Modern Meat: Its Industrial Past, Its Contentious Present, Its Uncertain Future

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Erie Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Michael Broadway, Northern Michigan University
Donald D. Stull, University of Kansas
“Industrial meat” is the product of the actions of many actors–from growers to consumers, from processors to retailers, from multinational corporations to unauthorized immigrant workers. It epitomizes Joseph Schumpeter’s famous phrase describing capitalism’s “creative destruction,” as companies rise and fall, all the while providing meat to an ever expanding population. The latter half of 20th century was the age of industrial meat production and processing in the United States. But in the 21st century this model is being challenged, even as it is being exported around the world.

According to Massimo Montanari, meat is becoming “the symbol of a balance needing to be restored, of a cultural challenge aimed at rebuilding and reshaping attitudes on food issues.”

Stretching before us are two alternative futures: a dominant productionist paradigm based on corporate agriculture and oligopolistic food industries, and an emerging alternative integrated-ecological paradigm, in which food is produced locally, naturally, and sustainably on family farms under socially just conditions. Are we doomed to continue to suffer from what Michael Pollan calls “our national eating disorder,” sickened by industrial foods that are bad for our health, the environment, and the people who produce and process them? Or might we be witness to an emerging food future, centered on healthy and sustainable food alternatives. And how viable, sustainable, and affordable are the alternatives?

For the past 25 years, the authors, a cultural anthropologist and a social geographer, have critically examined social, economic, and environmental consequences of industrial meat production for producers, workers, and host communities. Drawing upon their extensive research, this paper considers whether the future of meat production and consumption will look like its present, or whether viable alternative meat futures are being created?

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation