Tag Archives: Carne animal

The End of Meat Is Here (New York Times)

If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.

By Jonathan Safran Foer – May 21, 2020

Credit: Jun Cen

Is any panic more primitive than the one prompted by the thought of empty grocery store shelves? Is any relief more primitive than the one provided by comfort food?

Most everyone has been doing more cooking these days, more documenting of the cooking, and more thinking about food in general. The combination of meat shortages and President Trump’s decision to order slaughterhouses open despite the protestations of endangered workers has inspired many Americans to consider just how essential meat is.

Is it more essential than the lives of the working poor who labor to produce it? It seems so. An astonishing six out of 10 counties that the White House itself identified as coronavirus hot spots are home to the very slaughterhouses the president ordered open.

In Sioux Falls, S.D., the Smithfield pork plant, which produces some 5 percent of the country’s pork, is one of the largest hot spots in the nation. A Tyson plant in Perry, Iowa, had 730 cases of the coronavirus — nearly 60 percent of its employees. At another Tyson plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, there were 1,031 reported cases among about 2,800 workers.

Sick workers mean plant shutdowns, which has led to a backlog of animals. Some farmers are injecting pregnant sows to cause abortions. Others are forced to euthanize their animals, often by gassing or shooting them. It’s gotten bad enough that Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has asked the Trump administration to provide mental health resources to hog farmers.

Despite this grisly reality — and the widely reported effects of the factory-farm industry on America’s lands, communities, animals and human health long before this pandemic hit — only around half of Americans say they are trying to reduce their meat consumption. Meat is embedded in our culture and personal histories in ways that matter too much, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the ballpark hot dog. Meat comes with uniquely wonderful smells and tastes, with satisfactions that can almost feel like home itself. And what, if not the feeling of home, is essential?

And yet, an increasing number of people sense the inevitability of impending change.

Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming. According to The Economist, a quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are vegetarians or vegans, which is perhaps one reason sales of plant-based “meats” have skyrocketed, with Impossible and Beyond Burgers available everywhere from Whole Foods to White Castle.

Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.

At the very least it has forced us to look. When it comes to a subject as inconvenient as meat, it is tempting to pretend unambiguous science is advocacy, to find solace in exceptions that could never be scaled and to speak about our world as if it were theoretical.

Some of the most thoughtful people I know find ways not to give the problems of animal agriculture any thought, just as I find ways to avoid thinking about climate change and income inequality, not to mention the paradoxes in my own eating life. One of the unexpected side effects of these months of sheltering in place is that it’s hard not to think about the things that are essential to who we are.

Credit: Jun Cen

We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly. This is not a refutable perspective, but a banal truism. Whether they become Whoppers or boutique grass-fed steaks, cows produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gas. If cows were a country, they would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

According to the research director of Project Drawdown — a nonprofit organization dedicated to modeling solutions to address climate change — eating a plant-based diet is “the most important contribution every individual can make to reversing global warming.”

Americans overwhelmingly accept the science of climate change. A majority of both Republicans and Democrats say that the United States should have remained in the Paris climate accord. We don’t need new information, and we don’t need new values. We only need to walk through the open door.

We cannot claim to care about the humane treatment of animals while continuing to eat meat regularly. The farming system we rely on is woven through with misery. Modern chickens have been so genetically modified that their very bodies have become prisons of pain even if we open their cages. Turkeys are bred to be so obese that they are incapable of reproducing without artificial insemination. Mother cows have their calves ripped from them before weaning, resulting in acute distress we can hear in their wails and empirically measure through the cortisol in their bodies.

No label or certification can avoid these kinds of cruelty. We don’t need any animal rights activist waving a finger at us. We don’t need to be convinced of anything we don’t already know. We need to listen to ourselves.

We cannot protect against pandemics while continuing to eat meat regularly. Much attention has been paid to wet markets, but factory farms, specifically poultry farms, are a more important breeding ground for pandemics. Further, the C.D.C. reports that three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic — the result of our broken relationship with animals.

It goes without saying that we want to be safe. We know how to make ourselves safer. But wanting and knowing are not enough.

These are not my or anyone’s opinions, despite a tendency to publish this information in opinion sections. And the answers to the most common responses raised by any serious questioning of animal agriculture aren’t opinions.

Don’t we need animal protein? No.

We can live longer, healthier lives without it. Most American adults eat roughly twice the recommended intake of protein — including vegetarians, who consume 70 percent more than they need. People who eat diets high in animal protein are more likely to die of heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure. Of course, meat, like cake, can be part of a healthy diet. But no sound nutritionist would recommend eating cake too often.

