Friday, February 19, 2010

'Consumer' Control and Vulnerability

Although government regulation of the agribusiness is key in solving issues such as animal cruelty in meat production, the negative environmental and economic impacts of factory farming, and unhealthy meat consumption on a mass scale that we’ve been reading about and discussing, we sometimes forget that as ‘consumers’ the choices we make will impact the meat industry and influence governmental action the most. This is because we supply the money and consume the meat produced by these mega-corporations, fueling this cycle of malpractice. By reducing the support and dependence that ‘consumers’ have on mass-produced meat, changes regarding the above issues would become forced upon the meatpacking industry.

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser gives us a glimpse of how much power the major meatpacking corporations (13 in total) have over the food Americans eat. The two main reasons for this is America’s dependence on mass-produced meat for the majority of its meat consumption and the ties the meatpacking industry has with Congress through lobbying. Schlosser points out the ways in which meatpacking corporations have been successful in pawning responsibility of their safety practices on Americans by diverting the cost of any new safety legislation on the people, using tax dollars to make the few changes that do get enforced by the government. Our dependence on these factory farms leaves us extremely vulnerable until we can reduce our demand from the said suppliers.

It is important to note that decreasing this demand will only happen when personal changes are realistic and realizable. It is not realistic to suggest that everyone stop eating meat when it is so embedded into our culture and cooking practices. Although that would help, there are other ways to reduce demand on factory farms by supporting local farms that provide meat of grass-fed cattle or free-range chicken. In Food Inc., Karl Weber suggests the three Rs: Refine to eliminate the most abusive animal products, Reduce consumption of animal products and Replace animal products in your diet with vegetarian options (p. 64)or the above discussed local animal products.

To be honest, it is a real challenge to seek out local meat that is of grass-fed cattle or free range chickens. The best way to do this is through your local farmer’s market , which can be limiting as they usually only operate once a week. Even in visiting a local butcher (Fred The Butcher in Clifton Park) it was surprising to me that they had no grass-fed beef but provided me with a pamphlet of a farm they knew of that had it in the Adirondacks, Mack Brook Farm . We can see how difficult this can be, especially when so many of us eat out a lot and have little control over where the meat is coming from.

This brings me back to the point of the control we ‘consumers’ do have on the market. Remember, we have not been dependent on the corporate meatpacking industry before the last 50 years. It is very possible to create a demand for healthy meat from local sources which, in turn, increases the convenience in its availability.

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