Part 2 of the Brazilian Odyssey

David Cassuto

I flew Business Class on the way home.  Business Class is better than coach.  In fact, I’m seriously considering renaming my child Business Class.  I’ve also written several epic poems and elegies to Business Class and am thinking about getting a tattoo.

But I digress.

I’m back in the U.S. after a truly rich and useful swing through the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Brasilia.  My thanks go out to the United States Department of State, particularly the good people in the consulate in Sao Paulo and the embassy in Brasilia for making my time so valuable and pleasant.  In each city I spoke about industrial agriculture and climate change (my lecture drew on the policy paper I recently wrote for the Animals and Society Institute).  I also gave several interviews for the press.  Both the reporters and the audiences met me where I was – engaging both the environmental issues and the animal ethics.  The Q&A sessions were routinely excellent.

Porto Alegre is the home of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (URGS), where I have spoken several times over the years and whose law school has a long friendship with Pace. Professor Fabio Morosini was my host.  He comes at these issues via international law and his perspective and insights were enormously useful.  He’s also a terrifically nice guy.  The law school hosted a roundtable for students, faculty and interested members of the community prior to my lecture where we discussed climate change in the larger context as well as the role of meat consumption and industrial agriculture.  Both there and in the discussion following my lecture, we wrestled with the issue of national responsibility and collective action.  Given the U.S.’ status as one of the largest carbon emitters, the founder of factory-farming and voracious consumer of meat, it is always a challenge to go to other countries and discuss the idea of shared sacrifice and vigilance about industrial agriculture.  But even as one must accept and acknowledge the historic and continuing role of U.S. policies and consumption patterns, it is also important to acknowledge that this is an international dilemma requiring collective action at both the domestic and international levels.                

One of the students at URGS asked a question about the class issues that would arise if meat became more expensive.  I  had mentioned that if people had to pay the actual cost of their food – that is if subsidies were removed and externalities factored in — then the consequent expense of meat would drastically drive down consumption levels.  The student worried that this would mean that only the rich would be able to eat meat and wondered about the fairness of such a policy.  His question raises important issues of class and culture and rose again in almost identical form in Curitiba.

My response is two fold: Ferraris and fairness.   I personally cannot afford a Ferrari, much as I would like one.  Rich people can.  Though I might resent that reality, I accept the fact that Ferraris are not an entitlement and I probably should not receive any government assistance in order to purchase one.  The same is true for meat.  For much of the world, meat is a luxury and consumed comparatively rarely.  Animal products are not necessary to survival or robust health.  Consequently, they are not necessities.  That makes them a luxury.  And luxuries are not a right.  Having the price of animal products reflect the true costs of their production would have the salutary effects of educating people as to the impacts of what they eat while also driving down consumption.  The former could lead to some useful regulation of the industry while the latter would decrease the volume of animal suffering.  Removing subsidies would also remove the unfair burden currently placed on those who do not eat meat and who nevertheless must underwrite the costs for those who do.

In Curtiba, I was hosted by the Forestry School at the Federal University of Paraná and specifically by  Professor Paulo de Tarso de Lara Pires, a professor of environmental law and forestry.  Prof. Paulo was himself just off a plane from South Korea.  Yet despite monumental jet lag, he not only took me around to tour the city’s parks and to an excellent lunch, he then moderated my evening lecture with aplomb and grace.  The lecture was again well-received and the questions thoughtful and excellent.  In addition, when Prof. Paulo and I were chatting about various ways we could collaborate, he raised the issue of animal rights.  He noted that he had never really thought about the issue before but that he found it very interesting and that it had some intriguing connections with forestry.  I left Curitiba feeling very good about all kinds of things.

My Brasilia narrative will follow, I hope tomorrow.

One Response

  1. That’s a very nice alliterative comparison regarding the “meat as a luxury” question you received. I think it’s important to note as well that we are talking about mass produced meat, convenient meat. If the subsidies are removed and the true cost reflected, the product will indeed be more expensive. Then the CAFO industry will either collapse, or it will undergo a massive restructuring. Either way the result will, I think, have to be more agrarian-rooted and community based. At that stage we are no longer talking about the same meat.

    My point is, I think it’s important to note to the students who poise the class question that making meat cost what it should is not a matter of excluding lower and lower-middle class from consuming a food they currently do, but rather removing that food type from the market entirely, and replacing it with the kind of meat that all cultures consumed prior to the 1950s. Yes, that meat will be more expensive, but it’s not the same idea as changing McDonald’s into Sardi’s.

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