food / travel

Coronavirus And The Problem With Cheap Sausages

Advertising has us convinced that cheap meat is something we can't live without. But the meat industry is based on exploiting both people and animals.

Sausage making in Lindewerra, Germany
Sausage making in Lindewerra, Germany
*Renate Künast


In literature, abattoirs are a symbol of exploitation. Perhaps the most famous example is Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle, where Lithuanian Jurgis Rudkus leaves his home country in search of a better life in the United States. There the friendly but perhaps naive young man finds work in the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, the center of the American meat packing industry in the 20th century.

The Stock Yards employed 40,000 workers, who slaughtered and butchered around 10 million livestock a year. It was a scene of utmost exploitation of people, animals and the environment. Workers lived in extreme poverty, completely at the slaughter house's mercy. They had poor housing and there was a pervasive stench of blood and intestines.

The nearby river was so polluted that it was nicknamed Bubbly Creek because of the gas it gave off. For the company — which almost singlehandedly met American demand for meat — people, animals and the environment were no more than goods to be consumed. The meat industry's business model was entirely dependent on exploiting the land and its people.

A kind of modern form of slavery exists, and we shouldn't keep ignoring it.

But is this depiction of an abattoir simply a relic of times gone by? Or is the abattoir today still a symbol of our time, an embodiment of a value system gone awry? The tendency is to turn a blind eye to these questions, but the coronavirus pandemic is changing that and reminding us of we've known for more than 20 years: that workers in the meat industry are being pushed out of stable jobs and replaced by short-term contracts and subcontractors.

Just as at the beginning of the last century, when people moved to the United States in search of the American Dream and found only exploitation, today in Europe a kind of modern form of slavery exists, and we shouldn't keep ignoring it.

Is our food really so important that we are content to harm the environment, animals and even people? Have we become so desensitized to exploitation, or are we finally losing our appetite for it?

If we believe the advertising slogans, cheap meat is something we can't live without. We buy a barbecue for 400 euros, but use it to grill sausages bought for 66 cents.

The pandemic has led many of us to re-evaluate the way we live. We have thought about what we truly value, and how much of our lives are simply about chasing after the next thing: always more growth, always more products that we don't really need. It is now high time to think about our food. We cannot accept that the meals we enjoy when gathered around the table with our loved ones are produced by exploiting the poor.

Greenpeace protesters in Berlin on May 20 — Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/ZUMA

Inspired by Sinclair's novel, Bertolt Brecht wrote his play Saint Joan of the Stockyards, also set in the Chicago meat packing district. He called for individuals to rise up against the injustices of the industry. It's a call we would do well to heed today. We have no automatic right to consume cheap meat. But we do all have a responsibility to behave in an ethical way.

Some people contend that the workers themselves shouldn't put up with exploitation. But that argument doesn't hold as long as there are such vast differences between living and working conditions and economic development in individual EU member states.

We allow companies to employ people on exploitative contracts, and don't set minimum wages that are sufficient for workers to have a good quality of life in the area around their workplace. The meat industry's exploitative system is not caused by freedom of movement within the EU, but by companies exploiting that policy. People are now seen as fair game.

We have no automatic right to consume cheap meat. But we do all have a responsibility to behave in an ethical way.

Some people argue that the unethical companies taking advantage of workers are only a few lone wolves, but in reality the problem is the lack of regulation, which allows the meat industry to adopt this business model. The whole system is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Nothing will change unless we ensure that the authorities carry out regular, unannounced inspections of working conditions and that supervision is not the sole responsibility of the local authority, which has a vested interest in the tax income from these companies. Nothing will change as long as we allow district administrators to sit on company boards.

In Brecht's play, Saint Joan says, "People only help when people are there." That's true. And we must be these people: as consumers, as politicians, as union members, as value-driven citizens.

Our food culture must leave behind a model where ovens and barbecues are as expensive as possible, while the food we buy from the cruel meat industry is as cheap as we can make it. We will not only be benefiting workers, animals and the environment, but also our own health. Coronavirus must spell the end of this exploitation — and also the end of cheap sausages.

*The author is a German politician representing the Green Party. From 2001 to 2005 she was Minister of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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