Crocs, flare jeans, and Snuggies- just a few of a huge number of fads most of us would like to forget. These and countless others often make us cringe, so why were they present in the first place?
Fads allow us to fit in and provide us with reassurance that what we are doing or wearing will be accepted. They give us an image we feel comfortable sharing with those around us, even if the fad isn’t really “you.” Fads don’t stop with clothing- lately there have been food crazes such as gluten free diets, eating local, and mini cupcakes. Everyone is talking about these food fads now, but will they even be remembered in a year?
After two quarters in a critical thinking and writing class that focused on food, culture, and the self, I have learned a lot about the treatment of animals and the negatives of factory farming. I have even written multiple research papers that show the harms big agribusinesses have on society. However, I have come to realize that very few people who talk about these harms, admittedly myself included, actually care enough to do anything about it. Much like the Crocs and mini cupcake fads, this seems to be a rich white person issue that will no longer be a topic of discussion in a few years. It is not that factory farming is a non-issue- it is important that the inner workings of factory farms are brought to people’s attention. However, for most people, especially lower, working class families, there are much bigger things to focus on, such as feeding families the best they can and maintaining a steady job to survive.
The first essay I wrote in this class focused on the importance people place on first impressions. When meeting someone new or discussing a controversial topic, many people find it easier to mold themselves into the person they believe will please those around them. We avoid rocking the boat by making remarks that would offend or shock those we are talking to. Few people would reply, “I honestly don’t think about it or care much,” if they were asked about their views on factory farming and animal abuse. But if college students, members of the working class, and the extremely wealthy were being honest about their opinions on the topic, my guess is the answer would be pretty similar to the one above.
During the first quarter of this class, I did a lot of research on the harmful effects eating meat has on the human body, which led to my argument that eating factory farmed foods is not worth the health risks. I found that 48 million people in the United States contract a foodborne illness each year. 73,000 of these people get sick from E. Coli (Center for Disease Control). In this essay, I included the heart wrenching story of Kevin Kowalcyk, the two year old boy who died after eating a single hamburger that had contained E. coli O157:H7. These numbers are staggering and a single family’s story is enough to make anyone want to become a vegetarian- but only for a minute. In the grand scheme of things, possible illnesses and the small number of deaths that come from factory farmed foods is the lesser of two evils.
In 2011, the poultry industry alone produced 92.3 pounds of meat to feed 312 million Americans (Farrell). Small, local farms do not come close to producing these amounts, and the prices of locally farmed meats are as much as three times more expensive than meat produced at factory farms. These numbers alone prove that migrating to a more organic and natural farming system only works for the upper middle class. If the U.S. moved to a system in which factory farms were abolished and every small farm stayed at the scale they are at now, the majority of the population would not be able to afford it. At Safeway, a one pound Ranchers Reserve beef rib eye steak is only $6.99. A rib eye steak from a local farm would be very difficult to find at an accessible supermarket and would likely cost much more. For a very large subset of Americans, the huge increase in prices would make it extremely difficult to keep a family fed. Most of these people would rather risk a 1 in 4,300 chance of contracting E. coli than let themselves and their children go hungry. In fact, many members of the lowest class living at or below the poverty line have most likely rarely considered E. coli or salmonella when buying their meals. For the people in these situations, eating cheap, factory farmed meat is much healthier than abstaining from meat altogether, which is what they would be forced to do if the current farming system was eliminated.
Think about it. If you had to decide between taking a very small chance at getting sick from your food and going hungry day after day, what would you choose?
I recently wrote a paper about the psychological harms working in a factory farm presents. I found that the constant animal murder they are forced to carry about leads to a desensitization to violence. This loss of morals can extend further into workers’ lives, affecting more than just their careers (Hawthorne). Employees of factory farms tend to become blindly obedient to their bosses and slowly lose a sense of control and self-worth. Additionally, this kind of job has a high amount of stressors relative to other occupations, which lead to higher rates of depression and suicide. Like the statistics regarding food and illness, these psychological factors make this career choice seem extremely bleak. But also like food and illness, it is often better to be in a stressful job than to go without.
With such a high rate of employment, those facing constant financial hardships are grateful for any job they can get. Yes, work may an extremely unhappy and potentially dangerous place for these people (largely immigrants) to be. However, this is a better alternative to living homeless on the streets with no food or shelter. The men and women getting up in the morning to go to an extremely difficult job are not thinking about whether or not they may become a little too desensitized to violence. Instead they are hoping their next paycheck will cover their families’ needs.
The way I see it, this is the animal version of Kony 2012. We’ll be bombarded with YouTube videos and propaganda for months, but in the end, nothing will really change. Causes like putting an end to factory farm are always started with good intentions- unfortunately, they end up being just a fad. We want people to believe we care about the world; we allow Facebook profile pictures and t-shirts to tell our stories. With the emergence of food crazes such as eating organic and eating local, a Trader Joe’s bag has become as much a fashion statement as the latest Prada bag. We need to remember that these always eventually go out of style.
When fighting for a stop to factory farming, it is important that people who supposedly care understand what they are fighting for. Both sides of the coin need to be examined. If people saw the negative side of the destruction of the current factory farm system, I think most would find it very difficult to justify a family going hungry in order to save a cow’s life.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. USA.gov, 2013. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/>.
Farrell, Robert. “Factory Farms: Are They Good for Consumers?.” The Real Truth. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <http://realtruth.org/articles/070601-004-ff.html>.
Hawthorne, Mark. “Inside the Life of a Factory Farm Worker.” Veg News. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web. 13 Feb 2014. <http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?pageId=5732&catId=1>.