This post, which stems from a discussion in the Education Policy class last night, has more to do with education policy than might be obvious at first glance. It’s a snippet from an interview with Raj Patel, discussing a bit from his book The value of nothing (which is well worth reading).
Patel’s number comes from a study in from the Centre for Science and Environment in India
Another study, by the Center for Investigative Reporting, doesn’t take as much into consideration and gives a much lower (but still-big) estimate of the real costs of a burger:
The Union of Concerned Scientists has a report that doesn’t give costs in monetary terms, but does lay out the environmental costs for domestic CAFO arrangements
The World Wildlife Federation claims that 80% of Amazon deforestation is due to Cattle Ranching
What’s the link to Education Policy? Partly, to go back to Patel’s discussion, it’s an example of the problem of ignoring what’s not in your face (though it might be in your mouth) — Ignore slavery in Florida to get your cheap tomatoes, or sweatshops and ruin lives in Bangladesh to get cheap stuff at Wal-Mart — it’s hard not to if you want tomatoes in winter and your own job pays so poorly you go in debt just to afford Wal-Mart (for more on Wal-Mart, see the special issue of the Connecticut Law Review, 2007, v.39 n.4 — or the documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, http://www.walmartmovie.com/) . A second link between food and education policy is indicated in Patel’s observation that health costs disproportionately affect children and in particular minority children — which almost certain has an impact on their schooling. This is not to mention another critical fact — that environmental damage is disproportionately concentrated in poor and minority areas.
Finally, it’s worth looking closely at food because food is interesting. As Narayan (1995) argued
Thinking about food has much to reveal about how we understand our personal and collective identities. Seemingly simple acts of eating are flavoured with complicated and sometimes contradictory cultural meanings. Thinking about food can help reveal the rich and messy textures of our attempts at self-understanding, as well as our interesting and problematic understandings of our relationship to social Others. (Narayan, 1995, p. 64)
“Food,” in Mintz and Du Bois’s (2001, p. 109) words, “serves both to solidify group membership and to set groups apart.” Keeping this in mind, see also Julie Guthman’s work on the racial undertones of some foody discourse, and the extremely dubious politics of corporations like Whole Foods — strongly anti-union and pro school-choice (the head of it is also apparently a global warming skeptic of some sort). The point’s not to be virtuous about what you eat, but to think about what you eat as a public issue, not just a personal choice.