Unpacking Lunch: Political Ecology & The Meat Industrial Complex
Abstract: This paper highlights, theoretically and empirically, how development and underdevelopment are closely linked by looking at the global food system, with a special emphasis on the meat-industrial complex. Conceptually, this thesis mobilizes Foster’s theory of metabolic rift, O’Connor’s theory of the second contradiction of capitalism, and Harvey’s “accumulation by dispossession” to account for the socio-ecological contradictions of the meat-industrial complex. This paper asks two questions from the standpoint of political ecology and critical development theory: How have the changing historical conditions of meat production transformed the social and ecological fabric in the US and China? How can the social and ecological transformations be understood within the wider economic and political networks of the meat-industrial complex? By researching the environmental, health and socio-cultural implications of factory farming I argue that the meat-industrial complex reflects the ecologically destructive and unsustainable nature of the modern food system. I use a world-system analysis and a commodity chain approach to analyze the Chinese example and to illustrate the global nature of animal production and meat consumption. The article concludes with a discussion of how the meat-industrial complex also reflects the unsustainability of capitalist ‘development’ as a whole and suggests that we should look outside the logic of capital for opportunities to build alternative food systems.
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