Millions of animals have been euthanized and buried in mass graves. Their bodies decaying after a life spent in captivity. It’s a staggering loss of life and resources. And the stark reality of how fragile and ill-prepared our industrialized food system was for handling a pandemic.
On the latest episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, the comedian breaks down how the Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the massive problems within our various supply chains. The episode starts off talking about our medical equipment supply chain as a warm-up for the thrust of the episode — targeting industrial meat supply chains across America.
As with all of these segments on comedy/ news shows, there’s a bit of an information dump, with a joke thrown in at the end of every point to keep you listening. But Minaj seems to understand the bigger issue well and does a good job laying bare how a centralized food supply, dominated by a few national brands has created a system that’s easily broken.
The episode pivots around a clip of famed food journalist Michael Pollan. “The trade-off with efficiency is resilience,” Pollan says. “A highly efficient system is so brittle that when you have a disruption — such as a pandemic — it starts breaking down.”
— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) May 18, 2020
Minhaj then goes onto illustrate that the way the United States has acted to deal with this brittleness has been to throw the workers under the bus, so to speak. Minhaj explains how it took Trump two months to enact the Defense Production Act to start producing vital PPE for medical professionals across the country, but it only took him two days to enact the DPA to get the meatpacking industry back online. Basically, Trump issuing an executive order to “reopen” the meat industry was seen as vital to the American economy.
You know what’s coming. But, as Minhaj points out by, well, actually reading the executive order Trump signed — there actually wasn’t anything in the document explicitly about reopening plants. What’s damning about this is the montage of every major news network announcing that Trump is “forcing” the meat industry to stay open via executive order when, in reality, his executive order was actually absolving the six main industrial meat companies from any liability if their workers were to get sick and die. Minhaj and his team figured this out by, again, simply reading the executive order.
The kicker to the story? According to Patriot Act digging, of the 25 counties around the United States that have seen the highest spike in COVID-19 cases, half of them are traced directly to reopened meat factories. The cramped conditions, cool, damp air, and lack of basic services have allowed the meat factories to become what one expert called a “petri dish” for the virus. What’s more, Minhaj relays that Smithfield — one of the six parent companies that run big meat in America — used Trump’s executive order to get a case of worker abuse thrown out of court immediately after it was enacted. It just feels like a mess all around.
All told, this should be a huge wake-up call to move away from industrial meat and towards locally-grown and sustainably raised protein (plant and/or animal-based). Whether or not it will be remains to be seen.
You can watch the whole clip below. The meat factory report starts at the 10:30 mark.