Meat - Animals and Society Institute

Chapter 7: The Making and
Consumption of Meat
C o py r i g h t M a r g o D e M e l l o a n d C o l um b i a U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 2 01 2
For the great majority of people in this country, the only
interaction we have with the animals who became our
dinner is the preparation and consumption of them.
Separated from the production process by geography and
the behind-the-scenes nature of meat production,
Americans consume billions of animals each year,
without even really recognizing it. We don’t see eating
meat as contact with animals; we see it as contact with
The relationship that modern Americans now have to the
meat that they consume is very different from the
relationship enacted in traditional societies —whether
hunting and gathering, pastoral, or agricultural —and even
in our own society until about a hundred years ago.
 Any animal can technically become meat, but ever y society has
social rules regarding which animals are edible, and which are
 In general, scholars who have tried to under stand the reasons
behind food taboos —which over whelmingly feature meat —have
tended to focus on two types of explanations: functional
explanations and symbolic ones.
 In India, for example, cows are taboo to eat, because they are
considered sacred to Hindus. Anthropologists generally explain
the taboo on cow flesh from an economic standpoint: cows are
wor th more alive than dead. Because of their economic value,
cows are exalted and protected.
 Among Jews and Muslims, pigs are considered taboo ( kashrut
to Jews and haram to Muslims). Some scholars have explained
this by again focusing on the practicalities of pig production:
raising pigs in the hot dr y Middle East makes little sense,
because of pigs’ need for moisture and shade. Anthropologist
Mar y Douglas, on the other hand, explained the Biblical taboo
on not just pigs but on all of the animals said to be
“abominable” in the Book of Leviticus with an argument that
focused on the purity and impurity of cer tain animals.
 In the US and the West in general, dogs are inedible, because they were
initially domesticated as a hunting par tner, and not a food animal, which
ultimately led to them attaining the status of pet. Once an animal is defined
as a pet, rather than food, it becomes ver y dif ficult for that animal to be
consumed, because to be a “pet” is to be considered, at least in par t, family,
and eating a member of the family (even an animal) is a symbolic form of
cannibalism. In addition, from an economic per spective, it doesn’t make
sense to eat an animal which must be fed other animals fir st.
 However, dogs are famously eaten in China, Vietnam and Korea, as well as in
some Pacific Island cultures. Anthropologists generally explain this
contradicti on from, again, an economi c per spective. In cultures like the
United States, where there is an abundance of animals for consumpti on,
dogs are more valuable as hunting par tner s, security, and companionship.
They can be consumed, however, in cultures where there are either few other
animal resources, or their other ser vices are not highly valued.
 Symbolic associati ons play a big role in what animals are tabooed.
Scavenger animals like vultures are of ten prohibited because of their
association with death and disease, as are rats and mice.
 Sometimes animals, or par ts of animals, are tabooed because they are
associated with the poor or with famine. In the United States, for example,
organ meats, pigeons, and squirrels are associated with the poor, and are
thus not highly valued by middle or upper class Americans.
 Ultimately, in order for an
animal to be considered edible,
it has to make sense —economic
and symbolic sense—for
particular animals to be
consumed as food in a given
society. But how does an animal
become meat?
In order for an animal to become meat, then, the animal has to be
considered “edible”
Then the animal must be defined as meat. In English -speaking
countries, for example, those animals considered edible are known
as “livestock:” literally “supply” or “money” that is alive.
Once an animal has been defined as one that can be consumed, an
animal only becomes meat upon being slaughtered, and then
butchered. Hunting cultures, pastoral societies, and farming
societies all have specific methods of killing an animal, and
specific methods of butchering the animal. Butchering transforms
the whole animal into individual par ts, which then become known
as “meat.”
In the US, animals are born and raised in order to be meat. They are
seen as products from their bir th until their death, and their value
is based only and entirely on their economic value as meat. So one
way that an animal is transformed into meat is through their
production in a factor y whose final product is meat.
Af ter the animal is butchered, at least in the West, is packaging.
This packaging fur ther distances the live animal from the final
product, and the consumer from the reality of what they are eating.
 Our pre-human ancestor s were most likely scavenger s and gatherer s, and may
have even been hunted themselves by wild animals. They would have been
primarily vegetarians, who supplemented their diet with the occasi onal dead
animal that they could scavenge.
 With the evolution of Homo Erectus around a million and a half year s ago, our
ancestor s became hunter s, eating both big game, while still consuming
vegetable matter. As Homo sapiens arose a couple of hundred thousand year s
later, our species made their living primarily through hunting of large animals
and gathering plants.
 As the ear th’s climate warmed up about 15,000 year s ago, many large herd
animals moved nor th, and people living in the south began to adopt a more