If we let the factory-farm system collapse, won’t farmers suffer? No.

The corporations that speak in their name while exploiting them will. There are fewer American farmers today than there were during the Civil War, despite America’s population being nearly 11 times greater. This is not an accident, but a business model. The ultimate dream of the animal-agriculture industrial complex is for “farms” to be fully automated. Transitioning toward plant-based foods and sustainable farming practices would create many more jobs than it would end.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask a farmer if he or she would be happy to see the end of factory farming.

Isn’t a movement away from meat elitist? No.

A 2015 study found that a vegetarian diet is $750 a year cheaper than a meat-based diet. People of color disproportionately self-identify as vegetarian and disproportionately are victims of factory farming’s brutality. The slaughterhouse employees currently being put at risk to satisfy our taste for meat are overwhelmingly brown and black. Suggesting that a cheaper, healthier, less exploitative way of farming is elitist is in fact a piece of industry propaganda.

Can’t we work with factory-farming corporations to improve the food system? No.

Well, unless you believe that those made powerful through exploitation will voluntarily destroy the vehicles that have granted them spectacular wealth. Factory farming is to actual farming what criminal monopolies are to entrepreneurship. If for a single year the government removed its $38-billion-plus in props and bailouts, and required meat and dairy corporations to play by normal capitalist rules, it would destroy them forever. The industry could not survive in the free market.

Perhaps more than any other food, meat inspires both comfort and discomfort. That can make it difficult to act on what we know and want. Can we really displace meat from the center of our plates? This is the question that brings us to the threshold of the impossible. On the other side is the inevitable.

With the horror of pandemic pressing from behind, and the new questioning of what is essential, we can now see the door that was always there. As in a dream where our homes have rooms unknown to our waking selves, we can sense there is a better way of eating, a life closer to our values. On the other side is not something new, but something that calls from the past — a world in which farmers were not myths, tortured bodies were not food and the planet was not the bill at the end of the meal.

One meal in front of the other, it’s time to cross the threshold. On the other side is home.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of “Eating Animals” and “We Are the Weather.”

What’s the Beef? (Slate)

No, “Meatless Monday” is not an evil vegetarian plot to deprive our children of precious steak, pork, and chicken.

Photo by Debbi Morello/Getty Images

First-grader Christina Muse, pictured on Oct. 15, 2002, at North Hampton School in New Hampshire, taunts the meat industry by eating cheese pizza. Photo by Debbi Morello/Getty Images

The meat industry has a serious case of the Mondays. A growing number of school districts, including ones in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami, are committing to keep meat off the menu for one day a week to combat childhood obesity. These “Meatless Monday” initiatives have drawn the ire of America’s beef, poultry, and pork interests, which see them as the first, flesh-free volley in a war against America’s meat peddlers. The less-meat movement has also proved to be a flashpoint for elected officials, namely those from farm states, who seem to be placing the economic interests of their home-state industries above the health and wellbeing of their states’ populaces.

This story played out somewhat quietly on the national stage several years ago, when a few grandstanding politicians caught wind of an interoffice newsletter at the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggesting employees consider eating less meat. Now, it’s getting more attention at the local level. This week Todd Staples, the head of Texas’ Agriculture Department, unleashed a blistering—if largely fact-free—jeremiad against the Meatless Monday movement after learning that it had been enacted by elementary schools in Dripping Springs, an Austin suburb. (He was apparently unaware that several schools in Houston have been experimenting with the idea for some time.) “Restricting children’s meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible and has no place in our schools,” Staples wrote inan op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman. “This activist movement called ‘Meatless Monday’ is a carefully orchestrated campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ diets seven days a week—starting with Mondays.” Dun dun DUN!

An elected official like Staples can, of course, stake out a position that aligns with a particular industry without simply being a mouthpiece for it. But the agriculture commissioner’s overblown rhetoric echoes the official company line of the meat industry, which has filled his campaign coffers with at least $116,000 since 2010, according to public records. It’s hard to fault meat producers for wanting people to eat more meat. It’s a different story, though, when someone like Staples spouts such talking points at a time when the nation is battling both an obesity epidemic and a global climate crisis—two problems driven, at least in part, by resource-intensive meat production.

