Sitting next to two vegetarians and seven meat eaters, I listened critically to a voracious debate about the difference between meat consumption in Italy and the United States. Surrounded by the mountains and countryside of Italy’s Tuscany region, we had just finished a delicious meal consisting of freshly sourced meat from the farm right outside the window amongst other fresh ingredients that composed one of the best meals of my life. As fresh food remains a staple in Italian culture, the two American vegetarians vented about their disdain for the meat industry in the United States, listing common facts about the lack of cleanliness and ethics in America’s meat industry. The Italian meat eaters responded by showcasing the juxtaposition of each culture’s attitude toward meat. While it is normal for most Americans to be clueless about the source of their meat and eat whatever is sold at the grocery store, most Italian families maintain close relationships with their butchers and know the farms from which their meat came. Not to mention, it is normal for most Italians to slaughter an animal for dinner at least once in their life to appreciate the animal from which their meat came and to discourage buying excess beyond what a family can eat.
Totally different values and clearly one is more effective than the other. As most Americans recklessly buy meat at the grocery store without knowing the source of their meat, can we truly be surprised at the detrimental state of the meat industry due to a lack of accountability? As previously mentioned, Italians grow up knowing their butcher, thus creating a relationship in which the butcher knows they will be held responsible for the quality of meat sold. Not only is fresh and organic the standard, but if anything goes wrong the butcher knows that their reputation and career are on the line. It’s difficult to create that type of relationship with major meat sellers, such as Shoprite or Stop and Shop.
While I recognized that America’s meat industry had serious flaws, both ethically and health wise, I had not considered that prior to that meal in Italy, I had never met the provider of my meat. Growing up in a New Jersey suburb, I rarely engaged with any butcher beyond an occasional lunchmeat sale. I certainly could not tell you the name of the farm that raised my meat. And killing a cow or chicken myself was out of the question.
I quickly realized that my ignorance and nonchalance toward meat preparation from slaughter to sale, along with other Americans, collectively facilitated a lot of the health ills plaguing the American meat industry. Although I did not become vegetarian until recently, that dinner conversation in Italy sparked a higher level of personal concern for America’s meat eating culture.
How many Americans know the source of their meat? Not the grocery store, but the actual butcher that slaughtered and cleaned the animal to prepare it for sale. How many Americans actually have killed an animal for dinner? Or even witnessed it to understand the process? Beyond a grocery store complaint or hopeless report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, can Americans truly get justice for contaminated or low quality meat products? The bureaucracy of America’s meat industry makes it nearly impossible for the majority of consumers to pinpoint the slaughterhouses and farms from which their meat came. And regardless, Americans have no problem consuming “anonymous” meat on a daily basis. Maybe we deserve what we get.
When Americans get sick from bad meat sales, they blame the restaurant or grocery store provider. Why not the butcher or slaughterhouse? Where is the accountability standard for the actual source? While the FDA’s regulations prevent the United States’ meat industry from feeding people just anything, it cannot enforce ethics in the same capacity as Italy’s locally sourced eating culture.
Recently, researchers concluded that 47% of America’s meat and poultry are contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Perhaps, it is time for Americans to buy their meat directly off the farm to heighten the level of accountability or simply stop eating it. Change is imminent unless you’re willing to sacrifice your health.