Special section: Production/destruction in Latin America edited by Javiera Barandiarán and Casey Walsh

Jungle beef: consumption, production and destruction, and the development process in the Brazilian Amazon



The environmental impacts of the global livestock industry are expected to continue increasing due to high meat consumption among affluent consumers in developed nations, and "new" consumers in emerging countries, such as Brazil. There is substantial research on the connections between international meat consumption and the destruction of Latin American environments, but less is known about the links between production/destruction and consumption in developing settings. In the western Amazon state of Acre, Brazil, increasing beef consumption is directly linked with local cattle production and environmental destruction, providing an opportunity to examine the relationships between these processes in a developing context. Interviews, participant-observation, and a standardized survey provide data on perceptions of beef and meat preferences, and how these relate to practices and patterns of consumption among a range of groups, from urban environmentalists to beef-loving cowboys. The results reveal how the hierarchical ordering of foods, with beef at the top, maps onto similar hierarchies of status and class, as well as notions of strength and nutrition. The analysis of beef consumption in a developing setting illustrates how beef is both a signifier of development and the symbolic and material fuel for a development process in which individuals, society, and the environment are transformed and improved. This study of local connections complements macro- and regional-level research on destruction and consumption linkages by offering insights on why consumers in a developing setting choose beef, and how the rubble and destruction of expanding Latin American agricultural frontiers is hidden, ignored, or written off in a discourse emphasizing the social and economic benefits of development.

Keywords: Amazonia, beef, Brazil, cattle ranching, consumption, deforestation, development, food, meat

How to Cite: Hoelle, J. (2017) “Jungle beef: consumption, production and destruction, and the development process in the Brazilian Amazon”, Journal of Political Ecology. 24(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v24i1.20964