And now, perhaps my favorite argument for reducing one’s consumption of meat, and my primary personal reason for remaining vegetarian.
To put it bluntly, do you support slavery?
No one will answer “yes” to this question except the sexual sadist (and we all know that’s a different kind of slavery). But the truth is that, though we obviously don’t condone or like slavery, we are supporting it financially, through the food we eat.
In factory farming, there is no actual farm, just a factory. And whether the factory produces eggs, poultry, dairy, beef, or pork, the quality of life for these animals is just non-existent. To start, the animals are rarely given any space. Hens are pent up in cages that don’t allow them to stretch their wings or legs. Sows (female pigs) are kept in crates too tight to even turn around in or lie down comfortably. The animals are unable to behave as they naturally would. On a real farm, chickens would roam about in the grass, pecking away for insects, taking dust baths, and building nests when they’re ready to lay eggs. In the factory, where all they have are the small wire cages, they exhibit behaviors of frustration, like pushing and pecking at each other. Similarly, pigs will turn to tail-biting. To “alleviate” the problem of these anxious behaviors, pigs and cows will have their tails cut off (sans anesthesia), turkeys lose ends of their toes, and chickens will lose a portion of their beak. (And for anyone who thinks a beak is all bone and it must not hurt too much, that’s not the case; just like your mouth has nerves, so does a bird’s).
The “living” spaces these animals receive not only induce anxiety, they cause, directly or indirectly, a ridiculous number of maladies and deaths. Chickens lose feathers and damage their skin from rubbing against the cages, or get their heads caught and die. Because pigs have no room to move around and exercise, they become obese, causing damage to their legs. Hoof disorders are all too common in cows because they spend so much time on concrete floor instead of outside in the grass where they’re supposed to be. During the latter part of their lives, beef cattle are crowded into feedlots; there, the manure builds up and the air is filled with bacteria, leaving them vulnerable to respiratory infections (not just the case with cows, but other animals as well). Pigs that are being fattened for slaughter are packed into warehouses that are swimming with excrement, vomit, and often other dead pigs. With so much disease in the air, their immune systems are severely compromised. And the antibiotics they’re given only make them weaker against illness. (And we’re supposed to eat them?)
Females, be they chickens, cows, or pigs, are viewed as production machines. They are pumped with hormones, impregnated, and shortly after giving birth, their young are taken away, and the cycle begins again. Their bodies become weak and depleted from having to constantly support pregnancy. Hens often suffer from osteoporosis because they lose so much calcium to the constant egg production. Fatty liver syndrome also occurs because the liver works in excess to produce the fat and protein in egg yolks. Many hens finally become too weak to lay eggs and die. Dairy cows frequently suffer from mastitis, in which their udders are infected and enlarged, due to the overuse of hormones. They are forced to produce ten times more milk than their bodies are meant to, yet only see a fraction of their natural lifespan. When the animals are no longer “productive” they get sent to slaughter.
And for the males, they get to enjoy a short lifetime of steroids and unnaturally rich diets. Chickens and turkeys are genetically altered to grow ridiculously fat twice as fast, but their hearts, lungs, and legs can’t support all that extra mass. They have difficulty walking, and are at risk for heart failure. Beef cattle acquire an array of metabolic disorders because they’re fed so much protein and carbohydrates (like I’ve said before: cows eat GRASS, not corn and soy). And I don’t want to touch upon foie gras, but I may as well: ducks and geese kept in tiny cages, having metal tubes forced into their throat and pumped with at least one-fourth their weight of corn and oil. Sounds good for the liver, right? Oh yeah, they also lose part of their bills because it would be terrible if they start pecking and injuring each other due to the anxiety caused by their conditions.
Being slaughtered while still conscious is also part of the deal. Yes, they’re supposed to be “stunned” before being drained of their blood, or skinned or scalded. But time is money, and such inaccuracies are trivial. Besides, they’re just animals. They’re just sentient beings with social systems and specific needs and habits, and the ability to feel discomfort and pain…
And this is where our money goes when we eat a steak, a pork chop, a cheese omelette. All this and so much more, but I would develop carpal tunnel before I could finish typing out all the details. This is not about eating animals and animal products, per se. I believe in the food chain and that it is natural for humans to eat animals if we choose. But because of our modern western diets, and the insane (and what I would call “unnatural”) demand for animal products, the food chain hardly exists for us anymore. A food chain is supposed to have some kind of equilibrium, some give and take. Now it’s just slavery: making cheap commodities out of living creatures.
I can’t say what an animal thinks or feels, as I’ve yet to have a coherent conversation with my cat (although there was that one time I swear he said “No”). But we know animals can suffer, we know they are complex. If Wilbur and Bessie are going to eventually become our bacon cheeseburger, don’t we owe them a nice, long life, with all the simple pleasures and necessities? It’s not that hard. Give them a field to graze and forage in, clean water, and shelter with plenty of hay for bedding and snacking. They’ll take care of everything else; land will be fertilized, eggs will be laid, milk will be produced, babies will be born and cared for by their mothers. The most difficult part? Cutting back on the Steak ‘n Shake; supporting the farmers who don’t cut off their chickens’ beaks and confine them to tiny cages; learning not to take animal-derived food for granted. As long as we think of a piece of meat as just that— a piece of meat— the industry will take the liberty of putting anything in front of us, at any means, because they know we’ll eat it if we don’t know any better. If it’s all about supply and demand, we should demand food that is clean, natural and doesn’t have a dark past. Dinner should come from the land, not a factory.
To read more about animal welfare and other factory farming issues, go here. Just don’t read before bedtime…