In Meat We Trust: America's Historic Relationship with Meat

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beef and chuck stew meat for sale at grocery store or super market (Karly Domb Sadof/WNYC)

It's impossible to talk about Americans' relationship with food without talking about meat.

Nutrition recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggest that an American eating 2,000-calories per day consume a little less than 4 ounces of meat, poultry, and eggs—an amount that adds up to 85 pounds per year. In reality, Americans consume about 275 lbs meat per person—that's more than three times the global average.

A big part of why Americans love eating meat so much has to do with this country's history.

In her new book, “In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America,” author Maureen Ogle traces Americans' relationship with meat through the ages—from the days when early settlers used livestock to claim land to the 20th century, to the rise of big producers like Tyson and Purdue and present day calls for a return to locally-sourced, organic meat.

In the story of mass-meat production and big-agricultural corporations, she says there are no clear good guys and bad guys—just a lot of complicated players with a long history of competing to supply a hungry American populace. She joins The Takeaway to discuss the historical underpinnings of meat-eating and the future of meat-eating in America.

Guests:

Maureen Ogle

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [9]

Ginger Johnson from Oregon

Thanks Maureen & John. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of the book and found it very engaging and well written. Maureen is first of all an historian.
So - before anyone jumps down anyone's throat - keep a few things in mind.
A radio host has a very small amount of time to question, respond, and then fit in the pieces of the conversation (which is always longer than what we hear) they feel are best suited to the show to fit the shortness of time available. Maybe he did respond and it simply didn't make the editing cut; It's the hosts professional judgement and experience that dictates what ends up on the program we hear.
How many of you have already read her book? I'd highly suggest suspending judgement of her work in particular until you read the book. She touches on most of the comment above. Read before you choose to judge.
Separate your personal feelings from the actual facts covered in the book. Then comment knowledgeably.
Lastly - robust conversation with be what pushes progress forward. If we are talking about issues like meat in America, and we all get proactively and intelligently involved, then we all benefit. All = all animals, humans to 'livestock'. Cheers & good reading - Ginger

Dec. 11 2013 11:17 AM
CAROLINE from NJ USA

I was brought up on a small farm of 7 acres, when local farmers did their own slaughtering. We killed a chicken maybe once a week and it fed 4. A couple pigs, and a steer or old cow were slaughtered in the fall. Chickens and ducks also depending on what could be used throughout the winter by our family, and extended family. Nothing was wasted. We didn't eat anywhere close to 250 pounds per person per year. We had a big vegetable garden so we didn't need much from the store except, dry goods. We didn't eat much sugar, and rarely had soda or a box of cereal.

Oh, how times change! Factory farms did their worst. Suburbs sprouted on farm land, and people complained about the smell of farm animals. Zoning took away small farmers ability to raise a few chickens, a hog and cows. The garden was all that stayed. Yet, neighbors even complained about an occasional compost heap smelling bad or looking unsightly.

Now most people couldn't grow much of anything from seed, even if they put it in a pot. The Farm Bill can't get passed by Congress unless subsidies are cut, and cut again. Education doesn't address food production at all any more and the small farmers are looked down upon as uneducated. Organic farms that produce meat are few and far between.

I am not sure the majority of people get the facts. Humans will eat ourselves out of house and home because there are just to many of us. Our own waste is a huge problem! But, out of sight, out of mind.

Dec. 10 2013 12:59 PM

Wow. It seems like so many of the respondents totally missed the point of Ms. Ogle's comments. While I may not be as blase as her about the problems with we as a civilized society choosing to eat so much meat, I think that her observations are right on. Agribusiness has, indeed, moved so much of the production process of meat away from populated areas. Immediate environment impact (and by that I mean impact on day-to-day life) from their facilities has been minimized. Fro those who lament her lack of empathy for the killing of animals, please remember that she reflects the overwhelming majority view in the US. At least as far as they can see... It is precisely because we have separated ourselves from the sources of our food that we do not have the empathy that you wish we did. Show anybody a video of the horrors of slaughterhouses and you'll get a lot of revulsion, but since we don't have to walk by it every day and can turn the images off it doesn't have an impact.

