When Meat Is Cheap, Someone Else Is Paying the Real Price

CC BY 2.0. Jun Seita

Americans are willing to overlook human suffering in order to have regular meat on their table.

Americans love their meat, and they love it cheap. But this means that someone else is paying the true cost, and it's usually the most vulnerable, impoverished individuals in the country. In a fascinating article for the Washington Post, titled "The Price of Cheap Meat? Raided slaughterhouses and upended communities," writer Lynn Waltz examines what actually happens when the federal government cracks down on illegal immigration.

Thousands of undocumented migrants, mostly Hispanic, are employed by slaughterhouses throughout the United States. These workers are paid pitifully, unprotected by unions, and exposed to dangers that they cannot challenge because of their precarious status. These are the people cutting up and packaging the meat that appears in grocery stores, which is why it can be sold at the low prices that American shoppers have come to expect.

And yet, many of these same shoppers claim not to like illegal workers, despite the entire cheap-meat industry relying on their presence. George W. Bush's government, and now Trump's, have made a big deal about "cracking down", executing high-profile raids on slaughterhouses from North Carolina to Iowa. But this has the problematic effect of the slaughterhouses losing a great number of employees, communities being decimated, and owners having to raise wages significantly in order to stay afloat (not such a bad thing, one might say). Waltz writes:

"The cycle is familiar. Americans want cheap meat. That requires low wages. So plants hire undocumented workers. ICE [Immigration & Customs Enforcement] raids the plants. Latino families cry. Schoolteachers are put in the untenable position of either supervising children after hours or sending them home, knowing their parents are missing. People are appalled by the human cost, momentarily. Then employers and workers become more sophisticated at evading detection and the cycle begins again."

This fails to address the real problem. It punishes the workers, rather than the business owners. And it certainly deflects all blame from the real source of the problem -- Americans' obsession with paying pennies for a pound of flesh. If meat-eaters were willing to eat less meat and to pay more when they have it -- for a product raised in healthier, cleaner conditions, and processed by a worker who's been paid a fair wage -- then there would not be so much heartbreak and trauma occurring in so many Southern communities.

Sadly, for now, it seems that many are willing to turn a blind eye, all for a juicy roast on the Sunday night table. Read more here.