Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eating Animals

When I was younger, my mother once asked me about going vegetarian, and I thought about it, and replied, "I can't give up my hamburger." Honest, concise, and pretty funny considering.

I slowly grew quite snobby about the quality of my hamburger- today I will only eat a Bison burger, because the texture and flavor of the meat is the closest thing to good ground meat I can find. But my snobbery about meat led me closer to veggie fare. And the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to cook veg- after all, I was very familiar with the three section plate- meat, starch, green. I thought a vegetarian menu would be quite interesting. But, at that point in time, I also thought one-pot meals were the best ever.

I flirted with vegetarianism. When my husband and I got married, we were pretty tight on money, and meat was expensive. So I didn't buy meat, except the occasional broiler chicken for less than a dollar a pound. Not only was my meat consumption dictated by taste now, but also affordability.
Which is quite funny, since protein is the only price that hasn't gone up in any significant way in the past thirty-ish years. Try that one on for size. We want to pay less for waaaaay more. Does anyone NOT know that we're eating more meat than ever? And that China is starting to catch up to us?

I'm reading Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran-Foer. Let's just say this- you don't need to read it, you already know that you don't want to know what goes on in factory farms, in slaughterhouses approved by the USDA- you don't want to know that working in slaughterhouses cause people to become truly sadistic and torture an animal that is only supposed to have two minutes to live, but may end up living through much of the "processing". Because the guy who was supposed to knock it out chose not to. And that this is widespread, common place, and the USDA knows all about this. We're talking national past time knows about it.

There is nothing good about the system we have now. The cheap meat? You already know it's got antibiotics that you should only take when you're sick. You already know that the growth hormones are causing messed up stuff in our children. You already know that eating meat causes certain kinds of cancer, and you already know that H1N1 came from a pig "farm" in North Carolina- don't you? Did you know that health officials traced the start of MRSA to a pig farm, similar to the one that bred H1N1? That when an official was going to go public, he suddenly became very sick, and died of complications of MRSA?

Yeah, yeah, conspiracy stuff. Read the book, it's all verified, Safran-Foer did the heavy lifting. What I'm concerned with is why people don't want to stop eating meat.


Remember the line "A chicken in every pot." or, "Beef, it's what's for dinner." ? We as Americans believe that a meal isn't complete without meat, that we deserve it, that it is a basic right.

We really really do, because if we didn't, we never would have created a system as messed up as this one. We believe meat is as inalienable as happiness, and isn't that what committed meat-lovers say? Hell, look at the phrase meat-lover. Lover is one who loves, but it is also used as a term to describe one whom you have a very intimate relationship with- and haven't we all met that person? The one who orders their steak rare, who likes it bloody, and who touts the glories of red meat as they dig in?

But the only reason that person can exist in the current system of meat farming and consumerism is that they don't know and they don't want to.

The way we farm animals is now more relatable to concentration camps in Nazi Germany than the American Farm ideal. The farms are out in the country, (destroying the health of nearby townships, I might add) far from centers of population. Almost no one sees the animals alive, and no one sees them die- except the workers of the slaughterhouse. What most of us see is a nice shiny package of meat, wrapped, packed, and chilled, ready for the table.

We cannot see the horrors that went into our meat, the bacteria that is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we feed them, and in turn feed ourselves, we cannot see the lagoons of liquid feces that are 30 feet deep, up to 120,000 feet wide- feces that contain cyanide, and other terrible things that pollute the waters, that cause nuerological damage to the populations that live nearby...

Where is their Erin Brokovich? Who will fight against the corporations? The USDA, who supplies us with nutritional information, is also responsible for promoting the industry itself. They are complicit. They fight to let the factory farms continue committing crimes against animals and against humanity- the work available in these farms and slaughterhouses are documented human rights violations- or would be, if anyone could get in to investigate.

It is not the farmer, it is not the faceless demonic corporation who is responsible. It is me. I purchased 3 dozen eggs at 99 cents a dozen, never realizing that what that translates to is chickens in a cage no larger than your printer paper, who cannot live past a year old, who lays 300 eggs a year in a room without windows, who will never see the sun. I know that to buy eggs ethically, I have to spend 3 dollars a dozen. But those eggs will be free of antibiotics, those eggs will hopefully come from a chicken who lives the full extent of her ten year life. Ten years. Imagine putting a child to work as soon as they can stand, working them past exhaustion, and then killing them at ten.

99 cents a dozen.

I am complicit. I have been complicit. I knew what was going on was wrong. I knew, and did not want to know. I no longer wish to be that person. When the citizens of German towns were asked if they knew about the concentration camps, they said they didn't know what went on there.

What will you say?

1 comment:

  1. Well I think it's great that you've allowed yourself to do some deep thinking on a subject that the "indifferent" majority would rather ignore. And I'm certain you are the better for it!

    You might be interested in this essay by Roger Yates on his blog On Human-Nonhuman Relations - The title is "On Not Knowing" and it investigates the issues of "denial" that you spoke of here. It also questions what citizens of Germany "knew" or didn't know.

    I think in the end it takes much more energy to fight knowledge rather than just listening (and heeding) to wisdom. If people could only see the effort it takes to fight the truths they already know - imagine what could they could do with their reclaimed spirits? ;)