Hello! I am a freshman at Santa Clara University, and for the past two quarters I have been enrolled in a Critical Thinking and Writing class about food, culture, and the self. In this blog post I will be writing about educating yourself about food and finding the diet that fits your set of values. I will be telling you the conclusions that I have made about my eating habits in relation to eating animals, and this will hopefully be of help if or when you begin your deliberations.
Okay, Let us begin!
Although the majority of people do not think about it, choosing what to eat is a difficult decision to make. You need to ask yourself “what tastes good?”, “what is healthy?”, “should I only eat organic food products?”, “should I only eat seasonal produce?”, “should I eat another slice of pie?”, and then on top of all that, you need to ask yourself “should I eat meat?” There will be many people trying to sway your decision to fit their moral standards by saying “eat meat” or “become a vegan”. Both sides will say that their diet is healthier and that their eating habits are more natural. It will be confusing and oftentimes you will not know which “road” to take, but ultimately it is your decision. What do you want to eat?
The majority of my time in this CTW (Critical Thinking and Writing) class has been spent writing about why people should educate themselves about food before deciding what they want to put inside their body. This is a very important step in discovering what diet fits best with your personal set of values and being happy with your eating habits. By exposing yourself to an assortment of foods, you can first educate yourself about what you want to eat. Then, by researching the food industry, factory farming, and animal sentience among any other topics that interest you, you can decide what you can allow yourself to eat.
Read, learn, then eat.
I was introduced to vegetarianism and the idea of truly choosing what to eat when I watched a video made by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) during my sophomore year in high school. One of the video documentaries, Meet Your Meat, detailed the inhumane ways the factory farm animals are treated. For instance pigs “…who are not growing fast enough…are killed by being slammed head first into the concrete floor” (Meet your Meat). These animals are subjected to high stress situations all their genetically-manipulated lives and are seen being whipped and struggling to walk due to their abnormal weight.
After watching those videos, I became a pescatarian, which is someone who does not eat land animals, but eats seafood, and I stayed a pescatarian for two years until I entered college. When I began taking this CTW class, I immediately switched to the vegetarian diet after reading about the inhumane treatment of both animals and fish.
Jonathan Safran Foer, a national bestselling author who has received much critical acclaim, discusses the perils of eating meat by relaying facts about how factory farms treat their animals in his book Eating Animals. Foer tries to persuade the reader to rethink the omnivorous diet by pinpointing health drawbacks and imparting facts that would make any meat consumer’s stomach churn. He also delineates the suffering that aquatic animals must undergo, such as having a pickax-like tool slammed into their head and then being allowed to bleed and drown before being hauled into the fishing boat (Foer, 30).
After reading so much about how I should not eat any kind of animal meat, I felt that eating animals was wrong. So I stopped. If I happened to eat fish one day because I forgot about my changed diet, I would make myself feel very guilty.
Then one day when I was writing an essay about how it is unethical to eat decapods (organisms such as crabs, lobsters, and prawns), I asked myself “Are these my morals, or are they the ones that PETA and Foer have guilted me into believing?”
I found that the answer was both yes and no. Yes because, some animals, particularly smart organisms like cows and pigs that have sophisticated social hierarchies, long-term memory, unique personalities, and emotional capacities, should not be eaten. No because, organisms who do not exhibit these characteristics can be eaten.
In an academic article about small-scale dairy farms that have begun to mechanize the milking process, these complex social hierarchies, emotional capabilities, and idiosyncratic personality quirks.
- These intricate social laws were revealed in the sheds that housed the grouped cows. In order to keep pace with the machines, groups of cows were recombined frequently. This was a great source of physical as well as mental stress because cows have a hierarchy in which they must live, and when new members are introduced to a group or old members are taken away, violence can ensue. These cows will fight for days in order to re-establish a hierarchy (Hansen, 10).
- The emotional capabilities of these cows were shown when the article described the stress that was created when mothers were separated from their calves. They were also shown when the younger cows were introduced to the rotary milking parlor system for the first time. They were timid and scared and needed prodding by the farm workers to enter the system (Hansen).
- There was one particular cow in the herd that had a very unique personality and every farm worker could recognize her. It was cow 603. She was described as having an old lady temperament and was known for her stubborn insistence to enter the rotary parlor last. While waiting, she would nibble at the workers overalls and belch at them until casually walking into her chute (Hansen).
Organisms that possess primitive nervous systems, short-term memory, and some learning capabilities such as decapods and most fish, however, do not fall into the “DO NOT EAT” category. This is because I do not consider them sentient beings—meaning they are not organisms that I consider to have a significant awareness “…of preferences, beliefs, memories, and expectations” (Regan). Quite frankly, I especially do not believe that decapods are capable of these characteristics. The research that I have done on decapods, all of it aiming to support decapod sentience, is not convincing enough to allow decapods to fall into my personal definition of an intelligent and conscious organism. For instance in the essay that I mentioned earlier—the one about the unethicalness of eating decapods—I mentioned a study that attempted to prove that decapods are capable of complex learning.
