“Ignorance is Bliss”…Well, Not Exactly / Isaac McQuillen

Food, self and culture, a broad set of topics perhaps, but also one of the most apt ways to characterize a human being. They say; “you are what you eat” and thanks to my research in a freshman Critical Writing and Thinking class at Santa Clara University, I’ve found that this proverb holds true in most all cases. From the smallest of snacks to the most grandiose of banquets, our lives revolve around food and it often reveals quite a lot about who we are and what we value. We all grow up eating a certain set of foods and eventually develop favorites of our own. In recent times, thanks to a rise in the use of technology in the food industry, it has become easier and easier to obtain those foods we love. Grocery stores arrange shelves and shelves of most every food imaginable and all we have to do is go pick it up. We have fruits in and out of season and meat at any time we please. Convenience has become the name of the game.

Packaged Food

However, we’ve become blinded by the convenience that modern technology has brought to our food industry and have forgotten how important our relationship with food really is. Ignorance like this can be dangerous and is only avoidable if priorities shift from maximizing convenience to regaining a connection with our food and where it comes from. Here at Santa Clara University part of the mission statement involves the three C’s: competence, conscience and compassion. A question that arose for me as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of modern food was, “how can we truly be compassionate if we don’t have a clue as to what’s going on?”

Santa Clara University

Food may not be the first thing to come to mind when you think of compassion, but after learning about the factory farm industry, and some of its less comfortable realities, I’ve come to think that it should be. Let’s start out with a fact:

Pathogen-infested, feces- splattered chicken can technically be fresh, cage-free, and free-range, and sold in the supermarket legally (the shit does need to be rinsed off first).”-Foer


Eating Animals

The quote above came from Jonathan Saffron Foer’s best-selling book Eating Animals. As part of our course work we read the entire book and I can say with certainty that there were far more gruesome quotes and statistics to be found. I chose this particular piece of writing because chicken has become America’s meat of choice (Reporter). My point is that the average consumer, and most of those who are reading this, would not expect this of their grocery store chicken. The chicken in the grocery store is wrapped up tight and arrayed in rows so that the only part of the process that the consumer actually plays an active role in is paying the cashier for their cut of choice. Eating meat no longer requires the average American to take part in or even witness slaughter. When it comes to the eggs which Americans, myself included, love so much, things are not any better. Of the 250 million male layer chicks, which are essentially useless to the industry, most “are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate” (Foer). How can we call ourselves compassionate if we remain ignorant, or even indifferent, to such inhumane treatment and slaughter?


This is not meant to generalize, but I assume that most people, reading this have never slaughtered an animal. And why would we? Why slaughter an animal ourselves when a factory, literally packed full of them, could take care of the dirty work for us? The factory farm system we currently depend on has become so good at hiding the dirtier parts of eating animals, that we have taken it as an excuse to be unaware of what’s really going on. If the meat tastes good, is readily available, and doesn’t appear to have any adverse effects, then why try to learn more about it? Through my course work I’ve found that this unawareness is the biggest barrier standing between our food and us. So what if food has become convenient? So what if it’s easy? It’s our food and it’s essential that we reestablish a connection with it.


Unfortunately, this trend of ignorance created by convenience extends beyond the factory farm industry. As could be expected, research essays were an integral part of the course work and, at least for me, were some of the most fruitful exercises of the entire course. For one of these assignments we were told simply to “write about something we cared about”. For me this came in the form of tea. It fit the theme of food self and culture, but certainly did not match the expectations I held for it. It turns out that modern tea has become “laden with pesticides, toxins, artificial ingredients, added flavors and GMOs”(Hari). Through my research I even found that “Fluoride content in tea has risen dramatically over the last 20 years” (Wicke). That’s the same repugnant chemical that the dentist has you swish around in your mouth for about sixty seconds.

(Here is a link to the essay, which I’ve posted on a food blog I run at www.eathardplayhard.wordpress.com )

Tea Bags

While the information my research turned up about some of the most popular tea brands, including Celestial Seasonings and Teavana, certainly surprised my, I was most concerned with why even I, as an avid tea drinker, had no previous knowledge of them. What I found was that it wasn’t just me, but rather a preconceived notion that tea was nothing but a “healthy” or “beneficial” drink. In fact, those were some of the exact words I asked my peers at Santa Clara to choose from when told to characterize tea. As part of my survey, I asked participants to select, from a list containing the words “healthy, beneficial, medicinal and risky”, which word first comes to mind when they think of tea. An astonishing ninety-one percent of participants chose from medicinal, beneficial, or healthy and not a single person characterized tea as risky. Even the fact that I added an “other” option didn’t sway people’s opinions.

