Publicity for Blue Apron, a company selling pasture-raised, slow-growth, heirloom chickens direct to consumers as meal-kits, weekly if you want them, is a welcome development that points up the disaster that is now ubiquitous factory farming,
In the Midwest, rural towns are being (have been) destroyed by huge corporations buying up land and building vast factory farms. When rural Iowa was carved up for settlers in the 19th century, it was often divided into 160-acre lots. Four farms made a square mile, with a criss-cross of dead-straight roads marking the boundaries like a sprawling chessboard.
Now the family farms are disappearing owing to collapsing commodity prices and the rise of factory farming. And with that has come a vast transfer in wealth, as farm profits are funneled into corporations, and a diminishing number of families own an increasing share of the land. Rural communities have been hollowed out, and those left are reduced to growing corn and soya beans to sell to corporate buyers as feed for animals (or for ethanol). In industrial farming units, pigs, cows and chickens are crammed by the thousand into rows of barns. Many units are semi-automated, with feeding run by computer and animals watched by video, with periodic visits by workers who drive between several operations. The US has about 250,000 factory farms of one kind or another.
Corporations game the system by obtaining low-interest, federally guaranteed loans to build factories that then overproduce. They know the government will buy up the surplus to stabilise prices. The industry uses money and influence to impose its will, pouring millions into lobbying state governments to change planning and environmental regulations in their favour. The Obama administration promised reforms to benefit family farms, but is accused of never having delivered, which helps explain mid-West some of the support for Donald Trump.
Along with family farms other businesses, such as seed merchants, vets, machinery suppliers, small abattoirs etc have disappeared – a whole way of life. If you want to work on a farm you have to work for a huge corporation, on their terms, and often is competition with illegal immigrants. The corporations control everything. (An edited version of a piece by Chris McGreal in The Observer. ©Guardian News & Media Ltd 2019, and carried by The Week, 30/3/2019).
If Epicureanism focuses upon a pleasant life, aside from cost, what pleasure is there in eating green- washed, mass-produced factory chicken, the animals kept in dark cages and fed anti-biotics, all achieved with badly paid labour? What on earth are we collectively thinking of?