If you’ve been imagining that the cow you are having for dinner lived something like the cows pictured above – you are wrong. While there are an extremely lucky 1% of animals who get to graze freely on beautiful fields, that is not even close to the story for 99% of animals that feed the human population, which are found on factory farms [according to USDA data released in 2019].
I’m sure many people choose veganism because they don’t want to eat animals, but until now, I was not one of them. I became a vegan last year because of the damage the meat industry is doing to the planet, and for health reasons, and because I feel like crap when I eat animal products. [You can read more about why I went vegan here.]
Don’t get me wrong – I struggle with all the usual ethical questions where animals are concerned: Should we keep elephants in zoo enclosures? Should we euthanize dogs with cancer? Should we flush the goldfish down the toilet? I am an animal lover. But since I didn’t believe that it was morally wrong to eat animals, I never bothered to ask what the moral implications are of eating meat, least of all when I was in the grocery store perusing shelf after shelf of it – all pink and processed and neatly wrapped and not at all resembling the actual animal it came from.
All that changed last month when I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was enlightened about what animal agriculture in America looks like today. As it turns out, eating animals is an extremely moral issue, not because it is wrong to eat animals, but because of the way in which animals are treated in the process.
Spoiler alert: It. Is. Horrifying.
Anyone with half a heart would be appalled at the circumstances in which 99% of the meat and dairy in this country are conceived, raised [if you can even call it that], and slaughtered.
Seriously, I had no idea [or maybe I had an idea, but chose not to think about it]. And I’m assuming since I was in the dark [or willfully ignorant], that other people are too.
Since finishing the book, I have been doing even more research about the meat industry and, let me tell you, it is all bad. I learned about the lies surrounding the “free-range” and “organic” meat and egg labels, the standard process of killing baby pigs by bashing them against the concrete floor and sending unwanted chicks into a grinding machine [macerator] while fully conscious, how we’ve genetically modified animals to grow so big they can barely walk and some can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, about abuse in the form of violent beatings, death during transport, inhumane living conditions, and even how this type of high yield farming produces pandemics like the one we have been experiencing for the past year.
As a consumer, I share in the responsibility for how animals are treated in order to serve the world’s ever-increasing demand for cheap meat. It’s true that animals are not humans, but it is without a doubt morally wrong to treat animals the way factory farming does. Animals should not be brought into this world only to suffer miserably while they are alive and then experience grotesque, painful and premature deaths.
Is eating meat worth that?
I personally don’t want any part in that system of abuse. Of course, I had already decided to be vegan, but now I feel even more compelled to educate people about meat production in America – or at the very least, to beg people to ask the hard question: Where did my meat come from?
If you bought meat or eggs or dairy from anywhere other than a farmer that you personally know, with animals you can actually see and pet and smell for god’s sake, then you have most likely paid for an animal’s suffering.
But don’t take my word for it. A quick internet search will tell you a lot about how meat is produced in America. Or pick up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer, or watch the documentary by the same title that is based on his book. Or watch the twelve minute documentary Meet Your Meat on Youtube. If you make it through that video, I also recommend the 2018 documentary, Dominion, a full-length film clearly showing the ways humans abuse their power over the animal kingdom [warning: it is graphic]. If we eat meat and support the meat industry with our dollars [aka votes], we should know the reality of the system we are supporting.
[There are a lot of workers and companies represented in these films, and while they may bear some of the blame for our modern farming system, it is us as consumers who have demanded more and more meat at lower and lower prices while turning a blind eye to how that is accomplished – essentially forcing the hands of the industry that is trying to feed the world. So we all share that blame.]
Good rule of thumb for eating animals: visit the farm you are purchasing from and make sure that the animals look as well cared for as the ones in these photos. If you can’t do that, then you are more than likely eating morally compromising meat.
We used to go to a local farm to pick up eggs and produce and we could pet the goats and see the chickens wandering all around the farm and the hogs dosing happily in the sunshine. This is where I would buy my meat – of course, I’m vegan, so I’m not buying meat anyway. But ethical meat does exist. We just have to look harder for it, drive further for it, and pay more for it.
But it’s worth it.
Every time you eat you are casting a vote for the type of world you want, and we need more votes for the animals.
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