And if you think this disconnect and lack of empathy for animals is bad in the US, don't look at the developing world. We've got NOTHING on what's happening here.

Nov. 13 2013 08:59 AM
Richard Hodge from Louisville

How can you explain the disappointment felt listening to this 2nd rate hack trying to justify corporate farms. And to hear her describe Sinclair Lewis as just being in the right place at the right time, while insulting one of the greatest (and most enthralling) books ever written (The Jungle) was simply too much too take. Mrs Ogle is no Author and having her on the show was a joke.

Nov. 13 2013 08:26 AM
Michael from Massachusetts

This was a fascinating segment. The ONLY thing that is going to end factory farming is if consumers stop eating so much meat. Corporations are responding rationally to demand: cheap meat, produced someplace where the vast majority of people can't see it, hear it, or smell it. 250 pounds of meat per person each year is staggering.

Nov. 12 2013 05:22 PM
lauren horwitz from nyc

What an appalling omission of the brutal treatment of factory farmed animals in a discussion on the history of meat in our country! The total disregard of the animals' plight and a glorification of the 'efficiency' of intense confinement systems for growing and slaughtering animals is chilling and repulsive. What arrogance and lack of concern for the issues of morality towards both human and non human for life in CAFOs, the devastation of the environment and the obvious impact on human health and the healthcare system at large. SHocking and shameful.

Nov. 12 2013 04:09 PM
Lucia Schlossberg from Philadelphia, PA

I am also very disappointed with the handling of several issues in the interview with Maureen Ogle. She wonders about why meat is so popular and why people eat so much? In her research didn't she discover that the government subsidized industrial agriculture complex is like any other capitalist corporation? The more they sell the more money they make. Meat is big business - it has influenced government misinformation for decades. The connection between high fat foods - i.e., meat and dairy - and its deleterious affects on health has been know since the 1950s yet the government food pyramid did not relfect that information correctly until fairly recently.

I was deeply offended by Ms. Ogle's comment that (I paraphrase) [industrial agriculture has been quite good at not impacting a lot of people]. What about the BILLIONS UPON BILLIONS of animals that are impacted and existing in horrific, holocaust type conditions. This industry can do what it does so "efficiently" because it considers animals a commodity not sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, depression and stress. Industrial agriculture wants to impact as few people as possible so they can hide the realities of food production and slaughterhouse conditions. If people saw what was going on it would adversely affect their consumption of meat.

As for The Take Away interviewer - didn't you feel the need to counter some of her comments? Don't you do your own research when tackling a topic? Shame on you for not doing your homework and endeavoring to bring a balanced view to such a divisive subject!

Nov. 12 2013 01:49 PM
Jim Harris from Philadelphia PA USA

I realize that vegetarians like myself are in the minority, but I found it incredulous that Ms Ogle think factory farm hellholes are just fine as long as people didn't have to live near them. Not a single word about the suffering inflicted upon living creatures. See no evil much?

Nov. 12 2013 12:36 PM
Richard T Scott from Lakeville, CT

Frankly, I'm disappointed in how you handled this incredibly relevant topic. Mrs. Ogle glossed over an issue that has a profound impact on public health. I paraphrase [industrial agriculture has been quite good at not impacting a lot of people]. I find it hard to believe that an author who has done her research would make such a short sighted statement. Where was the follow up question concerning the use of antibiotics on factory farms and their direct effect on each one of us?

"I don't want to smell a farm in my backyard"? I don't want a pandemic in mine.

Yes, her insistence that responsibility lies on the consumer culture is well taken, but brushing off the responsibility of the government subsidized industrial agricultural complex, its position as the largest industrial consumer of petroleum (also subsidized), and its direct effects on public health, climate change, our dependence on foreign oil, and national security, is beyond irresponsible.

Nov. 12 2013 10:42 AM

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