I’ve been thinking about food politics for a few weeks now, prompted by a shortcut through the local McDonald’s parking lot (more on that later) and the issue being addressed both here by Eve and extensively in the national press (around Germans and NHS patients being urged to cut their meat consumption for environmental reasons).
Growing up in San Francisco, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the arguments against meat eating. We talked about the environmental issues at school since kindergarten. Many of my friends have been vegetarians since we were about nine, mainly because of the issues of animal rights and the problems with factory farming. More recently, with awareness of climate change growing, some friends have become vegetarian for environmental reasons.
Working at War on Want also gave me greater insight on the human side of food politics, through the work that we did with peasant farmers around the world and the campaigning against agrobusiness and supermarkets.
So, I’ve never been able to plead ignorance. Factory farms pollute and treat animals badly. Eating higher up the food chain is terrible for the environment. Industrial farming is scary if only for the fact that very few companies control much of the food chain, not to mention their record of exploitation. And yet…none of this has made me want to give up eating meat.
Part of my problem is that, like Eve, I don’t have a good relationship with very many vegetables. I think I’m better than I used to be, but the list of vegetables I really like is a short one. I don’t think I eat that much meat (especially by American standards), but I really can’t imagine my life without it. It’s tasty.
So, what would prompt me to change my eating habits? I feel like the environment is a compelling reason, but I can’t translate knowing what I do into action – though I am trying to eat less meat and eat game when I do.
And frankly – this is the part that makes me a bad person – I just don’t care that much about the animal welfare thing. I love animals, but I just can’t seem to care about those that are raised for food (or fur either, go ahead and judge). Maybe the propaganda by my vegan friends at an early age inured me to the issue.
Walking through the McDonald’s lot the other day reminded me that the only thing that has ever made a difference was Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation. I made two changes after reading it. The first was to stop eating all fast food, which I’ve kept to this day (with one single exception in seven years, when I was too hungover to make it further than the McDonald’s on the corner…special).
The second change was to stop eating red meat – and I made that decision because of the workers’ rights abuses that Schlosser describes occuring in the beef slaughterhouses. Horrifying: the injuries workers sustain from being forced to work too fast, that companies hire illegal aliens so they don’t have to pay damages or address workers’ demands, and so on.
See, I’m not entirely heartless, I just can’t get too exercised about critters that will end up in my bacon sandwich.