUE
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.
Evolution taught them to do that, of course. But nature has nothing to do with the reasons for agencies in charge of regulation of food sales and consumption to be so out of step with the industries they are trusted to monitor, when not just being fooled by their bag of tricks.
Case in point: the FDA’s hesitation banning Meat Glue, a white powder which sticks together scraps of beef, lamb, chicken or fish that would normally be thrown out. Because the end result looks like a piece of meat, the agency allowed to be sold with no disclosure to the customer about what it really is.
Despite being long banned by the European Union, the powdery enzyme, transglutaminase, which derives from beef and pork blood plasma, it’s considered safe and routinely added to juicy burgers and prime cuts of meat. Hum, hungry yet?
HALAL, MY NAME IS NOT KOSHER
In the Netherlands, an animal rights party proposed and managed to aprove a law that determines that Jewish and Muslim butchers need to stun animals — mechanically, electrically, or with gas — before slaughtering them, so to eliminate unnecessary pain.
Secular Dutch voters heard arguments by representatives of both religions, that the bill increased costs and had racist undertones. But ultimately sided up with animal advocates, who invoked kosher and halal strict precepts to processing meat that, nevertheless, do not consider the suffering of the animals.
The rule was expected to be imitated by other European nations, but has somehow stalled because of numerous obstacles poised by religious organizations that are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their influence, amid an increased radicalization between right wing parties, catering to them, and traditional progressive forces acting in the continent.
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 sides makes moral sense.
VEGETARIAN OR VERY BERRY VEGAN
It’s possible. But a World War I initiative, Meatless Mondays has recently got into another gear, 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 an option, but it’s 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 of the self-appointed role of keepers of the planet – us, truly- economical implications notwithstanding.
In what ways and to at 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?
THE EGG AND CHICKEN CONUNDRUM
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 morally bankrupted and, ultimately, crush what we call sacred individual rights?
By the way, who ordered the ribs?
(*) Based on a post published on Sept. 22, 2011.