That Vision Thing
US Life in the Time of Mad Cow
by Seth Sandronsky

January 11, 2004

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Mad cow disease detected in Washington state as last year faded is having many consequences, from Congress to Main Street. One is that more light is being shed, slowly, on this thing called the market.

It appears before Americans as a force of nature, like the ground beneath their feet. Meanwhile, industrial agriculture creates mad cow disease, a fatal illness that kills creatures and people by rotting their brains.

In part, mad cow potentially suggests a re-thinking of food and society for the people of America. Many of them are socialized to buy and eat with little or no reflection on the origin of food.

In 2004, they live in a money society that breeds a money mentality. This trend rules U.S. culture generally.

Meanwhile on the congressional front, Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, is calling for food labeling on products originating from foreign cows. No word from him on labeling of genetically modified food for sale on the market that most Americans unknowingly eat every day.

It is worth noting that DNA tests have shown that the infected cow slaughtered in Washington state came from Canada, the U.S. neighbor and NAFTA trading partner. What is this thing called free-trade that also produces mad cow?

Where is the freedom of choice in a trading agreement that generates beef and dairy products to die for? I thought about that while watching a recent TV report on my local CBS outlet.

It featured an interview at a shopping mall in Sacramento. But it could have been anywhere in America, as its garish malls filled with corporate commodities cast a pall on the land and people.

A reporter interviewed a woman holding her young son as she put groceries into her car’s trunk. The grocery store she just shopped in had recently posted a small sign on recalled beef potentially infected with mad cow.

Crucially, the reporter spent more time on the price and weight of the ground beef the woman had bought than what mad cow actually is. This is news?

Then it was time for a multi-commercial break. After watching such TV journalism, what did viewers know about mad cow other than the disease is harmful to humans, having (at the time) been traced to a slaughterhouse in Washington where a test revealed an infected dairy cow?

There is something insane about such news coverage on mad cow. However, such reporting is more understandable (but not acceptable) as a consequence of a money society in which media itself is a commodity that exists to sell other commodities.

At the same time, U.S. authorities are struggling to spin the emergence of mad cow in America. When such a crisis of public health hits home, keeping it out of sight and mind for millions of Americans becomes a real challenge for a big-business-friendly government.

The people in the suites are greedy but not foolish. They well know that folks on Main Street would be mighty sickened to hear/read/see how animals and workers fare under industrial agriculture.

The concealment of the food production system reveals its importance to American society. Taken as a whole, it is working longer hours than ever while consuming tons of unhealthy food, now at-risk from mad cow, though the authorities claim otherwise.

Such a way of life is historically unique, a little like mad cow. The uniqueness of American life in that context is mostly absent in mass media, schools and workplaces.

That is not to say that this will always be the case. This year as always, the burden is on the American people to change society away from the market, now featuring monstrous creations such as mad cow.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com

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