In an experiment by Robert W. Elwood, a professor of Animal Behavior at Queen’s University, decapods were able to exhibit their ability of having a lasting memory. Not only were they able to remember pain and suffering, but they also were able to associate their experience with a certain action. The crab, Chasmagnathus granulatus, was placed in a dark compartment in a double-chamber device, and was allowed to move towards a lighted compartment. However when it moved toward the light, it was given a shock. After one trial, the crab remembered the association between the light chamber and the shock for up to three hours. After multiple trials, the crab was able to remember the consequences of moving into the light chamber after a twenty-four hour resting period. The crabs avoided the light chamber, which showed that they associated it with an unpleasant experience.
Yes, this experiment shows that the crab was able to exhibit avoidance learning. That being said, experiments in the same study have shown that the crab’s memory of the experience began to fade after the twenty-four hour period, and would not be able to remember after about four days. I personally cannot place the crab on the same intellectual level as a pig, which can pass the mirror recognition test .
Now, let us keep in mind that I am strictly talking about my own moral convictions. I believe, based on my research, that eating seafood is morally sound, while eating cows, pigs, or any other sentient animal is not.
This is all very general, and I assure you that I have done more research than simply saying that all seafood is fair game. Because it definitely is not. When you have a definitive diet that you would like to stick to (i.e. vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, or omnivorous), then you can make further specifications. For instance, I will be staying away from farmed fish, shrimp, and unsustainable fish.
- While reading Foer, I learned the ugly truth about fish farms. These fish live in extremely unsanitary conditions, which makes it the perfect place for sea lice to live. These parasites create lesions and sometimes eat down to the bone on the fish that live in these undersized fish pens (Foer, 190).
- Eating shrimp is bad due to the negative impact it can have on the underwater ecosystem. This is all due to bycatch, which is a term to refer to all the aquatic animals that are caught by accident. When shrimp-trawling, “eighty to ninety percent of the sea animals it captures are thrown overboard, dead or dying” (Foer, 49).
- Unsustainable fish like the orange roughy should not be eaten! The orange roughy is a fish that grows very slowly. It only reaches sexual maturity at twenty-three to forty years of age. Humans have been fishing them into extinction because we eat them before they are able to reproduce (“Orange Roughy”). Instead of eating the orange roughy, I eat mackerel. It is a very sustainable fish that reaches sexual maturity at three years of age. Thus, it will most likely be able to replenish its population before being consumed (“Mackerel”).
If you do not agree with the reasoning behind my animal eating habits, then that is totally your right! And hey, congrats! You can take that into consideration when you are deciding what you will allow yourself to eat. It is honestly all up to you. Many of my fellow CTW classmates have not changed their diets at all. I am actually pretty sure many of them had a burger for dinner after class! That is their decision to make, because if they do not think that eating meat is wrong, then what would be the motivation to change their eating habits? But they made these decisions after educating themselves on the topic of food.
What will you be eating?
Angier, Natalie. “Pigs Prove to Be Smart, if Not Vain”. New York Times. 9 September 2009
Bechurin. “Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My Part II”. http://www.kowakan.com. Kowakan Dojo. 28 February 2014. Web. 20 March 2014.
Bendib, Khalil. “Vegan on Board: The Road to a Healthier Diet is Paved with Vegetables”. Otherwords.org. Otherwords. 7 May 2012. Web. 14 November 2013.
Elwood, Robert W.; Barr, Stuart; Patterson, Lynsey. “Pain and Stress in Crustaceans”. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Volume: 118 Issue: 3-4, Sp. Iss. SI Pages: 128-136 Published: MAY 2009
“Mackerel”. http://www.fishonline.org/fish/mackerel-193. Marine Conservation Society. 2013. Web. 20 March 2014.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Back Ray Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Hansen, Paul. “Becoming bovine: Mechanics and metamorphosis in Hokkaido’s animal-human-machine”. Journal of Rural Studies; Jan 2014, Vol. 33, p119-130, 12p
“Hatteras Charter Fishing For Dolphin (Mahi-Mahi) Aboard ‘Tuna Duck’” http://tunaduck.com/hatteras-mahi-charters.html. Tuna Duck Sportfishing. n.d. Web. 20 March 2014.
Meet Your Meat. dir. anonymous. perf. Alec Baldwin. PETA. Film.
“Orange Roughy”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_roughy. Wikipedia. 8 January 2014. Web. 20 March 2014.
Regan, Tom. “The Radical Egalitarian Case for Animal Rights” In PETER SINGER (ed), In Defense of Animals New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 13-26