When the Economist tried to sell poor people living longer as a bad thing, the internet responded

A child eating a burger
Afroze Fatima Zaidi

Now and again, the British mainstream media will come out with an exceedingly bad take – one that’s either shockingly racist, classist, or both. The Economist’s article on increased meat consumption around the world is the most recent example.

The British media outlet shared the article on its Twitter feed with a short video, along with the following caption:

More poor people are eating meat around the world. That means they will live longer, healthier lives, but it is bad news for the environment

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While the video begins by discussing a trend towards veganism and vegetarianism in “rich countries”, it says “in the rest of the world the trend is going the other way”. After discussing population growth in African countries, the video claims:

as Africans get richer, they will eat more meat. Animal meat could benefit the health of Africans. Many African children suffer from iron and Vitamin A deficiency. Animal products are a convenient source of these nutrients.

The video goes on to say that eating more meat “poses a problem for the environment” and “risks speeding up global warming”.

Classist and racist

Many people have criticised the article and the accompanying video. They pointed out the callousness of discussing the well-being of poor people as something that could be traded for the environment:

While people have criticised the video for its classism, it has also been described as inherently racist. It’s not a coincidence that the poor people in question are also People of Colour in developing countries around the world:

Misplaced blame

Some people also rightly pointed out that it’s not just “meat-eating” but industrial mass-production of meat that’s the problem. And as report commissioned by the UN pointed out, it’s rich countries that need to consume less meat. As with most environmental catastrophes, capitalism is the biggest culprit:

Clearly, the Economist missed out the most obvious solution to climate change. We just need to eat the rich.

Featured image via Flickr/ Steven Depolo

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    1. The assertion in the Economist article is a speculative observation. It could be a sage observation yet others may find ways to demolish its basis.

      Nevertheless, many other means of aiding ‘developing’ nations, e.g. separating water and sewage, introducing immunisation and vaccination, and attempts to eradicate malaria, come with likely consequence of a larger population, this eventually with an age-structure similar to that for ‘advanced’ nations. The Malthusian prediction of populations tending toward geometrical growth whereas food production increases in a manner better described as linear is not nonsense, but historical evidence from Western Europe indicates gradual reduction of birth rates because replacement of anticipated losses through infant and childhood mortality becomes unnecessary. The period of transition from maximum fecundity to stable population replacement may be hazardous because mismatch between health sustaining resources and population demand can occur.

      The upshot is, anticipating deleterious mid-term consequences of nobly inspired ideas is rational rather than callous. The message arising is not that nothing ought be done. Rather it is that mitigating procedures must be factored in at inception of plans to improve the lot of populations deemed requiring intervention.

      The Economist is not my favoured source of enlightenment. However, social media responses quoted in Ms Fiadi’s piece represent the general ignorance of vox populi. More sinister is tendency of many news/analysis outlets to present vapid pronouncements arising from the kind of people opining in Twitter and Facebook as giving credence to daft ideas. It’s disturbing to see so many articles in reputable online journals consisting of a sequence of quotations from social media interspersed with gobbets of an author’s own prose.

      This generalises to a tendency in some disciplines and cultures to encourage students to quote extensively from ‘authority’. It differs from referencing the ideas of others with a view to discussing them and showing how, and to what degree, they support the argument of the author. Put starkly, this mode of discussion applied to journalism uncritically elevates to ‘authority’ every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

    2. “uncritically elevates to ‘authority’ every Tom, Dick, and Harry” so we have your authority to ignore everything you write, S-M, especially because most of it is pro-capitalist, badly-evidenced rubbish.

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