The first two quarters of my collegiate career at Santa Clara University involved me taking a Critical Thinking and Writing Course, a mandatory class all incoming freshmen are required to take. At first I thought that this course would be an “English 101” of sorts, a basic class in which we write a few essays and learn strategies for writing more effective, persuasive, and clearer prose. Although my peers and I were instructed in these areas, the more distinctive aspect of our class was a focus on “food, self and culture”, inspecting ourselves and our food, and how our food decisions and the food industry are aspects of our culture. In the second installment of this course, the overall theme was expanded to “human, animal, machine”, and how these three entities existed together, and coincided with one another. Although these concepts may seem broad, their connections to one another brought me a singular understanding of the culture that we live in.
In studying concepts like factory farming, the food industry, and food advertising, and connecting these concepts to our course theme, I came to a realization that the consumer based culture that we live in is caught up in greed and a self-centered mentality. Moreover, our consume-based culture is marred with a “pass the buck” attitude, in which both consumers and suppliers do not wish to take the blame for any of their mistakes or oversights. In this culture, both corporations and average consumers alike fail to accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. In our collective minds, any errors or negative situations that arise always come at fault of another person or entity as we lack the ability to assume responsibility for ourselves.
In topics covered in class, as well as my own research and essays, I came to discover that the food industry and the general public involved with consuming their products have a great disconnect when it comes to responsibility in eating and consuming food. The average consumer has the mental attitude of “blame the big money” when they feel slighted, pointing to large corporations and their advertisements as the main source of their ills. The general consumer population feels that through advertisement and their large sway over the market, the large corporations are able to use sub-standard procedures and shady marketing campaigns in order to hypnotically influence the general public to purchase their products. Large corporations, on the other hand, feel as though they are targeted by the angst of consumers only because they are large in size, and a tangible outlet for the rage of the general public. These large corporations claim that consumers should be responsible for the choices that they make, and defend themselves through the use of health warnings and fine print on their products.
So who’s in the right and who should be forced to accept the blame? In my opinion, the answer differs in individual cases. The one constant however, is that there is a lack of responsibility accepted, the consumer always believes the large corporation is at fault, while the large corporation adheres to the belief that the “Average Joe” should have been more aware of what he was consuming in the first place.
In the final essay that I wrote during the second quarter, I came along the case of a man named Caesar Barber, a maintenance worker who sued Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King for falsely advertising their products and causing him to gain weight. Barber was well overweight, had two heart attacks, and lived his daily life as a diabetic. (ABC News). The opposing lawyers claimed that Barber’s accusations were “exaggerations” and said that he should take full responsibility for his health.
In my opinion, both the fast-food corporations as well as Barber are at fault in this scenario. It is a little ridiculous that Barber feels that McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King are solely at fault for his health concerns. It seems extremely naïve for Mr. Barber to believe that eating cheeseburgers, fries, and chicken nuggets on a regular basis wouldn’t be damaging to his health. Barber seems to be on a quest for a scapegoat for his health problems, and also is looking for monetary gain. On the other hand, I believe that the fast food corporations also share in some of the blame for Barber’s failing health. As a maintenance worker Barber lives on low income, and these corporations target buyers looking for a cheap meal as they all feature “value menus” with cheaply priced items that are good economic options for someone like Barber who is financially stringent. On top of that, these corporations purposely advertise the cheapness of their products, along with make them look fresher and more healthy then they are, duping Barber and those like him into believing there are some positive health aspects to their products.
Even though both parties are at fault, neither wants to assume any responsibility. I understand that there is a monetary aspect involved in a lawsuit, but still common sense would dictate that both Barber and the fast-food conglomerates should concede some shortcomings. However, our culture dictates that both should try to save face and “never say die”, not accepting any blame for their actions. In my experience, this mind state is all too common, whether in the food industry or another field. The average person does not look at himself and what he did wrong, but instead searches for another entity who has a hand in the game that can be blamed.
Aside from the food industry as an institution, the mentality of “passing the blame” was also apparent in the Johnathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals., a non-fiction work that was read as a class during the first quarter of instruction. Foer is a vegan, and this novel in a nutshell, attempts to get the reader to see the negative aspects that factory farming initiates. He brings in negative statistics and stories, a real stinger revealing that cows were readily “bled, dismembered, and skinned while conscious” (Foer) at slaughterhouses. He also goes for the heart of his reader, relaying stories of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, and how food played an essential role in her family life.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do believe that there are merits to being vegan, and that it is an admirable lifestyle. However, I do think that Foer takes being vegan too seriously as a judgment of one’s character, and passes moral judgment on someone who continues to eat meat. Although he does not do it explicitly, Foer implicitly blames the average consumer who buys factory farmed food. He contends that the money consumers spend on these factory-farmed meat products in turn enable these corporations to keep unjustly harming animals.
While I do see his point and what he is saying definitely has truth to it, I also believe that that eating meat is a natural element of human life, and that people should not be condemned for eating a hamburger or a pork chop. Foer should not blame the meat-eaters, many of whom I’m sure read (and paid for) his work for the travesties of animal mistreatment in the farming industry. Instead, I believe he could have been more effective in focusing on the positives of living a vegan lifestyle, instead of honing in on the meat-eater’s involvement in factory farming.
Whether it be a skinny vegan novelist like Johnathan Safran Foer, or an overweight, meat-eating maintenance worker like Caesar Barber, blame is an aspect of the game. They, along with many others in all disciplines, have in common the seemingly natural reflex to find someone to blame instead of first looking inward at themselves. This mentality causes our culture to have more friction between people than is necessary, and costs the government additional taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits as well as needless protests among other things. Although I’m not saying that we should go completely “Kumbaya” over every issue that comes across our plates, I do think that it is important that we pick and choose our battles more carefully. It starts with the mentality of one, can an individual be disciplined and patient enough to look inward instead of outward in times of trouble? If we can work as a unit to make the answer to that question a resounding “YES”, I believe that we will have both a more economic profitable business marketplace, and more importantly a more peaceful existence.