Food For Thought
*What does it mean to eat animals?
Food is an integral part of human lives. It has the power to shape our culture, identity and environment.
What does it mean to ‘eat animals’? It is a deliberate use of the phrase ‘eating animals’ over ‘eating meat’. The expression attempts to highlight the brain squabble - a cognitive dissonance that doesn’t let us make the ‘connection’ between the meat in our plate and the animal with sentience. After all, we eat beef not a cow, pork and not a pig. The project is an exploration of different aspects of the food system revolving around industrial meat production.
Fueled by data-driven activism, the final piece is an advocacy tool that aims to shed some light on this dimly lit, culturally rich, politically charged system.
Only a few decades back meat was considered a luxury. Yet global meat production has expanded rapidly over the past 50 years, with a surge of 4-5 fold since 1961.
The average amount of meat consumption per person globally has swelled from around 23kg in 1961 to 43kg
in 2014. This surge in average individual meat consumption indicates higher total meat production which has been growing at a rate faster than population growth.
Meat is cheap.
Americans are subsidized to eat this way. American farm subsidies lower the price of meat while encouraging inhumane and environmentally damaging farming practices, so much so that the real cost of a 50-cent hamburger, factoring in environmental costs, is actually $200.’ - Source Link
97% of the meat in USA is controlled by 4-5 giants - Tyson Foods, JBS (JBSAY), Cargill and Smithfield Foods. These monopoly producers use intensive methods without the financial accountability for the harm they cause. This substantial rise to monopoly can be attributed to the explicit support of public funds from governments in form of subsidies and policy frameworks that permit these corporations to pollute the environment, bypass animal welfare/ rights, labour laws while causing damage to public health.
‘The issue isn’t that people chose to eat meat, it is the fact that people make that choice and don’t realize that it was a choice. It is just how the American factory farm system wants it.’
How do I remind the consumers that food is a matter of choice and that the choice matters? Is it hard to give up meat because its impact is not clear?
The life story of a male chick is perhaps the most heart wrenching one. To keep the egg industry running efficiently, hatcheries kill hundreds of millions of newborn male chicks every year. Male chicks cannot produce eggs and don’t have the right body structure to be grown for meat. Hence they are of no use to the industry. So within only a few hours of their birth, the male chicks are killed by maceration (the chicks are placed into a large high-speed grinder), cervical dislocation (the neck is broken), electrocution, suffocation; (the chicks are placed in plastic bags or in form of gas mixtures). I wanted to avoid using gory, bloody images hence I chose the medium of ink to depict the same.
Livestock accounts for 27% of global freshwater consumption. That’s 26% of earth’s total land area. Livestock accounts for 27% of global freshwater consumption. We could nourish an additional 3.5 billion people with the grain thats fed to our livestock. 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are created by the meat industry. ‘In a factory farm, over a span of 3 years, a cow needs to be fed 1300 kg of grains, 7200 kg of roughages that uses 30,60,000 litres of water. During this time, a cow drinks 24,000 litres of water with an additional 7,200 litres for servicing, slaugh-tering process. This 30,91,000 litres of water yields 200 kilos of beef. Hence effectively 1 kilo beef of uses 15,400 litres of water’. Only a fraction of the nutrients from fodder end up in the meat. 7
This prototype gave viewer a vegetarian and a non vegetarian option. It beckoned the user to pull the paper from the box. I went to the Union Square to test this Prototype. I requested people (especially the people who were eating at the park) to interact with the object. I showed two scrolls — one that illustrated the plight of chicken in the factory farms while the other presented the alarming data set. I concluded that though the illustrations had a visible impact on the viewers, it failed to surprise them, shake them out of the stupor because the ‘animal welfare’ narrative has been presented enough number of times through various advocacy films, documentaries and books. It managed to create empathy for a fraction of second before the viewer went back to finishing his/ her meaty lunch. The data, on the other hand, did surprise people. Hence I decided to explore the logical narrative centered around data activism.
‘The water footprint of a good or a service is the total amount of water, external and internal, that is required to produce it.” The water footprint concept was introduced six years ago by Arjen Hoekstra. The concept is an analogue to the ecological footprint, but indicates water use instead of land use. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. It is a geo-graphically explicit indicator that not only shows volumes of water use and pollution, but also the locations.
It takes a surprising amount of water to put food on our plate. In the US, agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of all water consumed (water that is evaporated or otherwise removed from the watershed). 92% of the water we use us hidden in our food. That amounts to 3496 litres of water.
This data set is important because ‘water footprint’ can be used as an analytical tool to address policy issues of water security and sustainable water use. It can also be extended to provide water budgets or whole nations or continents.The concept can be used to calculate and compare the strain on water resources resulting. Revealing how much water/ resource is hidden in the food we eat, can help bolster strategic change towards a sustainable future. At a micro level, it can help people make wiser choice while at a macro level it can push policy level changes though hard numbers
The reason food’s water footprint is so big has to do with the three parts of a water footprint: the blue, green and grey water components. Each part represents the volume of water consumed, evaporated and polluted when an item is produced.
Blue Water Footprint is the amount of surface water and groundwater required (evaporated or used directly) to produce an item – for food this mainly refers to crop irrigation.
Green Water Footprint is the amount of rainwater required (evaporated or used directly) to make an item – for food this refers to dry farming where crops receive only rainwater.
Grey Water Footprint is the amount of freshwater required to dilute the wastewater generated in manufacturing, in order to maintain water quality , as determined by state and local standards – for food this refers to things like field and farm runoff.9
A Black Box system is completely opaque production system that functions in terms of its inputs and outputs, without revealing any of its internal workings to its consumers. The current meat industry functions as a black box. As a consumer, we are kept in dark and on purpose for the industry benefits from this secrecy. Using this metaphor, I created a black box that gives no clue about the insides. The sides of the box were plastered with tags from big meat corporations.
A receipt is a document acknowledging that a person has received money or property in payment following a sale or other transfer of goods or provision of a service. What is the true cost of meat? Do we pay the true cost of meat?I decided to use the medium of receipts to highlight the hidden water resources that are not accounted for in our receipts. I chose specific food receipts (McDonald’s $1 cheeseburger) for the same. The receipts represent what a consumer would normally ‘not see’.
After exploration, I found that a simple water-colour wash created a fascinating texture on the receipt. The translucency was crucial as it still allowed the viewer to read and recognise that the scroll was a receipt