Meat makes the world go round

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As I’m collecting more information and building up my own opinions on food movements, I get really excited when I hear about the ways people are doing things right. It’s easy to critique and to recognize the environmental and social crises that the United States faces, but can be difficult to recognize a successful example of working against food injustice and environmental insecurity on a large scale. So when I was on a road trip to Maine this weekend, driving past McDonalds after Friendly’s after Burger King (just because I’m in a car doesn’t mean I don’t want to eat vegetables!), I started to think about the mass quantities of meat we eat and began to investigate trends in other parts of the world.

 

A correlation that’s important to address is the rise of meat consumption as a nation grows wealthier. One nation that’s responding to this unfolding crisis in remarkable ways is South Korea. On the one hand, as my Korean friend explained to me, it’s common for restaurants in Korea to give the consumer access to a wealth of information about where their meat comes from. She explained that going out to eat was accompanied by informed decision-making and attempts to raise consciousness about the choice to eat meat—citing fun facts like the farm that the animal was raised on, their diet, and even their name. This may sound like a scene out of “Portlandia” (do I really need to know the name of the cow before I eat it?) but represents a radically different attitude toward meat consumption. In my experiences as a meat-eater, a vegetarian, and a life-long American, it is generally unacceptable within our culture of consumption to think too hard about the fact that your steak once lived. Even acknowledging what tendons and other identifying body parts are taboo and can gross people out. In other countries I’ve visited and eaten in, such as Cambodia, people are happy to eat every and any part of an animal—organs and all. Americans use coded language and a careful set of justifying practices to turn raw slabs of cow flesh into appetizing hamburger dinners.

 

But Korea is working on more than just mindfulness about meat. Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes that one of the most significant and harmful aspects of the meat industry is the waste that the animals leave behind in mass quantities, and that Korea has been “experimenting with using animal waste to generate electricity” (Bittman, “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler”). To me, Korea seems like a model for how to address the economic and sociocultural factors that are propelling the meat industry forward around the world.

 

And these efforts are certainly needed. The Telegraph reported in October of last year that China’s rate of meat-eating had doubled that of the United States. Doubled. In addition to all of the various ways in which the meat industry affects the United States detrimentally, the situation in China looks even more bleak. James Rice of Tyson farms remarks, “In China, there are 700 million people and there is no room to move them. The faster you move them to the cities, the more you increase pollution, and the more problems you have growing food” (Moore, “China now eats twice as much meat as the United States”). Providing for the rising demand for meat products would involve mass relocation, a level of suffering that we don’t have to face stateside (yet).

 

Now that meat has established itself as a core part of any meal for most Americans, what could be done to change the way people think about and understand the consequences of their daily bacon? One of the most compelling arguments I’ve encountered was Jonathan Safran Foer’s conviction in Eating Animals that vegetarianism is a “spectrum:” in order to make the idea of having a positive impact on the environment more accessible, one can engage in this arena of food activism by eliminating even one meal of meat a week from one’s diet. This is the dogma that I’ve embraced, my own food philosophy, and I feel I can balance restriction with active citizenship easily. As silly as this sounds, I think introducing more inclusive language and labels is crucial to appealing to the American public—something along the lines of “conscious omnivore” instead of the unfortunately politicized “vegetarian.” One of the most difficult battles in coming years will be fought through education, rather than by governments or corporations, and it’s time to introduce the necessity of cutting back on meat consumption.

 

Bittman, Mark. “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler.” The New York Times 27 January 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all

 

Moore, Malcolm. “China now eats twice as much meat as the United States.” The Telegraph 12 October 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9605048/China-now-eats-twice-as-much-meat-as-the-United-States.html

 

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009

 

