Beef Stakes, an art project by ITP student Sarah Hallacher, offers a sensory examination of 2011 beef production and consumption data from the top 4 U.S. producing states: Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Texas. The data comes from beefusa.org and Cornell’s library of USDA data.
The size of each clay steak represents the amount of beef produced in the state of origin, using 1 inch per every billion pounds. “The correct execution would be to map the amount of production in lbs to the square mileage of the state, then to the size of the 'state steak,'” writes Hallcher on her blog. “My current mapping process left Texas in the dust, when in reality it produces “only” about 2.5 billion lbs less than the top-producer, Nebraska.”
The price tags also offer up some meaty data about each state: a barcode bar graph of monthly production quantities, total weight of beef produced, cost of beef production (per pound & total) to produce the beef, the 2011 state population and the amount of beef each citizen would have to consume annually to consume total production in-state.
While incredibly creative, as well as aesthetically appealing and thought-provoking, for me the question remains: is this the most useful data to use when telling the story of beef production? What data is missing? What do these numbers mean?
“I would love to expand my project to discuss beef imports/exports between the U.S. and the rest of the world,” Hallacher writes in a blog post. “I’m also fascinated in the amount of waste involved in beef production; the oil used to transport, the methane produced by corn-fed cows, the actual amount of meat we consume vs. produce, etc.”
For me, comparison data would help put these numbers and those already included on the label in context. I'd also like to see data on prices paid to producers, farm employment and farm closures, and number of recalls annually. This data could help illustrate the impacts of consolidation, and how we support further consolidation with our dollars.
What data would you like to see included in Hallacher's Beef Stakes? What story would you like to tell?