I’ve been thinking a lot about the politics of food lately, and about factory farming in particular, and my reading list has reflected this trend (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, and several articles on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations), including Rolling Stone‘s “In the Belly of the Beast” (http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists). Then the other night I watched the documentary “Blackfish,” which chronicles the captivity and exploitation of orca whales by Sea World. I was in tears by the end of the film, but not just over the treatment of the majestic, beautiful orca; I was thinking also of the American system of meat production – this “cycle of destructive extravagance” as Maureen Ogle calls it — that currently slaughters over 10 billion land animals per year in only 13 slaughterhouses. So here’s my question: When are animals smart enough to warrant human consideration and respect? Pigs are as intelligent as a 3 year-old child, and cows as emotionally complex as dogs.
Americans — who now on average consume over 200 pounds of meat annually — have long demanded cheap, abundant meat, and government subsidies and mass production keep the official costs low. A Big Mac today costs $4.00 and a cheeseburger $1.30, while a hamburger made from humanely raised, grass-fed beef runs about $7.25 in a casual restaurant (when you can find it). Individual monetary costs alone do not begin to account for the health issues and environmental problems that come as unavoidable sides to your burger and fries, however. And, of course, every piece of meat comes from a living, breathing creature – and therefore, I think it should be eaten sparingly and conscientiously. Meat is expensive, even if we don’t see the immediate costs at the cash register.
The more I read about our modern meat industry, the more sickened and critical I become. I truly believe that people want to eat well, and ethically, but there is so much secrecy and misinformation swirling around that giving up – or not looking for the truth — becomes the easier option. This vague sense of cows frolicking on a family farm somewhere is no accident. Slaughterhouses do not want you to see your next burger collapsed in its own waste. Michael Pollan writes, “Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” I am increasingly convinced that factory-farmed meat is wrong – on every level, and for everyone.
You don’t need to know much to take a stand against this cruel industry, and you don’t have to become a vegetarian, either. We simply need to educate ourselves about how most meat is really produced in this country and understand the effects it’s having on our society, our health (both individually and as a whole), and our environment. The system is entrenched, but could be changed if enough of us refused to eat factory-farmed meat. If you choose to eat meat, please consume only humanely-raised animals. I agree with Jonathan Safran Foer when he argues that “when we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”