meat counter supermarket
© Reuters / Adrees Latif
A man sporting a face mask looks toward beef in the meat section of a Costco warehouse club in Webster, Texas, May 5, 2020
Supermarket shelves are empty and slaughterhouses are cesspits of disease. With the coronavirus breaking supply chains, the New York Times has proclaimed the 'End of Meat'. Why do these people only deal in absolutes?

"Meat comes with uniquely wonderful smells and tastes," author Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in the New York Times on Thursday, "with satisfactions that can almost feel like home itself."

Yet, he continued, these satisfactions won't be with us much longer. Raising livestock is bad for the environment, slaughterhouse workers are getting sick in record numbers, factory farming is cruel and inhumane, and vegetarianism is healthier and cheaper. And, because this is the New York Times, a meat-based diet is also racist, given the fact that the workers who prepare America's steaks and sausages are overwhelmingly black and brown.

He's right on some counts. The evils of factory farming are well-documented, and ought to horrify anyone with a shred of humanity. Chickens shouldn't be so genetically modified that their brief existence is spent in agonizing pain. Pigs, who have emotions every bit as complex as dogs, shouldn't be confined to iron prisons

Furthermore, the consolidation of America's meatpacking industry is bad for animals and farmers alike. Four companies now handle 85 percent of all beef production in the US, and three of these firms control 63 percent of the country's pork production.

The companies - Tyson Foods, Cargill, the Brazilian-owned JBS S.A., and the Chinese-owned Smithfield - have been criticized before for underpaying farmers and workers, and for horrific abuse at their plants.

Elite nonsense

Yet the notion that a vegetarian or vegan diet would usher in a bright new future is elite nonsense. Saying this is not "industry propaganda," despite what he argues.



Safran Foer claims that adopting such a diet would be cheap. Citing a 2015 study, he claims that "a vegetarian diet is $750 a year cheaper than a meat-based diet." What he didn't explain is that the vegetarian diet studied by researchers was dreamed up by one of the researchers themselves in the 1990s as a weight-loss program that substituted olive oil for meat.

Meat may be murder, but an oil-based slimming diet is torture, and all but the most masochistic would gladly pay a premium to get their protein from animals.

Environmentally, the vegan future isn't as green as its proponents like to make out. Demand for avocados, soy and palm oil has accelerated deforestation around the world. A 2016 study found that if humanity switched over to a vegan diet, we wouldn't be able to sustain as many people, while another group of researchers caused a stir in 2018 when they found that removing livestock from fields would have "devastating"consequences on biodiversity and nutrition.

Even the Guardian, the torchbearer of all things liberal, ran a column in 2018 arguing that,
"Rather than being seduced by exhortations to eat more products made from industrially grown soya, maize and grains, we should be encouraging sustainable forms of meat and dairy production based on traditional rotational systems."
Eating meat is 'racist'

But you should just shut up and drink the oil, you Nazi, because eating meat is racist. By continuing to demand meat, consumers are putting the "overwhelmingly brown and black" slaughterhouse workers of America at risk of catching the coronavirus, not to mention the occupational hazards that go along with working in the meat industry, Safran Foer argues.

As well as hiring America's black underclass, the meatpacking industry depends on the labor of illegal immigrants. Nearly a third of all slaughterhouse workers are illegal immigrants who work for a third less than their American counterparts, but you won't find the New York Times advocating for tougher border controls. That would be racist, by its own rules.



Instead, the paper went with its tried and true approach of shaming its white liberal readership, appealing to their overdeveloped guilt complexes. Likewise, arguing in favor of raising wages and improving welfare - incremental change - won't grab headlines like 'The End of Meat is Here' does.

The dichotomy is false. Instead of choosing between industrial murder-factories and vegetarian utopia, there are several ways that America's meat supply-line can be overhauled. First of all, the meat processing monopolies could be broken up. These firms can effectively dictate prices to farmers, ensuring that only the biggest, industrial farming operations can survive. Just last month, a pair of US senators urged the Federal Trade Commission to do just this.

Additionally, US Department of Agriculture regulations could be relaxed to allow farmers to sell their animals to small-scale local producers. At present, slaughterhouses need to have a USDA inspector on site, and only the largest facilities can afford to do this.

Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie wrote a bill aimed at undoing these regulations several years ago, and in light of the recent spate of slaughterhouse sicknesses, has again tried to push it through Congress.

Paying more for meat

Smaller-scale and more humane meat production would increase prices, as would new welfare legislation. However, it's far more likely that consumers would pay more for their meat than wipe it off their plates entirely. Tough new animal welfare laws would be infinitely more palatable than a grains, beans 'n' oil diet.

A better world is a matter of will. While vegans will argue that all animal consumption is ethically wrong, the vast majority of the public like hamburgers, steaks and a Sunday roast.

These same people aren't racist or classist, and likely care on some level about the welfare of animals. It shouldn't be difficult to strike a balance.

In the meantime, a columnist telling the public "you have to stop eating animals" isn't going to achieve anything, bar earning the Times a few more clicks.
Graham Dockery is an Irish journalist, commentator, and writer at RT. Previously based in Amsterdam, he wrote for DutchNews and a scatter of local and national newspapers.