The How and The What Of Eating Animals

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“As in any kind of factory, uniformity is essential. Piglets that don’t grow fast enough – the runts – are a drain on resources. Picked up by their hind legs, they are swung and then bashed head first onto the concrete floor. This common practice is called “thumping”.

‘We’ve thumped as many as 120 in one day,’ said a worker from a Missouri farm.

‘We just swing them, thump them, then toss them aside. Then, after you’ve thumped ten, twelve, fourteen of them, you take them to the chute room and stack them for the dead truck. And if you go in the chute room and some are still alive, then you have to thump them all over again. There’ve been times I’ve walked in that room and they’d be running around with an eyeball hanging down the side of their face, just bleeding like crazy, or their jaw would be broken.’”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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1A screenshot from a video on “How hot dogs are made”. Mesmerizing!

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PROLOGUE:

As a living being, if you had to, which one of these would you choose – Unlimited luxury and daily terror or unrelenting poverty and total peace?

HOW IT ALL BEGAN:

Hey America, let’s talk Factory Farming before we discuss terrorism. This would have been an extremist title for my post. Also, I don’t want to give away my sentiments about the aggressive industrial methods of meat production in America that are currently in place to maximize corporate yields and profits at the expense to the environment, animal welfare, social and health fabric of our societies, that early on in the essay.

“Find a printer paper and imagine a full-grown bird shaped something like a football with legs standing on it. Imagine 33,000 of these rectangles in a grid. Now enclose the grid with windowless walls and put a ceiling on top. Run in automated (drug-laced) feed, water, heating, and ventilation systems. This is a farm.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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Having just finished reading the Book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I feel a sense of urgency to speak against how animals are being raised industrially and slaughtered inhumanely. Especially as middle class societies grow around the world, the concept of industrializing meat production is spreading like wildfire in countries like China, India and Brazil. America leads the way to many people and sadly factory farming is no different to those who want to emulate the west.

Now you might ask, what’s a vegetarian like me doing reading a book like this? And what’s a vegan like Mr. Foer doing writing a book like this? And you know what, by speaking against factory farming, I have no illusions that justice will be swift. After all, currently less than 5% of Americans and Canadians are vegetarian. And 30% Indians are vegetarian.

As I write this essay, my kids are alarmed to know that I can be a food advocate, especially since not 24 hours ago, at the sight of the “Mac and cheese” that I had made and promptly posted on Instagram, my 11 year old said, “No offense mom, I can throw up in this, and it wouldn’t make a difference.” Well, that’s that.

But the truth is that, as a mother, I am scared that the lack of my resources are making my children make uninformed choices about their food. For the most part, I try to do my research about the best foods to eat of all the thousands of processed foods available in the market. I even track down health inspections (http://ga.healthinspections.us/) before trying new restaurants.

I know, I know, we already have many food journalists. Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Food Babe, Robyn O’Brien, Fully raw Kristina (The first time I heard that name, however, I wondered if it was an adult entertainment site). And how can I forget Gary Yourofsky who suggests that in order to take a good dump, we should try eating an apple once in awhile. (What a radical idea?)

Before I delve into the sad and the ghastly facts, here is a little of the breathtaking:

“Sea horses have complicated routines for courtship, and tend to mate under full moons, making musical sounds while doing so. They live in long-term monogamous partnerships. What is perhaps most unusual, though, is that it is the male seahorse that carries the young for up to six weeks. Males become properly “pregnant,” not only carrying, but fertilizing and nourishing the developing eggs with fluid secretions. The image of males giving birth is perpetually mind-blowing: a turbid liquid bursts forth from the brood pouch, and like magic, minuscule but fully formed sea horses appear out of the cloud.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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HOW AMERICA EATS:

Americans are not very diverse in their eating habits and choose to eat less than a fraction of 1 percent of all the edible food types available on the planet. We mostly eat Hamburgers, Hot dogs, Chili, Tuna melts, Ham and cheese, Turkey, Roast Beef, Chicken Fingers, Fried Shrimp, Onion Rings, Mozzarella Sticks (try taking a shit the next day). Oh wait, my bad, I forgot carrots, peas and chocolate covered strawberries (Valentine’s Day special)!

So, what’s the problem?

Except for 1% of the family farms that are still in business, every single animal in America that is eaten, milked or lays eggs comes from an industrialized factory farm.

