The controversy over pink slime is helping educate Americans to the fact that corporations are as beneficial to agriculture as they are to politics. Tom Laskawy put it pithily: “What pink slime represents is an open admission by the food industry that it is hard-pressed to produce meat that won’t make you sick.” But the disinfectants needed to make pink slime less than poisonous is only a tiny part of what is wrong with industrial agriculture. Although a highly charged tiny part. Ann Laurie over at Balloon Juice points out that the New York Times is now making it clear that there is something deeply wrong about industrial agriculture, of which pink slime is only a part. (I like to her rather than the Times because it limits people’s visits whereas Balloon Juice does not.)
I believe the root issue is that Americans need to rethink their relation to food. Pagans are particularly well suited to lead by both example and word. To my mind Gary Snyder gets our relationship with food perfectly when he observes in The Practice of the Wild “What a big potlatch we are all members of! To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being ‘realistic.’ It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporal personal being.” (19)
Growing food is or should be an ethical endeavor at every stage. Farmers should relate in a respectful and at least sustainable way with the land and the plants and animals they harvest from it. They should treat those who work for them in a respectful and decent way. They should be honest with their customers. These principles are hardly rocket science and only one, treating the land and the plants and animals harvested from it, would be controversial to some decent people. The other insights are no brainers.
To my mind when we eat it is appropriate to thank not God so much as all the beings we consume, vegetable, animal, and fungal. But that is another discussion. Back to growing and marketing food.
An individual farmer has the opportunity and usually the capacity to act in an ethical way. But individual farmers rarely are involved in growing our crops or raising our meat. Corporations are. And corporations are intrinsically incapable of acting ethically. Only to the degree an individual overrides corporate logic can any ethics trump the desire for profit, and if by doing so anyone notices profits are lowered, that person will be out of a job. If he or she is a CEO, they will be ousted in a take over bid.
Industrial agriculture is to ethical agriculture what a slave plantation is to a workers cooperative.