The Sysco Hypothesis
I’ve been thinking lately about how stuff clusters. Vehicles cluster and cause traffic. Ideas cluster and create trends. Cells cluster and cause cancer. Money clusters and create facelifts, contemporary art, and yachts. All biological life seems prone to density. That density can annoy us at times. The periphery seems so peaceful. But density is the pulsing bullseye of change. We spend so much of life analyzing what we do. Maybe where we do it is just as important. Perhaps more.
So I’ve been researching a piece about the industrial food system. I’m trying to map it out in studious neutral terms in order to grasp the sharper angles of its blueprint. I’m both baffled and intrigued by the idea that a stockbroker in Manhattan can eat the same meal, at the same moment, as a slum dweller in Mumbai. It’s a very academic bafflement. But still. Density makes this possible. Density thus demands the bulk of our attention. Our collective attention should cluster around density.
Look at the blueprint of anything. Density means there are nodes of power and nodes of power means there are choke points. Hard not to like those two words: choke points. Which brings me to my Sysco Hypothesis. Sysco is a company that almost single-handedly connects agribusiness to restaurants, cafeterias, and caterers. It’s the food world’s middleman. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sysco makes the consumption of industrially produced animal products possible on a mass scale. Sysco, in other words, is industrial food’s densest node of power.
What if we choked it? Not Sysco per se (honestly, I kind of admire the company). But what if animal rights activists focussed their attention on Sysco’s meat supply chain? Its meat distribution link? What if we did a Henry Spira on Sysco’s meat division? Unlike Whole Foods, which depends on the sale of animal products for 21 percent of its sales, I suspect this is not the case for Sysco, which sells everything. Sysco supplies hotels with soap. They sell chopsticks. They sell yucca root. They sell wheat grass for hippies. I suspect it could drop meat and survive. Thrive. Maybe sell some Tofurky or Field Roast sausage instead?
Advocates for animals look out the window of our dreamscapes and see meat consumption everywhere. It seems so ubiquitous. And it is. But the nodes that allow it aren’t. They’re concentrated in offices at the largest food distributor in the world. What if we knocked on it’s door? Bought a share or two and voiced our opinion? What if we turned every ounce of activist attention on one very powerful node? What if we clustered in the right place for once?