Food is an essential part of the contrast between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and influences the proletarian experience in various cultural settings. For example, in the developed North, there are food deserts, and many workers eat poorly with a diet that consists of more processed, unhealthy fast foods.
Diet and capitalism also affects Earth's natural environments. Across the world, more wealth equates to more meat, and more meat equals more heat. The beefed-up diets of the expanding global middle-class could lead to chronic food shortages, water-scarcity and run-away global warming.
Governments, donors, and development agencies have all been active agents in the expansion of animal-based agriculture by pushing for aid and policy reforms that promote livestock production as part of modern development and as one of the main means of solving global poverty and hunger. Government policies and trade agreements are further driving demand for animal products by encouraging the globalization of Western diets and consumption patterns, and by facilitating animal products at artificially low prices via subsidies on livestock feed. Every year, American taxpayers pay $38 billion to subsidize meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
The lobbies for eggs, cow's milk and animal carcass production, are well-organized, and many politicians minimize and ignore the climate and diet issue due to conflicts of interest. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and expanded by 20% in the past decade, while greenhouse gas (GHG) have risen 61% from 1990 to 2013. The neoliberal animal-based lobbies corrupts the political process and prevents the implementation of meaningful climate solutions.
One Oxfam report detail the large carbon footprints of food and beverage companies. The emissions from only ten companies - Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever - rank as the 25th most polluting country in the world.
When presented with meat, dairy and eggs, we are socially conditioned to view them as delicious, as opposed to viewing these animals as pets, in part because of carnist culture and advertising that glorifies eating animal products. Our emotions are colonized by bourgeoisie carnism, and we remain blind to one of the worst crimes in history -- the horrors of life in factory farms.
Part of de-colonizing our diet is to de-colonize our emotions for nonhuman animals considered as manufacturing raw material in a rapidly consolidating industry in which a few companies control the entire supply chain, from feed to packaged foods. For example, two foreign companies, Brazil's JBS and China's Shuanghui, now control nearly half of US pork production. Local communities of color in the US are forced to suffer from environmental damage to feed workers and bourgeois far away.
In the US, the neoliberal political climate is preventing livestock's growing greenhouse gas emissions from being addressed. For example, in response to USDA newsletter that suggested 'Meatless Monday,' one Senator promised to "eat more meat on Monday," and within 24 hours, the newsletter was taken offline, and the department issued a statement saying that it "does not endorse Meatless Monday." More ominous, the White House ignored recommendations from a nutritional panel that environment and sustainability should be included in dietary guidelines. Under pressure from the farm lobby, the Obama administration concluded that the pyramid- and plate-themed guidelines were not "the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability."
The push back against livestock's emissions is not limited to the US. For example, Kerry McCarthy, the new shadow environment secretary in the UK Labor Party, compared meat to tobacco and was immediately slammed by the farming industry, the media and the party's own rank and file members as being 'out of step' and 'whacky."
The TPP trade agreement will open markets in countries that currently protect domestic farmers with tariffs. Japan, for example, agreed to slash its tariff on imported beef from 38 percent to 9 percent over the next 15 years. And the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause in the TPP allows corporations to challenge regulations imposed by member governments in international court, for example, local and state regulations on factory farms.
Alarmingly, livestock production's footprints include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other GHGs, that have a larger cumulative effect on climate change than from each gas added up individually. And unless livestock's emissions are reduced along with fossil fuels, they may set in motion various environmental feedbacks that result in the surpassing of climate change tipping points. One scientific study concluded "dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C."
The working-class may not be completely aware of just how damaging the effects of livestock production is, and may become upset when they realize that progressives did not warn them about the impacts of their food on climate change. Moreover, they may be willing to change their eating habits if they are educated on the issues.
Progressives can help to overcome sex, ethnic and other divisions by prioritizing interests of the poor, women, people of color, the Global South, and people on the periphery of capitalism. In the North, a focus on proletarian health issues, environmental racism and tactical struggles against Tar Sands, KXL pipeline, etc., are important and could help to further more strategic interests like ending private ownership, and establishing worker and community control.
These tactical strategies are useful in forcing capital to make some concessions, and to slowly build the social and political conditions which allow an advance towards socialism. Along with our individual choice in boycotting animal-based agribusiness, these could help towards the dismantlement of capitalism, ending global hunger, and reduce our collective carbon and environmental footprints as well.
(Article changed on October 11, 2015 at 20:04)