Greed… It’s What’s for Dinner

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By Leslie Belt, Contributing Columnist

According to a Gallup poll released this past January, nearly one quarter of adults in the United States said that they had cut back on meat consumption. Among these, women, people of color, Democrats and those between the ages of 18 and 25 reported the greatest drop. While health was cited as the number one reason for making this change, environmental and financial impact were not far behind. Little wonder given that making the switch to a plant-based diet can significantly reduce:

  • Body mass index, blood pressure and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. (American Heart Association)
  • Global warming.Worldwide, livestock accounts for as much as 18 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. (United Nations)
  • Food costs. When compared to the U.S. government’s animal protein-inclusive MyPlate meal plan, a plant based diet costs nearly $750 less per person/per year.

While I cannot deny that I find these facts compelling, I must admit that there are few things in life that I savor more than the pork chop. OK, organ meats and fried chicken come close. But candidly speaking it is my lifelong love affair with the “other white meat” that has enabled me to keep pace with my fellow Americans, and consume on average more than 200 pounds of meat a year. That is until now.

meat-processing workstations chart.

Trump, Meat Plants and the Moral Imperative to Just Say No

Like the majority of the proud omnivores I have known in my life, I have given little thought to how those adorable, roly-poly pigs turn into rows of meaty pork chops at Whole Foods. Like virgin birth, mass-market meat is the kind of miracle you’re better off not asking a lot of questions about. I’m not saying that I’m proud of this denial, just that I had gotten pretty good at it through the years. That is until this spring when a perfect storm of disease, death and Donald Trump destroyed my faith in the meat fairy forever more.

By late April, more than 3,000 meat plant workers had tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 17 had died. Yet, it was not until some 22 plants had been forced to close and the king of the Tyson chicken fairies had uttered the magic words “meat shortage” that the president leapt into action. With the childlike stroke of his Sharpie, Trump declared meat processing plants “critical infrastructure” and their employees “critical infrastructure workers.”

Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump declared that plant closures “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain (pearl clutch).” As a result, the White House in conjunction with industry leaders determined that these critical workers could continue to work following a potential exposure to COVID-19 virus as long as they are asymptomatic and the plant makes a good faith effort is made to adhere to a set of weak and voluntary guidelines (read suggestions) issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On May 24, Los Angeles County health officials announced that COVID-19 has struck five meatpacking plants located in the city of  Vernon. The largest of these outbreaks occurred at the Smithfield Foods-owned Farmer John plant — Home of the Dodger Dog. Of the fewer than 2,000 men and women employed at the facility, 153 have tested positive for the virus between March and May. Coincidence? You decide.