generalized economic strategy, focusing less on large animals, and more on
small animals, birds, and fish, as well as a variety of grasses, beans, peas and
cereals. As time passed, many of the large megafauna ultimately became
extinct thanks to overhunting.
 Hunting and gathering remained the primar y economic activity of all humans
until the Neolithic Revoluti on, beginning about 8,000 year s ago, when humans
fir st domesticated plants and animals.
 But whether hunter/gatherer, pastoralist or farmer, most human populations
do not eat meat on a regular basis.
Here animal
bodies are
through selective
breeding to
create animals
who are tame,
easy to breed,
easy to feed, and
easy to control.
With the
ultimate goal
being to create
animals whose
purpose is
being eaten
(with labor and
textiles as
 It wasn’t until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that meat
consumption became a daily activity, because of a major change
in how livestock were raised, and how meat was produced.
 It also resulted from economic changes related to the rise of
industrial capitalism with its emphasis on efficiency, profits, and
technological innovation.
 Industrialization in the eastern United States, combined with huge
amounts of available land and new methods of transportation,
created a greater demand for meat. Three quarters of our
farmland is devoted to raising crops not for humans, but to feed to
cattle. This enormous waste of land and resources is simply not
possible in most of the world.
 This new demand for animal products has increased to a point
where it can no longer be satiated by the family farm system that
emerged thousands of years ago.
1861-1865 Changes occurred during the Civil
Railroads decreased need for horses and mules
and for stock to be raised where they are
Refrigeration in box cars allowed shipping of
carcasses to population centers
Now animals could be raised in one place, sold at
another and consumed at yet another.
Change in tastes – beef became most popular.
Before the war, pork was the most popular meat
(mainly due to ease of storage), but beef became
the most popular meat after the war because of
The next development with respect to
modern animal-raising techniques was the
introduction of methods drawn from
industrialization, which can be summed up
as large-scale, centralized production and
intensive animal rearing, which concentrated
animals into small spaces and controlled
food, water, and temperatures.
Since the
19 th century,
animals have
d and
for the
Creating Livestock
Since the early part of
the twentieth century,
farmers have been
experimenting with
creating new livestock
breeds, via crossbreeding, artificial
insemination, and
genetic manipulation,
in order to maximize
size, fat composition,
productivity, or other
 Large-scale, centralized production,
which concentrates animals into small
spaces and controls food, water, and
temperatures, enables easier health
monitoring, and controls “unnecessary”
and “inef ficient” animal movements.
 No outside air, no dirt, no sunlight, and
no capacity for natural movement or
activities like grooming, play, exercise,
unaided reproduction, or the like.
 Chickens are de-beaked, live in spaces
too small to spread their wings
 Cattle are de-horned, rarely live on
 Pigs have their tails docked, live in
spaces too small to lie down
Industrializing Animals
 To produce the most meat in the
shor test amount of time, animal
agribusiness now breeds farm
animals to grow at unnaturally
rapid rates, with radical results
to the animal body.
 These changes have been
encouraged by new
developments in agricultural
science, aimed at improving the
productivity of food animals such
as the routine use of hormones
and antibiotics to keep animals
alive, and to encourage fast
 In the past several decades, virtually every aspect of the
meat industry has become increasingly consolidated, with a
very small number of companies controlling the markets for
eggs, dairy, and milk.
 The largest 2 percent of factory farms produce more than
40 percent of all farm animals.
 Today, just four companies —Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson, Perdue,
and Sanderson Farms—produce 58.5 percent of chickens
used for meat.
 Corporate giants like Cargill, Tyson Foods, IBP, and ConAgra
are now “vertically integrated,” owning the facilities that
produce the animals, the feedlots to fatten them, and the
meatpacking facilities to slaughter them and package the
meat. This type of integration allows massive companies to
control every aspect of production, making it nearly
impossible for smaller farms to compete.
 The government, via the USDA, plays a major role in
promoting meat consumption in the US
Pilgrim's Pride is the fifth
largest poultry producer in
the country. The company
owns the breeder farms, the
egg hatcheries, and the
grow-out farms, as well as
the trucks that ship the
chickens to the processing
plants, also owned by
Pilgrim’s Pride, that kill and
process them. It also owns
the feed mills that provide
the food for the chickens,
as well as separate egg
farms which provide eggs.
Meat is cheap in part because it is
produced cheaply—by workers who
are exploited, including illegal
immigrants, whose work conditions
are horrific and who are fired at the
first sign of injury or complaint
 Animals suf fer through meat production
 Society is concerned with animal well -being
 Animal rights groups have made factory farm practices public
 this has prompted a response from the food industry.
 Resulted in industry changes
 McDonald’s Animal Welfare Guiding Principles
 Wendy’s Animal Welfare Auditing Program
 Other companies now getting on board with volunteer animal welfare
 The 28 Hour Law
 Mandates that animals being transported be given food and water after
28 hours