Image taken from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all

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The devil inside my tomato

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This week’s issue of the Tufts Observer included an article called “Frankenfoods: Free Trade and the GMO debate.” I’m still soaking up information about the landscape of food production and activism, but one clear message that has emerged through my participation in this class is that Monsanto is a synonym for “ultimate evil.” This article, however, brings up a side of GMOs that I had never heard of–the social justice-oriented side, that uses growing technologies to benefit rather than harm humanity. Kim writes, “BioCassava Plus is a project dedicated to genetically modifying the cassava…to augment the ;levels of beta-carotene, iron, and protein in a new breed of cassava that could potentially save over millions of lives” (Kim 9). These projects harness stigmatized ways of altering produce in a way that is objectively beneficial -apparently, making up our minds about the relationship between food and chemicals depends on the context of nutrition and consumption in a given society. To me, these GMO projects seem like an integral part of new food movements (rather than what activists should be fighting against), and I am looking forward to adding more nuance to the way I think about altering natural foods. 

Kim, Justin.  “Frankenfoods: Free Trade and the GMO debate.” Tufts Observer 2013:8-9. Print.

Image taken from http://www.rawfoodlife.com/10_reasons_why_no_GMO.html

How to survive a sweet tooth

It was the first time I had heard the word “organic” used as s derogatory term. Picture this:  I am walking down Newbury Street, and suddenly a man in a Pret a Manger polo hands me a pretty hefty container of oatmeal to promote the chain’s arrival to Boston. (Really, Pret a Manger? You think I’m going to buy something after you give me a full-sized breakfast? And really, Pret a Manger? You think the best way to lure new customers in is by handing them unsweetened oatmeal?) Anyway, this guy about ten feet ahead of me on the sidewalk halts, turns, and proclaims: “What is this organic $!#&?”

I got to thinking about this culturally-constructed divide we have in place in the United States: junk food  = tasty, healthy = gross. As a kid, I know I remember feeling like vegetables were something I had to choke down so I could get to the good stuff.

Maybe this dichotomy is a mode of coping with the inability to afford healthy food. The fact is, though, that pizza and French fries—food you might find in school lunches—are both cheaper to produce and consume and cooked to ensure a salty, pleasing flavor. Kids learn from an early age that while some foods are good for your body (or so Mom says), other ones taste really, really delicious. It’s easy, then, to throw our hands up and accept a growing epidemic of obesity and addiction to junk food. However, my anxieties were fortuitously addressed in a New York Times article from this weekend about the ways in which countries like Hungary are getting serious about changing the way people choose to get their calories.

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Hungary’s government is responding to a public health crisis; two thirds of Hungarians are overweight or obese. (This compares to one third of American adults and 17% of American children). Daley quotes a Hungarian shopowner: “‘You see the kids come in after school and pick up the bags of potato chips, and then when we tell them the price, they put them right back,’ Mrs. Devenyi said. ‘We are selling about 10 percent less of certain brands.’”

Why hasn’t this solution taken root in the United States? If I’ve learned anything about global health, it’s that ensuring health sometimes requires compromise and sacrifice. In this instance, nutrition can and should take the place of consumer choice. Daley mentions Mayor Bloomberg’s criticized decision to ban 32-ounze containers of soda, among other initiatives that have met backlash in New York City. I decided to investigate a little, and happened upon an article that ABC news ran today. In this article, Liz Neporent details the costs and benefits of junk food companies responding to the detrimental health effects of their wildly successful marketing strategies. Neporent cites a statistic from the Archives of Internal Medicine that “An 18 percent tax on pizza and soda would lead to a 5 pound weight loss per year for the average American.” Other ideas from the Mars company (big-time manufacturer of candies like Reese’s and Milky Way) include shrinking portion sizes. I can imagine that Americans will receive this about as kindly as the disgruntled oatmeal man. After all, bigger is always better. In my opinion, the underlying problem continues to be that people feel they do have choice over what they are eating—but that’s a blog post for another time.

Sources:

Photo taken from: http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2009/10/junk-food-junkies-2/

Daley, Suzanne. “Hungary Experiments With Food Tax to Coax Healthier Habits.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/world/europe/hungary-experiments-with-food-tax-to-coax-healthier-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

Neporent, Liz. “Candymaker Pledges to Fight Obesity.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 05 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/candymaker-pledges-fight-obesity/story?id=18651140