Matching your commitments to your convictions. It is much easier said than done. We all struggle when balancing our needs and wants with the moral code that we have established for ourselves. Throughout the entirety of my Critical Thinking and Writing class at Santa Clara University, both my commitments and my convictions were constantly changing. I found this to be very upsetting because I have been taught that if you don’t respect your values than you don’t really value anything at all.
Throughout this course I gained knowledge of the food industry that made me look at food differently. I came into college in the same state that I had been in since 6th grade: a “sorta vegetarian”. I was eating chicken and turkey but steered clear of pig and cow products. It wasn’t that I thought eating chickens was okay and eating cows was not, but rather just that I really really liked chicken and didn’t care for the taste of steak. I always knew that there was something wrong with eating animals but I had a hard time giving up meat completely, so this was my alternative. I knew it was going against my sense of what is right and what is wrong so I just tried not to think about it while I was eating the turkey sandwiches my mom would pack me for lunch. But, there comes a point when you can no longer ignore your conscience. For me, this point came when I started to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Foer spent three years investigating the food industry and wrote Eating Animals to shed a light on his findings. This book gave my conscience a louder voice than I had ever previously allowed. After hearing the horrifying things that go on behind the scenes in meat production, I was unable to simply “not think about it”. One investigation found that workers were repeatedly abusing animals in a way that has “nothing to do with bettering the taste of the resultant meat or preparing the pigs for slaughter,” (Foer). These acts included tearing off the heads of fully conscious chickens, spitting chewing tobacco in chicken’s eyes, ripping off their beaks, and urinating on the processing line. And another found that employees “regularly ripped off the heads of fully conscious birds (with explicit permission from their supervisor), urinated in the live-hang area (including on the conveyer belt carrying birds), and let shoddy automated slaughter equipment that cut birds’ bodies rather than their heads go unrepaired indefinitely,” (Foer 182). This information terrified and disturbed me. How could this be happening? And how did I have no idea that any of this was going on?
And if this appalling information wasn’t enough, the next thing I learned turned me vegetarian for good. Foer exposes staggering facts such as the statistic that there are “76 million cases of foodborne illness… in America each year,” (Foer 139). Not only are the companies in the meat industry mistreating the animals they handle, but the consumers as well. “According to a study published in Consumer Reports, 83 percent of all chicken meat (including organic and antibiotic-free brands) is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase,” (Foer 139). As if these facts weren’t enough to solidify my aversion to meat, Foer continues, “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,” (Foer 143). It was not only disgust that pushed me towards vegetarianism but the utter corruption of the industry and disregard for the consumers that really drove me over the edge.
After reading this text it was impossible for me to continue living my life with my commitments opposing my newfound conviction that eating (all) meat is wrong, even if I enjoyed the taste. Those moments of joy that I feel when eating a juicy piece of chicken arecountered with a significant amount of guilt. Guilt caused because I know I have done something that completely opposes my beliefs. I believe that an awareness of these atrocities and a reform of the factory farm system is absolutely necessary. I believe that animals deserve to be raised humanely and killed in the most natural, dignified and sanitary way. But if I don’t act on these beliefs everyday, than are they really my beliefs?
For example, when writing an essay about the addictive qualities of sugar and how prevalent it has become in our national food supply, I was surprised at how dangerous this excessive consumption is and decided that I didn’t want this substance to be in my body. But the next morning, without even thinking, I found myself pouring brown sugar onto my oatmeal. And in the back of my mind I knew something was off. I could remember all the statistics and facts that lead me to conclude that I should try to steer clear of sugar. But in the moment I decided to pretend to forget about all of the long-term effects that sugar can have on our brains. I forgot about the effect on a brain chemical called “Brain-Derived Neurotic Factor,” also known as BDNF. And how this chemical is vital in our brains growth and development by creating new brain tissue. I chose to disregard the research that has shown that sugary diets lead to a decrease in BDNF, which in turn leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. I ignored my knowledge that “this means that high sugar in the blood leads to low BDNF, and then low BDNF leads to a worsening of blood sugar control, which leads to high blood sugar, which leads to worse blood sugar control… and the cycle continues.” (Olson) And I pretended not to care that low levels of BDNF have also been associated with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dementia diseases including Alzheimer’s. (Olson) And after I finished my oatmeal, I felt full of guilt. I had spent the week prior researching all the horrible ways that our food has been changed to contain more and more sugar so that we become addicted and continue to buy these sugar-filled products. I had been fuming the entire time I wrote my paper, furious that yet again the consumer had been thrown to the side in order for the company to make a profit. Yet the next morning by eating a sugary product, I supported the very company that I was furious with.
Making a decision about what you think is right or wrong goes beyond just a simple answer. If you decide you value something or have a specific moral that you believe everyone should follow, you have to value it and follow it yourself. It comes down to one ultimate choice; now that you have the knowledge, will you chose to use it and either change your ways accordingly or stay the same. Or will you pretend that you never found out the truth and continue doing as you please. After reading Eating Animals, my classmates and I were left with this choice. We all decided that what was occurring was not okay. The difference was in what we did with this decision. Some of us chose to pretend that none of it was happening and others chose to do something. For me, the choice was easy. My conviction was that factory farmed meat is not safe or morally sound to eat. And from there I matched my new conviction by not eating this unsafe and morally unsound meat. And although it’s not easy, at least I am free from the guilt of knowing I did nothing.
We need to stop letting ourselves quiet down our consciences. Although thinking about things such as the atrocities of factory farming can make us uncomfortable, how else will we be able to change the system? Knowledge of our surroundings leads to an awareness about our surroundings and it is this awareness that enables us to make a choice to do something about it or not. There are so many things in the world, poverty, domestic violence, sexual assault, and eating disorders, to name a few, that are extremely unpleasant to think about but that desperately need our attention. Without this attention, these things are hard to fix and impossible to prevent. Matching your commitments to your convictions – it’s a simple concept that could cause an awareness that could achieve more than just vegetarianism.
“Defining Your Vegetarianism.” Vegetarian Girl Living in a Meat-eater’s World.
N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://veggietalks.blogspot.com/2013/02/
“Eating Animals.” Doors of Perception. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company,
“Lisa the Vegetarian.” Simpsons Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Olson, Scott, Dr. “What Sugar Does to Your Brain.” OlsonND. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2014. <http://www.olsonnd.com/what-sugar-does-to-your-brain/>.