With worldwide headlines shouting the latest details in the brutal killing of the supermodel girlfriend of Olympic star Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius, South Africa has, for the moment, regained the media spotlight absent since its fortnight two years ago as host of the “Vuvuzela” World Cup.
The Pistorius drama, despite its chilling similarities to the O.J. case (athletic celebrity, alleged drug use, high-profile girlfriend, brutal murder), is being covered by U.S. media as a dispatch from a foreign country, which of course South Africa certainly is.
But along with its very own tabloid tale that will likely continue for months to come, the country that was once one of the world’s outlaw regimes due to its oppressive apartheid policies has rejoined the modern world—and in ways more mundane but equally significant as a celebrity love affair gone horribly wrong.
In fact, a few minutes skimming South African news sites reveals many of the same issues that are contentious here in the USA also cause controversy there: Immigration, (typical comment on the News24.com website: “There is a flood for people from the Congo, Nigeria, Zimbabwe on our doorstep. What has happened to South Africans? Are we not entitled to find work?”), intelligent design (“Christians believe God created us in his image. Fine! Which ethnic group did Adam and Eve belong to?”) and, of course, vegetarianism and its concurrent hostility to modern livestock production.
The same activist positions and the same anti-meat arguments are now surfacing halfway around the world.
Different spot, same old song
For example: A typical opinion piece by “an ordinary citizen” named Erasmo began this way:
“Meat eaters can make a radical difference to the way food is produced on the planet. We are the people who can take farm animals out of factories and put them back in the fields where they belong. We’re the ones who eat it, so we decide how meat is produced. And we do that quite simply through the choices we make at the meat counter in the supermarket.”
One can easily hear the distinct echoes of the “meat is murdering the planet” refrain appearing, basically intact, 10,000 miles from its origin.
“As a curious eater, I’ve learned a few things while hunting for the next piece of moral meat,” Erasmo continued. “We can have farm animals living outdoors; they don’t have to be crammed into cages and warehouses. Keeping animals in factories is just plain wrong.”
What to do about something so “plainly wrong?” His answers sound as if they were lifted from a propaganda piece by an anti-industry group active right here in North America:
- Buy free range products. Free range is the only way to force commercial farmers to move away from factory farming. In SA, we eat 18 million chickens per week, almost all kept in factory conditions. We also have 25 million hens in battery cages to lay eggs. Supermarket chicken and eggs not specifically labeled as “free range” will definitely be from a factory farm.
- Stop eating pork. I’ve completely cut [pork] from my diet [because] the SA pork industry refuses to take pigs out of tiny stalls with not enough room to even turn around.
- Avoid beef. Most of our beef comes from animals that spent some time in a feedlot to fatten up. Eat beef with care, and that goes for dairy products as well.
- Eat less meat period. Let’s not treat animals as a quick fix when we’re looking for the next protein hit. Good quality meat is expensive, and so it should be. If it’s inexpensive, you can be sure the animal lived a life of abuse.
It’s all there, from the focus on free range (if you must eat meat) to the Meatless Mondays meme of saving the planet one meat-free meal at a time to the “logic” that moral meat may be more expensive, but if you’re eating less of it, what’s the problem?
However, there is hope—and common sense—in the replies Erasmo received online:
“There are simply too many of us on this planet,” one commenter noted. “[Move away from meat] and you'll have more people moving to fish, and start to deplete the largest free range of all: the ocean.”
Another replied that, “Unfortunately free-range is a niche market [and] a lot more hard work goes into raising animals without growth hormones, antibiotics, space to let them roam, decent natural food instead of mass-produced chemical food. Sadly, that means the poor suffer and the rich thrive.”
To which a third commenter noted, “Ah-h-h, first world problems . . . to eat free range or not.”
Understandably, in South Africa there is a sharper focus on food security and affordability, amidst the fighting over whether beef comes from cattle on the range or inside a feedlot.
We could use more of that perspective here.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.