There is no thing, meat, that has uniformly negative ecological, social, or epidemiological consequences. Meat only has in common that it comes from living creatures, and animals, just like people, can only be fundamentally understood in relation to the material environments within which they live, are loved and cared for, or maltreated and abused, and, in the case of most food animals, killed.
The question of “Should we eat meat,” therefore, appears very different amongst different sets of “we” and the different relations “we” have with such animals.
There are millions who are likely to bridle at, or whose lives would be simply upturned and devastated by, enforced upon commands that they simply cease meat production and consumption. Tunisian camel herders in the semi-arid steppes of the Jerid who rely on herding for day-to-day survival, or Bedouins in the northern Gaza Strip, have not been consulted about how they feel about an order from the Global North — in this case direct from Vettese and Dutkiewicz’s Harvard — to stop eating meat or engaging in the meat trade. Nor, in the other direction, have these researchers asked if such meat is substantively identical to the confined feedlots they rightly condemn.
At a minimum, we know that ceasing meat production and consumption would require a massive political intervention in those countries. We know that isn’t what the authors intend, heaven forfend. But we also know that intention, the cloister of psychologists, does not get us very far. What are the predictable consequences of castigating the socio-ecologies of much of the Third World as not up to snuff?
slavery exists today in commercial agriculture, with several cases just in Florida affecting 1200 people in the past 15 years
it’s important to acknowledge the domestic enslavement living through prisons and the police, but this system absolutely includes the borders and immigration laws, which exist to produce a slave class of workers who are quite literally non-citizens with no rights so that capitalists can exploit them and retaliate with deportation, often to homelands torn by war or poverty because of the U.S./the West.
there’s a book here, Fields of Resistance, that’s really informative. I’m in the middle of it but it’s been great so far
tldr: borders exist to enslave people
Abolish borders, abolish prisons, abolish ICE, abolish the police. They’re different machines of the same system
Our food system was not broken by the pandemic and it was not broken by independent family farmers or ranchers. It was not broken by animals/grazers on the landscape, who are now, too often, the scapegoat. It was broken by large, multinational corporations and the industry who, because of their buying power and size, have undue influence over the marketplace and over public policy. Multinational corporations have concentrated our food system to its breaking point, having extracted profits from farmers, workers, and consumers for too long.
The virus has stripped away the veneer, shining a bright light on these longstanding abuses.
Lately, I’ve been hearing experts and friends talk about the need to “fix our broken system.” But I disagree. Our food and agricultural system is not broken. It is working exactly as it was designed to work—for the benefit of a few corporate companies and their coffers at the expense of everyone else and the land. What we need is an entirely new system. A system that is rooted in justice and equity and puts the land and all
people before profits. It’s unfortunate that it might take a pandemic for us to realize a new way forward, but I have hope that this moment is the wake up call that we needed.
As Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farms states, “If you don’t have any control over your food system, it essentially puts you at the whim of a racist, capitalist food system in terms of your basic survival needs.”
Between 1830 and 1912 meat consumption per head almost doubled in Britain. This was made possible by the transformation of huge swathes of the planet into grazing land for cattle. Following the lifting of the embargo on live animal importation in 1842, Britain became, in the words of Otter, ‘the stud farm of the world’, as selectively bred cattle breeds from Hereford and Aberdeen came to dominate the landscape of New Mexico and the River Plate.
As late as 1930, Otter calculates that more than 90 percent of Argentina’s beef exports were going to Britain. As meat became more abundant it also became abstracted from nature, mediated by technology and distance, with cattle governed as vast overseas populations and beef arriving as standardised slabs on refrigerated ships.
A similar process happened with wheat. The abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846 marked the symbolic beginning of a century of liberal free trade imperialism, but it also transformed the ecology of distant continents. In the ensuing decades, vast zones of the world were transformed into breadbaskets for Britain’s expanding population. Fields of wheat destined for the exploding populations of London, Manchester and Glasgow carpeted the Russian steppes, the Punjab, Australia, and Kansas. By the late 1880s, 70 percent of US wheat exports went to Britain. By the early twentieth century Britain imported more than two-fifths of all wheat entering world trade.
