When I was young, I asked my mom a lot of questions. “Are hamburgers made out of ham?” I asked. “No, they are made out of beef.” For all of the time I had been eating hamburgers, I’d been completely misinformed. I imagined that whoever was in charge of creating words for new things was not very well informed either.
“Why are some people vegetarians?” I asked. My mom was responsible for feeding three children, and she was not about to give any of them cause to revolt against the current menu. Giving her animal-loving daughter the slightest idea that people could advocate for different diets would make her job as the family chef more difficult. “I don’t know,” she said.
Answers don’t always make sense, and some questions are easier to avoid. These are just a few simple truths I gathered, but more importantly, I did not stop asking questions.
As I grew up, I discovered that most hamburgers come from a place called a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Many of those animals do not enjoy simple luxuries in life, like sunshine or freedom to walk. I learned that cows are meant to eat grass, and that the only outbreaks of E. coli are cultured in cows that are fed corn. I learned that the corn industry receives millions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government, and monoculture operations that cultivate corn are responsible for massively reducing biodiversity.
I learned that everyone needs a job. Some people immigrate to America to find jobs because they don’t have jobs in their country. If everyone has a job, we have a big economy, and that’s important. Western New York’s economy is driven in part by dairy farms, and dairy farms are run by workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Another western New York job sector growing in economic importance is immigration deportation. Located in Batavia, New York, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates a Detention and Removal office. The easiest way to fill quotas is by targeting migrant workers. This economic model aligns with a typical cat-chases-mouse reaction.
There’s more. I learned that people like it when food prices are low. This might mean that workers are underpaid, but we don’t know who they are so we don’t care. I learned that taxpayers can afford to finance immigrant deportation, but they cannot afford food that doesn’t sell somebody else short.
Food justice is the idea that every single, living unit, from the grass that feeds the cows, to the bees that pollinate the crops, to the animals that create products, to the workers that handle our food, should be treated humanely. The environment needs to be preserved, and the people need to be respected. For some reason, we’ve allowed simple answers to blur our vision of what is truly happening to our food industry. The effect has been astounding.
I still have more questions. Will this system remain indefinitely? No, and that’s because there are physically not enough resources to exploit. The population is growing, and this system is not very efficient. Will the system change in time that the world’s growing population can subsist on dwindling resources? That depends on the certainty of the people that we are deserving of changes that benefit everyone.