Where Does Your Steak Live?

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    Where did your meat come from? Hamburgers, pork chops, ribs, and chicken wings are all common-place in the American diet but, unless you live on a farm, you have absolutely no contact with the carnal side, of your food, we have created labels to address this, you can say you buy organic, grass-fed, even locally grown meat but the fact of the matter is you have no idea where you meat came from. The majority of Americans prefer not to think about the animal at all. When your steak is vacuum sealed and sitting next to the potato chips, it bears no resemblance to its original form. We have stripped a living creature down to its basic parts and transformed it into something completely different. To me this process has two important features. First, it makes it so that one does not have to deal with the nasty particulars of their food. All you need to do is put your frozen pre-shaped hamburger patty on the grill and wait. Second, the packaging and processing of the animal has allowed it to be stored, shipped, and consumed worldwide. The same hamburger that is waiting to be eaten may contain cows from three different states. We have maximized our efficiency by centering our production in a few locations and distributing from there. However, in doing this we have lost the reality of what we are eating. This process represents a cornerstone of American society. We love to strip things down, change them, and reform them to better suit our needs. In other words, we figure out the cheapest, most efficient way to do something and then do it in bulk. Capitalistic enterprise has forced us to look at life through the lens of cost and benefit. Our thought process has evolved accordingly; we think in the most efficient way possible. Although this is extremely generalized our thoughts and ideas run through the path of least resistance. When planning we take the most viable option and do things in order to receive the greatest potential output. In our society if you’re not moving forward, you’re going the wrong way. Progression is our motivating force exemplified through the growing number of factory farms in our country.On the other hand, Ecuadorian meat markets are completely different. I recently spent a weekend in the small town of Cañar located in the Andes of Ecuador. With only 10,000 people in the town life is slower and centered around farming or agriculture. Moreover, the Cañar province is home to a mainly indigenous population. The indigenous Cañari are extremely poor and land is the most precious commodity. However, they are much more self-sustaining than the rest of Ecuador. They eat what they grow and sell what little is left at local markets in order to make some extra money. During my weekend I got the chance to visit a live animal market. To get there I had to walk about twenty minutes out of town past small farms and cultivated fields. On my way I was passed by several trucks full of cows, pigs, and sheep heading towards the market. When I got to the market it was nothing like what I expected. There were a few hundred people in a dirt field of about two acres with their personal collection of animals. After talking to a few people I realized that most the livestock sold were the personal animals that had been used around the farm. For example, I talked to one Indigenous woman who told me that the cow she was selling used to be her milk cow and she was only selling it now to earn a little extra money. The majority of the vendors were just selling livestock that they didn’t need or want anymore. Generally the live animals were much cheaper than in the United States; however, they were still expensive. I learned that the price for a full grown healthy cow was around 550 dollars, a full grown pig around 300 dollars, and a large male sheep 120 dollars. What struck me was the manner in which these people were selling their animals; very few were doing it for a living. Everything was paid for in cash and all deals were made on the spot after some bargaining back and forth. The whole system was much more personal than our system in the United States; every animal was sold alive and healthy. The buyer still had to take the animal and process it leaving no room to forget what it really was.To me, this system represents rural life Ecuador. People are much less focused on time and efficiency and much more interested in personal relationships and striking a deal. They are in touch with what the animal is and know it for both a food source and a living thing. However, this intimate connection comes at a price. Daily life for them is much slower and circular. Their actions revolve around crops, farming, harvesting, and selling what little is left for some extra profit. Although everyone tries to get ahead, much less emphasis is placed on forward progression. This makes life slower but also more real. The Cañari people do not live in a world of prepackaged efficiency. Labels like organic or grass-fed don’t exist because that’s what everything is. They are more focused on the natural world and the cyclical thought process that comes with it, something foreign to our linear American mindset.Postscript: I would like to clarify that nothing I wrote was meant to persuade in the slightest. I do not mean to take a stance against either of the systems discussed here. I am merely making a comparison, from my personal lens, between meat acquisition in American and rural Ecuadorian societies. I feel that when analyzing these differences on a macro level one finds discrepancies between overarching cultural norms and divergence between thought processes itself.

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