Sugar, initially grown by enslaved people in the Caribbean, was one of the earliest and one of the most consequential ‘large planet’ foods. Consumption of sugar tripled in Britain between 1750 and 1900. Providing a cheap and efficient source of energy for an increasingly urban working class, sugar was a crucial historical link connecting extreme forms of racialised violence in the empire with the industrial revolution at home.
The mass importation of sugar and the industrialisation of food production more broadly remade British diets and bodies. By the early twentieth century tooth decay was endemic among working-class children, with one 1925 study finding that 13 percent of all children’s teeth were rotten beyond repair. Soft food was thought by contemporaries to be changing the shape of British people’s heads, as sagging jaws produced ‘pinched-in, hatchet-shaped’ faces.
The ‘ghost acres’ laid out to produce food on almost every continent allowed first Britons, and later many other nations in the Global North to, in the words of Otter, indulge in ‘the thermodynamically implausible’ idea that ‘growth could continue without biogeochemical consequences.’ This food system enabled an explosion in Britain’s population. In 1798, when Thomas Malthus argued that Britain’s population had reached the limit of what could be sustained by the country’s food and energy supplies, there were 8 million people living in Britain. A hundred years later there would be more than 30 million.
An abandoned potato sorting station near Krasnosilka, Ukraine with a unusual, cantilevered design. The concrete block at the end forms the counterweight of the structure, creating the impression it floats over the fields.
Most people don’t realize that conventional dairy already has been focused on sustainability, we just don’t advertise
- We sequester carbon with the crops growing for the cows
- We use organic fertilizer from the cows instead on relying on synthetic fertilizers
- We recycle all our water to grow crops for the cows
- Cows up-cycle food byproducts into usable nutrition that would otherwise go to a landfill
Cows are a valuable part of the earths ecology and ecosystems. Many dairy farms today are installing methane digesters- that take cow manure, capture the emissions, and make renewable power. Installing these systems make dairies carbon negative meaning they are taking out more emissions than they are creating.
Alright. Time for thoughts after having finally watched Hannibal.
One smug and glorious bastard. And admittedly you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to watch Hannibal. It’s a fantasy, not a police procedural, and the science is about as accurate as Freud.
But several thoughts did occur, as I am a veterinarian and part of my education is about the animals we eat, and how we treat them. So while I started out thinking “That’s not smart” by the end it changed to “That makes a certain amount of sense.”
Very early on in the show you see flashbacks of Hannibal murdering a young woman, and he’s pretty explicitly brutal about it. The victim is tortured, displayed like an art project, and on goes the plot.
And I thought: that is a right stupid way to go about getting your dinner.
Here is the thing about meat: before it is dead, it’s muscle. And if you make that muscle exert itself before death, you will change it on a chemical level, and that will change the taste.
Have you ever heard agricultural workers talk about how you don’t want to stress livestock before slaughter because it makes the meat taste bad? That’s legit. Aside from the fact that people don’t want to eat bruised meat, stressing an animal out before death causes it to build up lactic acid in the muscles and makes the body temperature rise, which results in chemical changes to the resulting meat. In particular it’s soft, gooey, pale, oozy and acidic. Pale Soft Exudative pork (PSE) is probably the best studied of these cases, though similar patterns happen in other species too, and there is no reason to assume that human muscle from a panicking individual fighting for their life wouldn’t do basically the same thing.
There is another potential change in meat caused by long term stress and glycogen depletion, Dry Firm Dark (DFD), which also makes meat look and taste weird (soapy, apparently) but it’s probably not quite as relevant to the Hannibal situation.
Ideally you want the creature you are going to eat to be completely unstressed and unaware before it is killed instantly. Not the gore and torture fest that Hannibal implies. It’s simply going to ruin the flavour of the meat, and as Hannibal is portrayed as having a very refined palate and sense of smell, that just doesn’t make sense.