“This year, Americans will cook roughly twenty-seven billion pounds of beef, sliced from some thirty-five million cows. They will consume roughly twenty-three billion pounds of pork, or the bodies of more than a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and thirty-eight billion pounds of poultry, some nine billion birds.”

― Article: Flesh of Your Flesh by Elizabeth Kolbert, 2009

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THE BUSINESS OF SHIT:

  • ANIMAL WASTE LAGOONS:

The polluting potency of farmed animal feces and urine is many times that of raw municipal sewage. To top it, crowded CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) have no waste-treatment systems like how cities have for their human waste counterpart. This shit that drops through the grilled floors of factory farms flows into open sewage lagoons which are holding ponds. But one can hold only so much, right?

When the cesspools get too full and the operators of the factory farms have to empty those “lakes” out, they simply “spray” that liquid waste over the fields and homes all around the farm. Talk about your neighbor’s shit being contaminated!

“It can, I think very correctly, be called ‘environmental racism’ or ‘environmental injustice’ that low-income people, people of color, bear the brunt of these practices.”

— Steve Wing, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health

  • FECAL SOUPS:

Hundreds of millions of chickens are improperly slaughtered each year resulting in fecal contamination of their bodies. On the production line, the chickens are hung upside down by their feet in shackles along a long winding conveyor belt, before being stunned into unconsciousness. They pass along sharp blades strategically placed to cut their jugular veins before they are moved methodically above machines that remove their feathers, heads, feet and finally the internal organs.

“High-speed machines commonly rip open intestines, releasing feces into the birds’ body cavities. Once upon a time, USDA inspectors had to condemn any bird with such fecal contamination. But about thirty years ago, the poultry industry convinced the USDA to reclassify feces so that it could continue to use these automatic eviscerators. Once a dangerous contaminant, feces are now classified as a “cosmetic blemish.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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HOG FARMING:

For pigs, it’s 5 or 6 months before they are ripe enough to be slaughtered for their meat. When they are born, they go through a very rigorous process of genetic selection. Sick and deformed pigs are lynched in the backyards of factory farms. The young male piglets groins are slit open without pain killers and their testicles are pulled out by hand.

Pregnant female pigs develop pus filled sores, due to chafing in crates. They endure long hours of boredom and isolation. artificial insemination. Before being butchered, they are paralyzed using a tong-like instrument designed to induce cardiac arrest. “Sometimes their muscles contract so violently that they end up not just dead but with a broken back.”

“Scientists have documented a pig language of sorts, and pigs will come when called (to humans or one another), will play with toys (and have favorites), and have been observed coming to the aid of other pigs in distress. They usually work in pairs and are repeat offenders. Dr. Stanley Curtis, an animal scientist friendly to the industry, empirically evaluated the cognitive abilities of pigs by training them to play a video game with a joystick modified for snouts. They not only learned the games, but did so as fast as chimpanzees, demonstrating a surprising capacity for abstract representation. Pigs can’t hop into the back of a Volvo, but they can fetch, run and play, be mischievous, and reciprocate affection.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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GENETICALLY ENGINEERED:

What used to be a lifespan of 15 to 20 years for a chicken is now 6 weeks. The average chicken now grows at a daily growth rate of 400%. Biodiversity was replaced by genetic uniformity and producing more and faster at a lower production cost is the ultimate motto. We now have only two breeds of factory chickens. The Egg Layers that lay eggs and the Broilers that make flesh.

“From 1935 to 1995, the average weight of “broilers” increased by 65 percent, while their time-to-market dropped 60 percent and their feed requirements dropped 57 percent. To gain a sense of the radicalness of this change, imagine human children growing to be 300 hundred pounds in 10 years, while eating only granola bars and Flintstones vitamins. And about 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to humans each year, but a whopping 17.8 million pounds are fed to livestock.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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CHICKEN FARMING:

Egg laying hens, Layers are put in battery cages where they are kept in 67 square inch floor space, sometimes 9 tiers high. Japan holds the record for the tallest, at 18 tiers high. Not surprisingly these extreme conditions of filth, captivity and proximity to one another turn chickens violent, mad and cannibalistic.

New born male Layer chickens are not genetically designed for meat and can’t lay eggs. They are tossed into large plastic bags and suffocated or sent fully conscious through a wood chipper like machine filled with chicks.