Herd Mentality

To me this spoke volumes about just how powerful a collective unawareness can be. In the case of modern tea, consumers assumed tea, and the production of it, had remained unchanged since herbs were first steeped in boiling water. The drink had been believed to be void of risk for so long, that nobody thought to investigate the modern methods used to produce it. Because, as my survey indicated, so many people held tea in such high esteem, Americans developed somewhat of a “herd mentality”. As Dr. Wendy James, CEO of Life Consultants, put it, “people may lose control of their usual inhibitions, as their mentality becomes that of the group.” This made it easy for companies to advertise their products with floral patterns and every indication of health possible while disguising some of the risks associated with them. Of course, tea still has inherit benefits, including cancer prevention, but the idea of consumer ignorance proves time and again to be a major failure when it comes to staying connected with our food.


This concept became infused with the notion of compassion when I composed my final essay for the course. The essay started out as what seemed like nothing more than a pros and cons list for the production of corn ethanol. When talking to my professor about it he told me that I needed to find a way to make it my own, I needed to make people care about it. What I found was that the growth of corn specifically for the production of ethanol is unethical principally because, people continue to go hungry in the United States. Each year our country devotes massive amounts of money and attention to the growth of corn, which was once a simple grain, for the production of a fuel that would still increase greenhouse gases of a thirty-year period (Searchinger). It requires the destruction of previously untouched lands, and forgoes carbon sequestration, yet it is still deemed to be more important than feeding the “forty-nine million Americans living in “food insecure” households, a statistic which was produced in 2012 (“Hunger Facts). Once again, I found myself astounded that I had no previous knowledge of this ethical dispute. I’m not saying that everyone needs to care about corn ethanol, but we do need to maintain an awareness of the ethical issues it encompasses.

The Corn Identity

The nearly 5 billion bushels of corn that will be cordoned off for to create ethanol could feed about 412 million people for an entire year”-(The Corn Identity)

To me, this highlighted a direct distinction between ignorance and compassion, specifically how hard it is to be compassionate when you have no idea what the issues are. Our lives have become so convenient, so automatic, that we seem to skip the part where we actually figure out what we are actually doing with our food. Whether it is unawareness of the factory farm industry preventing humane compassion when it comes to animals, or ignorance with regards to how our resources are being allocated in the case of ethanol, ignorance inhibits compassion. Recently, the Dalai Lama visited our school and spoke about the absolute necessity of compassion in the business world. Well guess what, it is absolutely necessary in the world of food as well.

Dalai Lama

Awareness and thus compassionate ability are in our best interest. I for one would want to know if my cup of tea had chemicals and pesticides floating around in it. These two quarters of learning have opened my eyes and made me more aware of just how far removed from our food we really are. If we are truly to live by the three C’s, competence, conscience and compassion, then lets take action, actively try to be more aware of where our food comes from, and ultimately develop a compassionate and intimate relationship with it. Food, self, and culture, it is you, it is us; so lets find out a little more about ourselves.

Works Cited

Reporter, Daily Mail. “Chicken Overtakes Beef as the Meat of Choice on America’s Dinner Tables but Is Healthy Living or Value for Money to Blame?” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

James, Wendy. “The Psychology of Mob Mentality and Violence.” Dr Wendy James PhD, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

“Hunger Facts.” Feeding America, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.

“The Corn Identity: The US Will Make Ethanol Out Of Enough Corn To Feed 412 Million People.” Climate Progress, 12 July 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Wicke, Roger. “Health Fads from Hell: Margarine, Canola Oil, Soy Foods, Green/black Tea | RMHI.” Herbalist Review. Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2014.

Hari, Vani. “Do You Know What’s Really In Your Tea?” Food Babe. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2014.

Packaged food aisles in a hypermarket. Digital image. Supermarket. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Santa Clara University. Digital image. Santa Clara University. Elnazsarraf, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Free Range Chicken. Digital image. The High Cost of Cheap Chicken. Consumer Reports, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Chickens raised for meat. Digital image. Factory Farms. Vegan Outreach, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Eating Animals. Digital image. Eating Animals. Hachette Book Group, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Ignorance. Digital image. Ignorance. Fifth’s Mind, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Fluoride. Digital image. Fluoride Treatment and Dental Health. Meetdentist.com, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.

“Herd Mentaliy”. Digital image. Herd Mentality and Other Manipulations – To What Extent Are We As Dumb As Sheep. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2014.

Morris, Andrew. Corn Gasoline Pump. Digital image. Should Congress End Ethanol Subsidies? PERC, 13 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

“The Corn Identity: The US Will Make Ethanol Out Of Enough Corn To Feed 412 Million People.” Climate Progress, 12 July 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Dalai Lama. Digital image. His Holiness Dalai Lama. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Tea Bags. Digital image. Tea Bag. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.


One thought on ““Ignorance is Bliss”…Well, Not Exactly / Isaac McQuillen”

  1. Powerful and thought-provoking writing! This is my favorite sentence: “Our lives have become so convenient, so automatic, that we seem to skip the part where we actually figure out what we are actually doing….” I truncated it before the end because I think it applies to even more than our food.


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