When I read my freshman course descriptions for my first year at Santa Clara University, I was excited that my Critical Thinking and Writing class would be focused on the topic, ‘Food, Culture and Self’. I thought that the entire class would consist of talking about our favorite foods and different types of food around the world. Boy, was I wrong! One of our first assignments was to watch a YouTube video showing the cruel treatment towards pigs and cows in factory farms. I could barely watch the screen as pigs were castrated without pain relievers and cows’ throats were sliced open as they were hanging upside down, still alive.
I had never really thought about how my food was made before this class – I chose to remain ignorant. This bubble of ignorance was beneficial towards me in the short run because I did not have to care about what I was eating. But once my bubble had been destroyed by this knowledge, I began to question: is ignorance really bliss?
How many times in your life have you said the exact phrase above? Since written in 1747, the public has used this line to excuse themselves from seeking the truth and possibly getting hurt. In an excerpt from “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, author Thomas Gray writes,
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness to swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise. (Huber)
Thomas Gray teaches his readers that knowledge is too painful and can ruin a person’s paradise, so it is better to ignore the truth.
Like my freshman self, many people are ignorant about their food. It is easy to assume that we already know because we do not really care enough to find the real facts. At home, I only ate meat that was labeled “organic” or “free-range”. I imagined that these cows, pigs, and chickens would have lots of pastures to roam around and were humanly killed when they had lived a long, happy life. Unfortunately, just because the label says these pleasing words, it can be totally false. In fact when you read the label that promotes its product to be free range, “[o]ne can reliably assume that most ‘free range’ (or ‘cage-free’) laying hens are debeaked, drugged, and cruelly slaughtered once ‘spent’. I could keep a flock of hens under my sink and call them free-range” (Foer 61).
Marketers write these labels on the packaging in order to get consumers to buy their product. Even big meat restaurants that serve hundreds of people each day use these techniques to sell their food. When Jonathan Safran Foer reveals the truth about KFC, he writes,
KFC insists it is “committed to the well-being and humane treatment of chickens”. How trustworthy are these words? At a slaughterhouse in West Virginia that supplies KFC, workers were documented
tearing the heads off live birds, spitting tobacco into their eyes, spray-painting their faces, and violently stomping on them. These acts were witnessed dozens of times.” (67)
It is amazing what the public does not know about what is happening behind their back. The use of these false words and pictures is what companies use to get our support. Kate Cooper, a marketing consultant to food industries, explains the techniques in her talk to ordinary people who have yet to be taught the truth about what really goes on in these factory farms.
You can see the look of disgust on people’s faces when thier bubble had been popped. Kate Cooper admits that it is our own ignorance that is the secret weapon for these marketing companies. Most people today do not know, and want to know, how their food gets to their plates. It is not fair for companies to be using this false language, but it has been done for many years and no one has tried hard enough to stop them from lying.
This ignorance is not only hurting the animals, but also our bodies. John Robbins exposes the corruption behind big industries and proves how factory farmers use a higher dosage in order to prevent diseases and premature death of the animals. When wallowing in their own feces and having no clean air to breath, it is necessary that, “the other 70 percent [of antibiotics used in the U.S.], the vast majority, are administered to U.S. livestock, primarily to compensate for the unnatural and unhealthy conditions of factory farming” (Robbins). The animals eat these antibiotics in their feed and then we get traces of the same antibiotics by eating the animals. This hurts us because we are exposed to antibiotics that bacteria have grown immune to. Everyday, millions of people put food into their bodies that can potentially cause damage to their health. Does this sound blissful?
It is not only food that we are ignorant towards; we take the clothes we wear everyday for granted as well. One of the famous clothing brands is Nike. How does Nike make their product so popular and ingrained into out minds? One way is thorugh using celebrity endorsements from famous people in all sports: “In 2009, Nike spent an estimated $260 million on sponsorships and nearly $200 million on its advertising budget, paying superstars like LeBron James $90 million over seven years…” (Palmquist)
But how does Nike make their products that we all need to have? This is a question that most of the population does not know or chooses to ignore. Nike gives unfair wages to its employees working in the production process. Unlike conditions in the United States, “[t]he factory job requires women to work long hours, ranging from nine to thirteen hours per day, six days a week…The hourly wage varies from as low as thirteen cents to twenty cents per hour, adding to a total of about two dollars per day” (Nike Sweatshops).
Don’t you think it is ironic that Nike pays athletes millions of dollars to wear their clothes, while they pay their workers only two?
Even though Nike uses sweatshops in their production process, people are still choosing to buy Nike due to the surrounding bubble of ignorance. Nike does not want to advertise the fact that they are treating their workers unfairly, so they try to hide the truth with lies and corruption.
When making the decision to buy those new Nike shoes that will make you run faster or the t-shirt that Tiger Woods had in the golf tournament, maybe think of the worker that slaves away for most of the day to make money that is not even enough to put food on the table. Again, does this seem like bliss?
David Foster Wallace acknowledges this ignorance of our surroundings in his commencement speech for Keyon College, commonly known as This is Water. He knows that our natural default mode is to be ignorant. We do not want to know what happens with others around us, nor do we really care. However, towards the end of his talk, Wallace explains, “The real value of a real education which has (almost) nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness” (This is Water). When we make the decision to be aware, we will learn how to live a better life. So next time you make a decision to stick your head in the sand and avoid the true information, just remember the consequences that can come from your actions.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but ignorance is not bliss.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Huber, Alexander. “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” Thomas Gray Archive. Thomas Gray Archive, 02 June 2013. Web. 09 June 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thomasgray.org%2Fcgi-bin%2Fdisplay.cgi%3Ftext%3Dodec>.
NIKE SWEATSHOPS: “JUST TERRORIZE IT ” – Home.” Web. 08 Oct. 2013. <http://stopthenikesweatshops.weebly.com/index.html>.
Palmquist, Rod. “Student Campaign Takes on Nike Like Never Before.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 July 2010. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rod-palmquist/student-campaign-takes-on_b_643375.html>.
Robbins, John. “Why Factory Farms Threaten Your Health.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 July 2010. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-robbins/meat-antibiotics_b_656414.html>.
This Is Water. Dir. Matthew Freidell. Prod. Allie Dunning and Jeremy Dunning. By David Foster Wallace. Youtube. N.p., 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKYJVV7HuZw>.