Until… you realise he’s not actually eating a whole lot of meat. He’s eating a lot of offal and obscure cuts. While I can’t find something to confirm this 100%, I don’t recall organs being affected by PSE or DFD, and wouldn’t expect them to, as they’re not big stores of short term glycogen. Even things like hearts and tongues are probably not as affected, because they’re not extra-active in those final moments fighting for ones life.
So it’s not actually implausible that Hannibal is preferentially eating organs instead of muscle meat because of issues with PSE/DFD.
And then I thought about a case when Hannibal was actually eating a lot of muscle meat.
Abel Gideon had his limbs eaten, over a long period of time. Notably, his neck was broken. So which his meat may have been bruised (which affects appearance more than taste), he could no longer exert himself. So given a little time to recover, the muscles stay permanently relaxed, and Hannibal can harvest him like a fruit tree.
So yeah, that backstrap Will presents him with in season 2? Where he says “This meat tastes frightened?” That’s plausible, not just being a yuppie about it.
From Seed to Market: How NASA brings food to the table
Did you know we help farmers grow some of your favorite fruits, veggies and grains?
Our Earth-observing satellites track rainfall amounts, soil moisture, crop health, and more. On the ground, we partner with agencies and organizations around the world to help farmers use that data to care for their fields.
Here are a few ways we help put food on the table, from planting to harvest.
Did you plant seeds in science class to watch them sprout and grow? They all needed water, right? Our data helps farmers “see” how moist the soil is across large fields.
“When you’re not sure when to water your flowers or your garden, you can look at the soil or touch it with your hands. We are sort of ‘feeling’ the soil, sensing how much water is in the soil – from a satellite,
685 kilometers (408 miles) above Earth,” said John Bolten, the associate program manager of water resources for NASA’s Applied Sciences Program.
This spring, we worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and George Mason University to release Crop-CASMA, a tool that shows soil moisture and vegetation conditions for the United States. Able to see smaller areas – about the size of a couple of golf courses – the USDA uses Crop-CASMA to help update farmers on their state’s soil moisture, crop health and growing progress.
It’s dangerous being a seedling.
Heavy spring rains or summer storms can flood fields and drown growing plants. Dry spells and droughts can starve them of nutrients. Insects and hail can damage them. Farmers need to keep a close eye on plants during the spring and summer months. Our data and programs help them do that.
For example, in California, irrigation is essential for agriculture. California’s Central Valley annually produces more than 250 types of crops and is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country – but it’s dry. Some parts only get 6 inches of rain per year.
To help, Landsat data powers CropManage – an app that tells farmers how long to irrigate their fields, based on soil conditions and evapotranspiration, or how much water plants are releasing into the atmosphere. The warmer and drier the atmosphere, the more plants “sweat” and lose water that needs to be replenished. Knowing how long to irrigate helps farmers conserve water and be more efficient. In years like 2021, intense droughts can make water management especially critical.
Leading up to harvest, farmers need to know their expected yields – and profits.
GEOGLAM, or the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative, is a partnership between NASA Harvest, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and other global agencies to track and report on crop conditions around the world.
USDA FAS is one of the main users of a soil moisture measurement product developed by Bolten and his team at our NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to drive their crop forecasting system.
If you’re interested in more ways we support agriculture, stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about how satellites (and scientists) help put snacks on your table!
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@trustmeimageographer reblogged your post and added:
Hi I’m a fantasy writer and now I need to know what potatoes do to a society
They drastically increase peasant food security and social autonomy.
The main staple of medieval agriculture was grain--wheat, barley, oats, or rye. All that grain has to be harvested in a relatively short window, about a week or two. It has to be cut down (scythed), and stored in the field in a safe and effective way (stooked); then it has to be brought to a barn and vigorously beaten (threshed) to separate the grain from the stalks and the seed husks. It can be stored for a few weeks or months in this form before it spoils or loses nutritional value.