Broiler chickens are classified as fryers or roasters are packed into sheds that never see the light of the day into groups of about 30,000. Almost all of the chickens bred this way become infected with E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination. After they are killed, chlorine baths are commonly used to remove slime, odor, and bacteria.

“Every week throughout the South, 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, instead of being condemned and destroyed, the USDA inspectors said.”

― Article: Chicken: How Safe? From Scott Bronstein, Atlanta Journal Constitution

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CATTLE FARMING:

A cow’s natural life expectancy is between 20 to 25 years, most dairy cows are slaughtered between 4 and 6 years of age. Castration, dehorning and hot iron branding without anesthetics is widely prevalent.

The cows undergo many many rounds of artificial insemination to maintain the high milk production. Cows are milked two or three times a day by machines due to which they develop chronic udder infections. During slaughter, many cows are not quite killed by the electric bolts that are shot into their heads, and so remain conscious as they are skinned and dismembered.

“Temple Grandin has argued that ordinary people can become sadistic from the dehumanizing work of constant slaughter. At one plant, a secret video was made by workers (not animal activists) and given to the Washington Post. The tape revealed conscious animals going down the processing line, and an incident where an electric prod was jammed into a steer’s mouth. According  to the Post, ‘More than twenty workers signed affidavits alleging that the violations shown on the tape are commonplace and that supervisors are aware of them.’ In one affidavit, a worker explained, ‘I’ve seen thousands and thousands of cows go through the slaughter process alive….The cows can get seven minutes down the line and still be alive. I’ve been in the side puller where they’re still alive. All the hide is stripped out down the neck there.’ And when workers who complain are listened to at all, they often get fired.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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SLAUGHTERHOUSE WORKERS:

Nowhere else in America, is a job more dehumanizing and feels more sadistic than in a slaughter house. Where almost all the jobs challenge the dignity and violate human rights of the workers. No surprise the annual turnover rate is at 27%, and workers are expected to kill as many as 2050 cattle a shift.

A sample of the Job titles at Factory farms:

Kill men, sticker bleeders, tail rippers, leggers, gutters, flankers, head skinners, head chiselers, back splitters, catchers, live hangers.

“A three-year-old heifer was walking up through the kill alley. And she was having a calf right there, it was half in and half out. I knew she was going to die, so I pulled the calf out. Wow, did my boss get mad…They call these calves ‘slunks.’ They use the blood for cancer research. And he wanted that calf. What they usually do is when the cow’s guts fall onto the gut table, the workers go along and rip the uterus open and pull these calves out. It’s nothing to have a cow hanging up in front you and see the calf inside kicking, trying to get out… I’ve gotten so mad, some days I’d go and pound on the wall because they won’t do anything about it.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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AQUA FARMING:

The scariest phenomenon associated with the farmed fish industry called the Death Crown is a major source of suffering created by the abundant presence of sea lice, which thrive in the filthy and cramped water enclosures of industrial aquacultures. Fish that are grown this way get eaten by lice in their faces – down to the bone and have many open lesions throughout their bodies.

The fishing methods of catching tuna, shrimp and salmon produce immense bycatch (unintended catch) along with it. Bycatch that is killed every year, includes roughly 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross and 20,000 dolphins and whales. Some of these harvesting operations throw more than 98% of that bycatch, dead, back into the ocean.

“Trawling and longline fishing aren’t only ecologically worrisome; they are also cruel. In trawlers, hundreds of different species are crushed together, gashed on corals, bashed on rocks – for hours – then hauled from the water, causing painful decompression (this sometimes causes the animals’ eyes to pop out or their internal organs to come out of their mouths).”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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PROTEIN RICH ALTERNATIVES:

People in China eat scorpios. South Koreans eat live octopuses. In France people eat horse meat. Filipinos eat dogs. (FINALLY, someone is advocating for us omnivores!)

“While it’s widely believed that adrenaline makes dog meat taste better—hence the traditional methods of slaughter: hanging, boiling alive, beating to death—we can all agree that if we’re going to eat them, we should kill them quickly and painlessly, right? For example, the traditional Hawaiian means of holding the dog’s nose shut—in order to conserve blood—must be regarded (socially if not legally) as a no-no. Perhaps we could include dogs under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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HEALTH ISSUES:

In 2011, 1 in 17 children under the age of 3, had a food allergy. And then there was an article in 2015, debating whether it was just “Bad luck of random mutations” as the cause of cancer. I applaud the audacity of people who come up with such theories. So food doesn’t play any part in how our body develops cancer?

