By Natalie Blanton
So much of what we know about our food, diets, and health has been drastically informed and shaped by self-interested governmental institutions. Now, don’t start forming your tinfoil hats just yet. But do start educating and informing yourself — from sources other than those crafting our realities, particularly around animal welfare in our food system and [hopefully not] on our plates.
Last Tuesday (weekly blog day for SM), we heard from Erin regarding governmental intervention/interruption in the natural world. It is disturbing and upsetting, to say the least. But, this information is vital and we must continue interrogating, questioning, and overturning that norm of viewing/treating animals as nuisances, vermin, commodities, or impracticalities.
Recently, a friend dropped this knowledge bomb on me: the US Department of Agriculture is scrambling to bail out dairy and egg producers. Purchasing no less than $20 million of these products to prop up these producers “who are struggling with low milk prices and a sluggish export market, both of which have chipped away at their earnings. Over the last two years, dairy farmers have seen revenue drop by 35%, according to the USDA,” according to Quartz, see similar articles from Forbes and the Smithsonian Magazine.
In this season of life (election year), it is unfortunately, and increasingly, common to feel lied to by bureaucratic institutions. More specifically, having been veg-inclined and vehemently against industrial animal agriculture for over a decade, the USDA making terrible ethical and/or economic decisions does not come as a surprise or shock to me. But, buying cheese outright, with our tax money, to protect the meat and dairy industry, over consumers — is not okay. Whether we are doing our best to vote with our dollars and actively avoid supporting these industries or not, our money is still being funneled into keeping these archaic and exploitive (of human, animal, and planet) practices in place.
So often we demonize Wall Street, Walmart, Unilever, and other big corporations — but “Big Ag” or industrial animal agriculture operations continue to fly under the radar — even when they should be at the forefront of allegations of injustice. See some of the recent human/animal rights violations that made the news: Tyson Chicken or Seafood Production Slaves. But, instead of being bogged down, I urge you to stay awake and aware of these issues, get loud, be a voice for the voiceless, and recognize that when the public pressure and spotlight is shone on these issues, producers start to back-peddle on traditional industry standards, reaching new welfare standards and precedents for both laborers and animals, such as recent efforts to end chick culling.
While checking out at the grocery store, the cashier held my asparagus bundle in her hand, and looked up to me with incredulous eyes, “Why does healthy food have to be so expensive?” I nodded and frowned knowingly, as this very issue of healthy food accessibility, and justice, is very much a passion of mine. I oftentimes throw out the question of “Why is an apple more expensive than a Snickers bar?” Government subsidies. The US government is married to the meat and dairy industries. Those sectors are continually celebrated and bolstered by government bailouts and protective programs, as previously mentioned. Everything we are taught about eating healthy is informed by these bedfellows, just look at the old food pyramid, that has since been drastically revoked and changed to reflect more of a plant-based whole-foods diet.
This is a wake up call. If the government wanted to be transparent, and keep posturing these agriculture sectors in positive light, perhaps they would rethink Ag-Gag laws. As for me? I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Thus, here are some helpful links that will further wedge your divide with the governmental darlings that are the meat and dairy industries:
- You’ve probably heard the Sage Mountain team raving about Cowspiracy, because that film and movement is so well-researched, and VITAL for the public to consume, and further, digest, and act. If you haven’t yet seen the film, we encourage you to watch it. Here are some facts from their research that are astounding, based on these government food programs:
- We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.
- Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock.
- Read MEATHOOKED: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat
- An investigation set to answer a question that has stayed unanswered far too long, while we kept arguing health and ethical aspects of meat consumption: Why do we eat meat at all? What’s so special about meat that it keeps us hooked? From the perspective of evolution, culture, taste, marketing, biochemistry and anthropology, Marta Zaraska sets out to identify all the hooks that make meat a food that humans don’t want to easily give up.
- What’s the cost of a Big Mac at McDonald’s these days? About $3.50? Not a bad deal (especially when you add on that value meal). But Raj Patel’s The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy delves into a number of costs we haven’t considered:
– The production of Big Macs in the U.S. every year results in a greenhouse gas footprint of 2.66 billion pounds of CO2 ($297 million)
– Costs of corn feed subsidies, courtesy of the common taxpayer ($4.6 billion)
– Costs from “social subsidy” in the form of welfare offered to minimum wage fast-food workers ($273 million)
– Public health costs due to diet-related diseases from excessive meat consumption ($30-60 billion)
– When all is said and done, the cost of a Big Mac should really be around $200 (at least).
Source: Why a Big Mac should cost $200
And, my personal favorite:
Maybe tinfoil hats are your thing… but, I would argue that by educating yourself, your families, and your communities about the inextricable connections between animal-saturated diets, environmental degradation and climate change, and the growing health concerns associated, will go much further in efforts of sustainability and a hope for a better tomorrow.