Then it has to be ground into flour. In the earlier middle ages, peasants could grind their own flour by hand using small querns, but landlords had realized that if they wanted to get more money out of their peasants, it was more effective for the entire village to have one large mill that everyone used. Peasants had to pay a fee to have their flour ground--and it might say something that there are practically no depictions of millers in medieval English literature in which the miller is not a corrupt thief.
Then the flour has to be processed to make most of its nutrients edible to humans, which ideally involves yeast--either it’s made into bread which takes hours to make every time (and often involves paying to use the village’s communal bread oven) and spoils within a few days, or it’s made into weak ale, which takes several weeks to make, but can keep for several months.
Potatoes, in comparison...
Potatoes have considerably more nutrients and calories than any similar crop available in medieval Europe--they beat turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, or anything else all to heck. I don’t know if they beat wheat out for calories per acre, but practically...
When you dig a potato out of the ground (which you can do at any time within a span of several months), you can bury it in the ashes of a fire for an hour, or you can boil it in water for 20 minutes.
Then you eat it. Boom. Done. (I mean, if you’re not fussy, you could even eat them raw.)
You store the ones you don’t want right now in a root cellar and plant some of them in the spring to get between a fivefold and tenfold return on your crop.
Potatoes don’t just feed you--they free you. Grain-based agriculture relies on lots of people working together to get the work done in a very short length of time. It relies on common infrastructure that is outside the individual peasant’s control. The grain has to be brought to several different locations to be processed, and it can be seized or taxed at any of those points. It’s very open to exploitation.
TW: Genocide The Irish Potato Famine happened because the English colonizers of Ireland demanded rents and taxes that were paid in grain, and it ended up that you didn’t really get to keep much of the grain you grew. So the Irish farmed wheat in fields to pay the English, and then went home and ate potatoes from their gardens. And then, because they were eating only one specific breed of potatoes, a blight came through and wiped all their potatoes out, and then they starved. So English narratives about the potato famine tended to say “Oh yes, potato blight, very tragic,” and ignore the whole “The English were taking all the grain” aspect, but the subtext here is: Potatoes are much harder to tax or steal than grain.
So... yeah. I realize it’s very counterproductive to explain to everybody why I’m always like “OMG POTATO NO” when I wish I could just chill out and not care about this. But the social implications of the humble potato are rather dramatic.
Stu Smith got an email from his insurance company last summer with some bad news: His premium was more than quadrupling.
Smith is the co-owner of Smith Madrone, a wine operation in the mountains of California’s Sonoma Valley, and he had held a wildfire insurance policy with the company for more than 30 years. Now, though, the insurer had decided Smith’s property was too risky to keep on its customer rolls at anything close to its longtime price. If Smith wanted to renew his policy, he would have to pay annual premiums of more than $55,000, up from just $12,000 the year before.
The following week, as the LNU Lightning Complex Fire began to spread in the hills just east of Sonoma County, Smith scrambled to find a new insurance company. No private insurer seemed willing to issue him a policy, so at the last moment, he resorted to a state-run insurance plan that covered a portion of his property. The price was still orders of magnitude greater than what he’d grown used to: He would now have to pay $46,000 for an insurance plan that offered a fraction of the coverage his previous plan did.
After a few weeks, with the LNU fire still burning nearby, Smith gave in and signed up for the state-run plan, but many of his neighbors in Sonoma Valley did not. Hundreds of farm owners in California have found themselves forced to go without insurance coverage this past year, from ranchers along the Central Coast, nut growers outside San Diego, and winery owners like Smith in Sonoma and Napa Valley. Nobody knows for sure how many farm owners have lost coverage, but what’s clear is that the trend has sent shock waves through California’s agricultural regions.
Insurance companies in California have taken a staggering blow from wildfires — the industry’s losses in 2017 and 2018 eclipsed its total profits from the previous 25 years — and have started to drop customers by the thousands, leaving wineries and ranches unable to find insurance for properties worth millions of dollars. The state has stepped in to provide a short-term fire insurance solution of last resort, but the crisis foreshadows a larger confrontation over so-called managed retreat in one of the country’s all-important breadbaskets.