“Needless to say, jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy. Beyond deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of bones, slipped vertebrae, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, slipped tendons, twisted lower legs and necks, respiratory diseases, and weakened immune systems are frequent and long-standing problems on factory farms.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:

The harm being done to our natural ecosystems all around the world because of the lack of diversity in industrial farming of animals is extensive. Stop to think for yourself of the impact of raising 10 billion animals for food each year in the U.S. “Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.”

“We aren’t exactly emptying the oceans; it’s more like clear-cutting a forest with thousands of species to create massive fields with one type of soybean.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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THE RECURSIVE PARADOX:

On an average, 6 tons of grains is used to produce 1 ton of meat. In essence, ONE THIRD of the world’s grain production is currently being used for feeding factory animals.

“The UN special envoy on food called it a ‘crime against humanity’ to funnel 100 million tons of grain and corn to ethanol when almost a billion people are starving. So what kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than enough to adequately feed the 1.4 billion human who are living in dire poverty?”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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CONCLUSION:

On our family’s recent long drive across rural Georgia, I got really excited as I passed by a few family farms, and Dropped a Pin near Putnam County, GA
https://goo.gl/maps/Mt6azcYAZkD2

I then thought of how these animals will travel many many miles to reach the plates of a small percentage of ethical meat eaters or a group of young coastal metropolitan people who care enough to know where their animals were raised and slaughtered.

If this was two years ago, and I was reading this essay, I would have a hard time believing all this. If you are like me, please lookup the words like “Monsanto, Corn and soy belts” and you will get a picture of something you have never imagined of the American agricultural and industrial food processing landscape.

In the end, I am asking you to create your own threshold for a moral and ethical way of living. Make informed decisions about what you put on your plate. Think of the legacy you want to pass on. Ponder over what your cravings talk about you and mull over what makes your flesh and bones.

Our biggest mistake is not how we consume animal products but how we are silent towards the treatment of the voiceless animals by big corporations who bring them from “farms” to our tables. If we must eat them, then we all must at least demand they be raised and slaughtered humanely.

Try out other edible options, like raiding the processed foods sections in supermarkets. And meat has started to grow in labs since 2013. Scientists claim it’s cheaper, faster and environmentally friendly, you are at your own risk on that one. Research on the benefits of becoming a Vegan. Liam Hemsworth is one!

There’s one other practical solution that makes perfect common sense. If you can’t afford sustainably grown and raised meat, don’t eat them. Although, I still believe that they are folks out there who are willing to pay more for what they believe in. Just don’t turn into environmentally conscious hippies because I said so.

Recently, there’s been share worthy news in a positive direction from the US Department of Agriculture about the potential overhauling of Organic Farming Rules:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/organic-farming-rules-overhauled-1460063796

“Humans are the only animals that can choose not to eat something for reasons of conscience.”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

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EPILOGUE:

As a living being, if you had to, which one of these would you choose – Unlimited luxury and daily terror or unrelenting poverty and total peace?

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DISCLAIMERS:

For any of you looking to challenge the argument, I would like to borrow a few disclaimers from the book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made.”

“I’m not better than anyone, and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.”

“There is something about eating animals that tends to polarize: never eat them or never sincerely question eating them; become an activist or disdain activists.”

“We need a better way to talk about eating animals. This doesn’t require that we pretend we are going to have a collective agreement. However strong our intuitions are about what’s right for us personally and even about what’s right for others, we all know in advance that our positions will clash with those of our neighbors.”

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FOOTNOTE:  

Many strangers and sometimes friends ask me what and how I eat. Here is an edible sample along with that infamous “Mac and Cheese”.

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One Comment

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  1. I haven’t read that book, but a few years back I watched ‘Food Inc’ and ‘Earthlings’. Both were highly disturbing films (Earthlings can be streamed for free online) and both really made me re-evaluate some of my eating habits. While we do tend to opt for responsibly raised meat and drink organic milk, etc…it’s a challenge in doing so when eating out. When on road trips, it’s often convenient to just pull off the highway and grab a quick bite at a fast food restaurant, or to order delivery if we aren’t feeling up to the task of cooking. For the most part though, I think we tend to at least try to be a more conscious consumer. I liked the write-up though.

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