Monday, March 03, 2008

There Is Shit in the Meat

I just finished reading Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser's 2001 look at the societal impact of fast food.

It begins pretty gently, talking about the early chains, the origins of Carl's and McDonalds. It starts to rake a little muck when it talks about the exploitation of teen workers, the de-skillification of fast food jobs (even as fast food companies take millions of dollars in subsidies for worker training, and the problem of theft and robbery at fast food restaurants (usually involving current or former employees).

The bits about french fries, and the science of artificial and natural flavors are really interesting.

Then it gets to the meat of the thing -- agribusiness and the meatpacking industry. It's blood-boiling -- it should be required reading for everyone, especially:

* Libertarians and Grover "drown government in the bathtub" Norquist-types to see just what happens when you neuter the FDA, OSHA, and the USDA and rely on industry self-policing (hint: E. coli 0157:H7 and bloody stools feature prominently). It's where the "shit in the meat" bit comes from -- fecal contamination, combined with sending all the meat through a few big processing plants, equals bacterial fun for everybody. Industry solution? Irradiation. So nuclear shit in your meat.

* Anti-immigration types, to see just how the meatpacking industry relies on and recruits illegal immigrants to staff their ultra-high-speed, ultra-high-turnover industries (hint: if you don't give full benefits until 6 months or a year into a job, high-turnover keeps employer costs down). Let's see if the neo-Know Nothings will put their money where their mouths when it comes to their food buying dollar.

* Terrorism Chicken Littles who fixate on bioterror threats to the food supply, yet turn a blind eye to agribusiness's steadfast opposition to real food safety and robust scientific testing measures.

Since the book came out in 2001, you can see how things have changed since then (Schlosser's warnings about obesity seem almost quaint now), and then, looking at the largest beef recall in the nation's history, seeing how they haven't changed.

Maybe I'm prone to being unduly alarmed by food threats -- I took a meat vacation for a few years after reading Deadly Feasts (about mad cow disease) -- or maybe because it's because I just really like hamburgers, but just looking at how corrupting the meatpacking industry in its race to the bottom on costs shows the dangers of unfettered capitalism.

Perhaps we need a new grass-roots advocacy group -- something to take food safety back from the vegetarians and animal activists: Hamburger Lovers for Food Safety. (Kind of how Ducks Unlimited is a wetlands conservation group for the purpose of having abundant ducks to shoot.)


Anonymous said...

When I "read" that book, I skipped directly to all the grossest parts. That was the only reason I picked the book up in the first place. I guess I wanted to be shocked and disgusted. Somehow I am still eating meat, though rarely at a fast food joint.

Matthew said...

The vegetarians and animal rights activists are way ahead of you. AR groups have recently shifted to campaigning against factory farming, in part to encourage people to give up meat altogether, but now more so just to get back to where farming used to be 100 years ago in terms of humaneness. Search words would be "happy meat", "local food", and the like. Even vegetarians are now having a hard time finding eggs or milk that was produced in horrific conditions with iffy outputs.

A Charmer said...

Yum. After reading that book all I wanted was a cheesburger and fries from McDonalds.
Probably because I grew up in one of the largest beef producing counties in the country. I knew the people that raised the beef, cut up the beef and cooked up the beef at McDonalds*. I knew they were doing their best.

*How many city folks can say they know even ONE person that does any of that?

prettyparker said...

I saw a movie based on the book. Actually, I was raised vegetarian and didn't eat meat until I was in college and out of my parent's house. Odd thing was, my grandparents owned a dairy farm and I distinctly recall an incident where one of the male 'baby cows' was sold off but we kept the female 'baby cow'. It wasn't until I was older that I understood that male cow was to be eventually become veal.

I won't lie, I love the taste of a good steak. But after watching a movie, or reading a book or even watching one of Pam Anderson's PETA video's I can't stomach the thought of eating contaminated but "USDA" approved meat. Of course, after three or four weeks of staying off meat, eggs, milk or animal based products, I always go back eating them.

For the record, I DO NOT eat fast food nor support the fast food industry. Just my 2 cents.

Joelogon said...

CharlotteHarris: I was expecting some muckraking, but not like that.

Matthew: I'm trying to take the issue of food safety back from the animal activists and vegetarians.

A Charmer: I don't have a problem with farm to table -- it's the intermediary step of the industrialized, high-speed, unsanitary, unsafe and pathogen-spreading meatpacking and processing plants.

PrettyParker: Meat tastes good. And it's good for you (in moderation).

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
I read this book some years back and that one sentence -- that there is "literally" a certain portion of shit in our meat -- haunted me. I haven't had a fast food hamburger ever since!

Ghostmakermice said...

I ran into this VERY recent article about the "SHIT in the MEAT" guy and thought you would know something about it?

thanks, I appreciate any help you have to offer

Joelogon said...

Er, no, not really?