In some corners of the country, neither of those concerns is seen as much of a reason to impose mandates from above. The irony here is that the Dripping Springs initiative is a local one—the very type of decision that small-government advocates say is under attack from the national school-lunch standards championed by Michelle Obama. “Are we having a war on meat in Dripping Springs? Definitely not,” John Crowley, the head of nutrition services for the school district, told a local CBS affiliate this week. “We’re trying to think outside the box, and we serve a lot of Texas beef on our menus. We’ve had requests for more vegetarian options, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I give it a try and see how it’s received by kids?’ ”

This is a message that kids should be receiving. According to the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly one-third of American kids are either overweight or obese, a classification linked to Type 2 diabetes and myriad other health problems. The meat industry, meanwhile, is one of the top contributors to climate change, with the United Nations estimating that it directly or indirectly produces about 14.5 percent of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Everyone from the American Heart Association to the Norwegian military has touted the health and environmental benefits of eating less meat.

Such endorsements mean little to Staples and his meat-minded allies, who either downplay or downright deny the benefits of curbing meat consumption. But their dire warnings of The End of Meat aside, their argument also fails on a smaller scale. Opponents routinely overlook the fact that meatless meals are not by definition protein-free, a claim at the heart of Staples’ op-ed. “It is important to remember that for many underprivileged children the meals they eat at school often represents their best meals of the day,” the Republican commissioner wrote. “To deprive them of a meat-based protein during school lunch is most likely depriving them of their only source of protein for the day.”

That makes no sense given that Meatless Monday menus include items like bean-and-cheese burritos and cheese pizza, meals that come with a hefty serving of protein—and, thanks to dairy, animal protein at that. Meanwhile, the national school lunch program requires schools to offer a weekly menu that meets a minimum threshold for protein, so a Dripping Springs student who goes meatless on Monday is in little danger of being protein-deprived come Friday. Kids who want a ham sandwich, meanwhile, are still welcome to bring one from home—and there are obviously no restrictions on what a child can eat outside school. The participating cafeterias, meanwhile, continue to serve up a variety of meats the rest of the week.

Following Staples’ logic will take you to an absurd place. If a lunch menu is an edict from on high as he suggests, then when a cafeteria serves a hamburger but not a hot dog, it is “forcing” kids to eat beef while “denying” them pork—or any number of food items not on that particular day’s menu, for that matter, be it chicken, fish, or atarragon shallot egg salad sandwich with a side of butternut squash soup with chestnuts.

As commissioner, Staples oversees the agency that administers the school lunch programs in his state. There appears to be little he can do, at least formally, to stop the cafeterias’ Meatless Mondays from spreading their steak-free sentiments across the rest of Texas. “As long as [the schools] follow the requirements of the National School Lunch Program, they can serve anything they want,” says Humane Society of the United States food policy director Eddie Garza, who worked with the Dripping Springs cafeterias to implement the program. “Staples doesn’t have any real weight on this other than writing op-eds.”

While Staples’ formal power may be limited, his industry allies have managed to score meaty victories in the past. Last summer they managed to squash a small-scale Meatless Monday program in Capitol Hill cafeterias in a matter of days by branding it “an acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production.”

One of their more notable wins came in 2012, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture published that interoffice newsletter. It read, in part: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.” The backlash from the industry—and the backtracking from the agency that followed—was strong and instantaneous. Almost immediately after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association publicly voiced its anger, farm-state lawmakers like Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Steve King scrambled to fall in line. Sen. Grassley tweeted, “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation [about] a meatless Monday.” Rep. King was even more specific with his plan, promising to stage his own “double rib-eye Mondays” in protest. “With extreme drought conditions plaguing much of the United States, the USDA should be more concerned about helping drought-stricken producers rather than demonizing an industry reeling from the lack of rain,” Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statementthat appeared all the more short-sighted given the realities of climate change.

Before the day was out, the newsletter was taken offline, and the USDA issued a statement saying that it “does not endorse Meatless Monday.” The newsletter—which also offered a variety of other small-scale energy-efficiency tips for agency employees—“was posted without proper clearance,” according to the department.

Unwilling to forgive and forget, Staples chimed in by calling for the employee who wrote the newsletter to be fired, calling the very suggestion that people eat less meat “treasonous.” “Last I checked,” Staples said then, “USDA had a very specific duty to promote and champion American agriculture. Imagine Ford or Chevy discouraging the purchase of their pickup trucks. Anyone else see the absurdity? How about the betrayal?”

That type of twisted logic only works in a world where agriculture officials serve the food industry and not the American public. Unfortunately, that feels like it’s the case all too often.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.