 Originally defined to only be by rail; only in 2005 did the USDA finally
agree to extend the law to trucking
 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act 1958
 Mandates stunning before slaughter
 Excludes rabbits and poultry from protection
 Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) enforces the Act
 Very few inspectors for all of the facilities in the US
 Whether through typical legislative channels or as a result of a
ballot initiative, several states have enacted laws that are
concerned with farm animal welfare. Most require that farm
animals be given a certain amount of space.
 The broadest of all the laws is California’s Prevention of Farm
Animal Cruelty Act (Prop 2), passed in 2008, which “prohibits
the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does
not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and
fully extend their limbs.”
 It applies to all farm animals, including veal calves, chickens,
and pigs: all of the animals who are generally kept in
conditions that prevent lying down or moving around.
 Essentially bans veal crates, gestation crates and battery
 Meat consumption is correlated with a whole host of human health
 Food is contaminated at the slaughterhouse, where rapid line speeds
increase the exposure of meat to feces, causing dangerous bacteria
and viruses to enter the meat supply.
 Each year, US meat producer s use 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics
for healthy animals alone, resulting in antibiotic resistance in
 Meat consumption is also correlated with higher rates of cancer,
hear t disease, and osteoporosis.
 The most sensational factor y farm -related illnesses are mad cow
disease, swine flu, and avian influenza, which have captured
headlines and captivated public attention.
 Industrial agriculture uses huge amounts of water, energy, and
industrial chemicals; increasing pollution in the land, water and
atmosphere. Herbicides, insecticides, fer tilizer s, and animal waste
products are accumulating in ground and sur face waters.
 Damage to fisheries
 Water polluted with animal waste (1.5 billion tons per year)
 Water polluted with pesticides and fertilizer
 Increased ozone pollution and global warming from heavy use of
fossil fuels as well as the release of methane, carbon dioxide and
nitrous oxide from cattle production
 Deforestation of tropical rainforests to make way for livestock
 Loss of topsoil due to overuse
 Landfills overwhelmed with solid waste
 90% of Soybeans and 80% of Corn: More than 90% of soybean and 80%
of corn grown in the United States is used to feed animals being raised
for human food.
 70% of Land: In the Amazon, 70%of once -forested land is now used for
grazing cattle.
 1 8% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Animal agriculture is responsible
for 1 8% of greenhouse gas emissions —more than all the planes, trains,
ships, and automobiles in the world combined. Animal agriculture is
responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions (a gas with a global
warming potential [GWP] 296 times that of CO 2 ), 37% of methane
(GWP 23 times that of CO 2 ), and 9% of CO 2 .
 37% of Pesticides and 50% of A ntibiotics: Animal agriculture uses 37%
of all pesticides and 50% of antibiotics and contributes enormously to
water pollution, endangering human and nonhuman animal health and
 200 times m ore water: It takes an average of 25 gallons of water to
produce a pound of wheat. It takes 5,214 gallons of water to produce a
pound of beef.
 Many scholars have pointed out the links between the
consumption of meat and power. As Plutarch noted in the first
century, while most people in ancient Rome rarely ate meat, elites
not only ate huge amounts of it, but wasted huge amounts of it as
 Feminist scholar Carol Adams also notes that people with power
have always eaten meat, and in particular, meat eating tends to be
associated with masculinity.
 Women, children, the poor, and minorities often eat what is
thought to be second class food: vegetables, grains, and fruit. But
while women often don’t eat meat, or eat it rarely, they are
expected to prepare it for their husbands, sons and fathers.
 The Chinese and the Japanese were considered by Europeans to be
“rice eaters,” and the Irish were potato eaters —all of these
characterizations made them inferior to the English, and justified
their conquering.
 According to Adams, meat is the ultimate male product, because it
is the ultimate conquest of culture over nature.
 Despite the fact that nearly 10 billion animals are raised and killed
for food each year in the United States, there are vir tually no laws that
protect them. Most state cruelty codes exempt common agricultural
practices, so cruelty that would result in criminal prosecution if the
victim were a dog or a cat is not defined as cruelty in farming.
 Most people do not kill the animals they ate, and they cer tainly do not
eat the animals raw; instead, they transform them via butchering and
cooking them
 Another way that we avoid thinking about the meat that we consume
is by our naming practices. Many forms of meat have names that
conceal the animal that they come from: pork and not pig; beef and
not cow. As feminist scholar Carol Adams points out, the animal is the
absent referent in meat: without the animal there is no meat yet they
are absent from meat because they have been transformed, via
slaughtering, butchering, and marketing, into food. The animal is
absent because it is dead, it is absent because we talk about animals
dif ferently when we eat them, and it is absent because animals
become metaphors for describing something else: “I felt like a piece
of meat.”
Related flashcards


20 cards


17 cards

Indo-Aryan peoples

26 cards


20 cards

Kinship and descent

21 cards

Create Flashcards