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A Note From Me About Meat, Factory Farming, and Being Wrong

Columns 2022-05-20, 12:04pm

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Danielle Nierenberg, president, Food Tank.



Danielle Nierenberg

As I’ve mentioned to you before, a big part of my journey in the food and agriculture movement has been studying the growth of industrial animal production. I grew up surrounded by small livestock farms and went to college in a city that hosted an annual Prime Beef Festival. I do think it’s increasingly urgent that all eaters critically know where our food comes from and how our choices might impact both people and the planet.

I say this in light of a recent ProPublica article I think you’ll appreciate, as a Food Tanker who cares deeply about food and people. On my way to the farmers market last weekend, I read The plot to keep meatpacking plants open during COVID-19. The journalist Michael Grabell chronicles the ways that executive orders and industry lobbying prevented meatpacking plants from protecting their workers and, therefore, cost countless lives. Within just the first seven months of the pandemic, 334,000 illnesses and 18,000 Covid deaths were linked to meatpacking plants—and those are the illnesses and deaths we can count. We don’t really know how many people have died or become ill during this pandemic.

I think this article stirred me up so much because it reminded me of how wrong I’ve been over the last two years. I thought the pandemic would ensure that we could never forget these kinds of injustices. I remember writing in June or July 2020 about all that Covid-19 had unveiled in our food system—how much we were seeing that we could never unsee. And now, I’m concerned that folks have blinders on again. We all want this pandemic to be over, but the reality is that it’s not. We have a long way to go.

We talk a lot about voting with our dollars—and to be blunt, that sometimes feels like BS. Consumer power is important, but we can’t buy our way out of deeply embedded injustices without more structural action, too. What we really need to do is vote with our voices, vote with our visions, vote with our votes. We need to elect and demand the kind of food system we want. I don’t want a food system that pushes people down, that enables abuses, that gives them injuries they’ll never recover from and diseases that might kill them while denying them a voice.

That’s why I’m so inspired by folks like Mily Trevino-Sauceda, who I spoke with on the Food Talk podcast a few weeks ago. She’s the executive director and co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and was herself a farmworker before she began researching and organizing for the rights of women farmworkers.

"As a farmworker, I went through so much—and saw my family going through so much at the same time," Trevino-Sauceda told me. "We want to always bring visibility. If we’re visible, people know that we exist. And if people know that we exist, then people will hear us."

I hope that we can all listen to people like Mily.

I’ll be in your inbox every Thursday and I want this to be a conversation that continues with Food Tankers around the globe. If you’re not already subscribed to our podcast, Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg, now would be a great time to add it to your feed, and please share this email note with friends and family! And as always, my personal email is danielle@foodtank.com.

(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank and can be reached at danielle@foodtank.com)