By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Photo – marketingweek.imgix.net
Central American forests, king burgers and environmental issues: any link between them at first sight? On second thoughts, one takes stock of the chain of cause and effect that runs through what look like three disparate elements.
The second element arouses gustative memories of the palate when burger lovers hop into a fast-food chain eatery with family or friends to please themselves with pieces of mashed beef coated with mouth-watering tomato sauce, a meagre leaf of green lettuce, a slice of tomato, all stuffed in a round piece of bread. Accompany it with ‘the taste the feeling’ drink, and you are definitely in tune with millions of young folks. Often, a new generation of parents do not mind that their teens are following the trend, and when they happen to eat out treat themselves to a big piece of beefsteak. While the steak is cut off from real meat, the mashed beef in burgers is a mix of whatever is left after all meat is cut off from the cadaver of an ox, bowels, stomach and internal organs mashed and dressed with a chemical colouring to make it appetizing.
To make it travel round the world and make it a hit, the trick lies in the marketing of the product, eye-catching billboards in the right places: along busy streets, on highways, on television where it occupies the right time-slot when the whole family watches the news, and on the internet, of course. The goal is to lure in millions of youngsters to join the trend, which translates into the kids pestering the parents to satisfy their wishes and the latter ending up in parting with a few coins from their bank accounts. No breaking news in reminding one and all that child psychologists are hired to make up the adverts to enslave the kids to delicious fast food. Psychologists for adults also contribute to the success of various brands. The underlying principle is to cash in on the sheep mindset that characterizes crowd behaviour and bring millions jingling into the coffers of the international huge corporate food business.
Add billions of consumers worldwide who enjoy beefsteak, roast beef, beef tongue, even its testicles (‘rognons’ in France), and various dishes to the picture, and you have an idea of the extent of cattle breeding to supply the industry. This brings us to the first element which points to massive deforestation undertaken in poorer countries in Central America so as to make room for pasture lands and crops for cattle feed. The animals are then shipped off to US slaughterhouses. The same process of industrial farming with chemical products is used to grow massive soja crops meant to feed cattle in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and other countries.
The third element raises the question of the environmental consequences of deforestation and the amount of water needed to grow cattle feed and millions of cattle worldwide. In other words, it is one of the major aspects of an issue which hits headlines and comes up in all conversations these days: the relation of human beings to other species, explosive demography, the space-consuming factor of industrial farming and the shrinking natural habitat of big and small animals.
There is widespread awareness of the carbon footprint of international transportation of live animals shipped off in boats, loaded in trucks to slaughterhouses, then to the butchers’ and supermarkets , to finally end up in the kitchens of households worldwide, which also have access to air-transported frozen meat.
Lately a shortage of meat in the supply chain prompted some folks in the US to go hunting. It speaks volumes of the well-entrenched habit of meat-based meals in some cultures and the nervousness it may cause in periods of deprivation.
This is not about conditions in industrial farming, the few centimetres allotted to every head or rather mouth to feed itself and fatten, calves separated from cows, and finally, dragged to slaughterhouses. Not even about meadows where cows and calves cavort and frolick around freely.
Ethical judgement is not the topic. It is a matter of setting the limits of much space utilisation, extent of carbon footprint, shrinking natural habitat, land and air pollution, and health issues caused by overeating fatty meat. The point is to what extent not only beef eaters but other regular meat consumers can cut down on their monthly consumption of meat. 50% to 75%? The onus is on them.
* Published in print edition on 26 May 2020