This is my first summer without hamburgers; no hot dogs on my grill, no chicken or shrimp on my shish kabob. I’ve quit eating meat. Now, before you stop reading and dismiss this as yet another victory for the tenderhearted but unrealistic vegetarians, the healthy but wimpy hippies– hear me out.
Being a recent convert, I completely understand the common mentality: “vegetarianism is good for some but not for me”. What I find particularly disturbing though is the intentional effort to remain ignorant. There is a huge pull in our society to ignore the truth. Meat is in our heritage and our family traditions, it tastes good, it’s everywhere, everyone is doing it, and animals are certainly not people. But these excuses don’t give us a pass from doing what is right. Nor are these excuses extremely different from excuses used in the past to justify other socially accepted wrongs (I’ll avoid the fights by letting you fill in your own example). Most people I know would never do to an animal what is done to the animals they eat, nor would they pay someone they know directly to prepare an animal for them in the way their meat is prepared, yet they continue to support these actions by buying from the grocery store. It’s like an ignored collective sin– why can’t we face it?
If someone learns about what factory farming is, what it does to the environment, how animals are slaughtered and processed and still decides to eat meat, fine. But at least develop an intelligent defense. No one should sidestep the issue with some ridiculous or vague response about loving bacon. Nor should anyone avoid an issue this big because it’s uncomfortable. Meat eaters don’t have to agree that it’s irresponsible to eat meat, but human decency says they should agree it’s irresponsible to intentionally ignore information for short-term benefit. So many times I’ve heard, from someone who knows little about where their food comes from,“I could never become a vegetarian/vegan, I love cheese/meat too much” as their only justification.
Leading up to my conversion, animal welfare and the origins of our food, though a consideration, were never at the top of my “important list”. The world is a rough place, survival of the fittest, etc…etc… But after learning more, I’ve found the evidence so overwhelmingly one-sided and blatant, it’s become, among other things, a moral issue. I can no longer eat meat knowing how the meat industry functions. This is not an emotional decision made after seeing animals being slaughtered in a YouTube video, nor is this a decision made to get attention or be different. It’s a combination of reasons based on reliable information. I consider it being responsible and informed. Here are my reasons:
1. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Animals are horrifically treated in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Most everyone knows this but not the extent and frequency. Auditors during announced audits note numerous amounts of torture and extended suffering due to frustrated workers, faulty machinery, and error. There are particularly disturbing incidents of workers peeing on production lines, tearing live animals apart for amusement, pouring salt on open wounds and shoving salt in the asses of animals to watch them suffer. Then there are regular work practices like “thumping” which involves killing unwanted runts by grabbing their hind legs and smashing their heads on concrete. Pages and pages can be filled with these daily work practices and specific examples of aggravated abuse. I won’t dwell on them because I think everyone knows. I’m just making the point that it’s extremely prevalent. Further, “If we saw how most our food was made we wouldn’t eat it” is a dumb response. You shouldn’t eat food that has been proven to be processed in an unhealthy way on a regular basis no matter what it is. Let’s move on–
2. Another obvious point to get out of the way: Animals feel pain and emotion just like humans. As scientific knowledge increases we know more about how smart animals are. Pigs are as smart or smarter than dogs. The reasons we do what we do to pigs and not dogs involve culture and tradition. Birds and fish are also more intelligent, intuitive, and emotional than most people realize. If you wouldn’t be willing to do it to a dog but are willing to do it to another animal, there are inconsistencies in your logic. But again, the world is a tough place. Let’s move on–
Animal Minds (National Geographic)
Dolphins: Second Smartest Animal? (Discovery)
Elephants Cooperate proving how smart they really are (Live Science)
3. Factory farmed meat is unhealthy for individuals: The meat industry does not care about you or your health except in regard to profit. They can’t afford to. The system they’ve built is dependent on antibiotics and rapid turnover. I think many people settled on their place in the meat debate years ago, and antics from organizations like PETA haven’t inspired anyone to reconsider. But, things have changed. This isn’t your mother’s factory farmed meat. What is being done to keep costs down is becoming more unsafe. Here is an excerpt from Eating Animals (2010) by Jonathan Safran Foer:
Journalist Scott Bronstein conducted interviews with nearly 100 Usda poultry inspectors from 37 plants. “Every week,” he reports, “millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections, cancerous tumors or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.”
Next, the chickens go to a massive refrigerated tank of water, where thousands of birds are communally cooled. The Government Accountability Project, a US whistleblower protection organization, has said that the “water in these tanks has been aptly named ‘fecal soup’ for all the filth and bacteria floating around”.
Air-chilling reduces the weight of a bird’s carcass, but water-chilling causes a dead bird to soak up water (the “fecal soup”). One study has shown that simply placing the chicken carcasses in sealed plastic bags during the chilling stage would eliminate cross-contamination. But that would also eliminate an opportunity to turn waste-water into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of additional weight in poultry products.
Pink slime e coli, and mutant animal (NY Times)
- Eating meat increases cancer risk by up to 300% (Business Inquirer)
- Red Meat Unhealthy (NY Times)
- Water in Meats (USDA)
- 4. We are not protected. The USDA has failed the consumer on numerous occasions due to conflicting missions. They are commissioned not only with ensuring safe food, but also with stimulating commerce. To be fair, the USDA has recently taken steps towards better regulation, but it’s too little too late. In their 1999 publication Sustainable Agriculture: Definitions the USDA tells of how damaging industrial farming on multiple fronts while still creating the benefit of cheap food. The USDA stamp, like the FDIC stamp, is there largely to give the illusion of security.
USDA plans to keep feeding ‘pink slime’ to your kids (March 15, 2012 )
USDA to Let Industry Self-Inspect Chicken (Apr 18, 2012)
U.S. government defends large beef industry in Mad Cow scare (April 25, 2012)
- 5. Factory farmed meat is unhealthy for those needing antibiotics: Animals in factory farms are freakishly unhealthy. If they are allowed to live past slaughter, their bodies are too dysfunctional to support life. Most chickens and turkeys can’t support their own bodies. Pigs are covered in sores. To deal with these issues and prevent other diseases, the animals are fed antibiotics. So many antibiotics are pumped into the animals that they become useless for animals and people. Another way to keep the meat clean? Soak it in ammonia.
6. The protein misconception: Ask anyone what is healthy about meat and most will respond “protein”, but healthy protein can be found in vegetables and nuts. There is debate over whether animal protein is even good for us at all.
Beyond meat: Americans preoccupied with protein (May 24, 2012)
7. The meat industry is terrible for the environment on both a local and global scale. Factory farms pollute local water supplies and cows contribute more to air pollution than cars
8. Eating meat is bad for the economy: I won’t elaborate since there is an excellent article found here, but like many large corrupt industries, the meat industry is good at deferring costs on the taxpayer in addition to expenses paid by taxpayers for medical services and environmental cleanup.
Take any point you like and do some research for yourself. You’ll feel like an investigative reporter uncovering how out-of-hand things are. This article is hardly all inclusive. If you do decide to cut back on meat, it’s easy. With all the atrocities going on in the world that require our time and money for resolution, this is one thing that adds very little of either to your schedule. All you have to do is order something different or revamp your cooking. You’ll make a difference on so many levels.
Food Inc (also on Netflix)
Forks Over Knifes (also on Netflix)
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