Journalist Chloe Sorvino’s debut book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed, and the Fight for the Future of Meat, reveals the shortcomings and failures of the United States meat industry and offers concrete solutions for a better way forward.
“This book really is the inside look at how billionaires and large global corporations have profited.” Sorvino, who leads coverage of food and agriculture for Forbes, tells Food Tank. Their gain comes at enormous social costs, she explains.
In her career at Forbes, Sorvino has found that the centralization of wealth and power underpins food and agriculture systems, and the meat industry is no exception. Raw Deal shows how consolidation and price-fixing make industry leaders rich, while manipulating consumer choice and harming the environment. Poor soil health, environmental injustice, the spread of antibiotic resistance, and public health issues in communities are among the concerns caused by this system.
According to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), only three firms control 63 percent of pig processing in the U.S. Just two control 46 percent of cow slaughter and 38 percent of chicken processing. This consolidation in the processing stage alone makes food systems more vulnerable to climate change disruptions and disease outbreaks.
In response, Sorvino shows that investors are capitalizing on climate change by promoting alternative proteins as a solution to the failing meat industry. But the alternative protein industry has its limitations. “In a lot of ways, these investors are still just looking to profit off the food system for climate change.” Sorvino tells Food Tank.
Raw Deal instead points to necessary, transformative changes in the meat industry to survive.
“There’s not enough time to start from scratch.” Sorvino tells Food Tank. “At the end of the day, grand reform really is needed, desperately, and we just don’t have time to put off big change any longer.”
Raw Deal argues that the U.S. meat industry’s future depends on changes at every stage of the supply chain. “Eaters need to be supporting the right types of systems that they purchase through. Retailers need to do a better job of addressing the power they have.” Sorvino says. She also hopes the book will deter further consolidation at slaughterhouses, especially concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
“On a more fundamental level, we really need to re-regionalize the food system,” Sorvino argues. She says that, despite trends of buying local within the last decade, local meat sales constitute less than one percent of the entire meat industry. “Local needs to be thought about differently.” Her book calls on consumers to rethink their purchasing choices by considering the business models behind the product. Sorvino hopes for “more distributed, regionalized systems” that can counter the consolidation of the meat industry.
“I do hope there will be many in the meat industry who will hear the message in this book and feel the level of urgency in the writing,” she tells Food Tank. “And hopefully they will be inspired to take up change for workers, for the environment, and for the public health of the community surrounding all of this production.”
Raw Deal insists that transforming the future of the meat industry relies on collective action. “Everyone has to be part of the solution. Everyone has a role to play.” Sorvino tells Food Tank.
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Photo courtesy of Mary Winchester, Unsplash