Starved Rats: a reflection on agency by Morgan Todd

I have to be honest here: when I signed up for Creative Thinking and Writing, I had hoped it would be a fiction writing class. Writing fiction had always been my passion, and I’ve always wanted to take a class in it at college. I was very impressed by the credentials of Santa Clara University in this regard. After all, this was the alma mater of The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini, was it not?

Unfortunately, though it was one way to fulfill a requirement, this Creative Thinking and Writing class was not a fiction writing class. If anything, it was a nonfiction writing class. I was disappointed. However, when I met my professor for the quarter prior to this, Robin Tremblay-McGaw, I regained some interest in the class. The subject matter was actually reasonably engrossing, and I like to think I befriended Professor Tremblay-McGaw. Thus, when I was to do another unit of the class the next quarter, I knew what to expect. Again, the subject matter was fairly engrossing, and again, I befriended the professor, Nicholas Leither. I’ve learned a fair amount about how to write essays, so much so that I’m going to buy the copy of SLANT that I rented at the start of the quarter.

Professor Leither’s class, ever since the beginning of the quarter, has been focused on the subject matter of our first book, Eating Animals. Understandably, the gruesome details of factory farming both in the book and in the research we did in our early wiki essay has greatly influenced many of my fellow students. Many of their final essays are about the subject of what we eat and what it says about us and our culture. But often lost in their discussion about ethics and society is a very important question: why? Why do people eat these unhealthy, immoral things, and not seek out alternatives that are neither?

It would seem that the answer to that question is simple, in America at least: time. More specifically, a lack of time. Ever since the Eighties, Americans have had to work longer and longer hours for less and less pay:

American wages
American work hours

In order to stay in the black, Americans need to be spending more time working. This leaves them with less time to spend thinking about the consequences of their actions, and less money to act on their thoughts even if they do come to understand the consequences. At the end of a work day, the average American is likely in no mood or state to think about morality or long term health costs. They just want to eat something now.

Additionally, even when Americans do have the opportunity to think about what they want to eat and act on those thoughts, they don’t have access to alternatives. The rise of factory farms also began in the eighties, and that model of doing business has proven to be phenomenally successful:

The rise of factory farms

The sheer volume of meat put out by factory farms has run smaller farms out of business, and takes shelf space away from the ones that remain. This feeds into the lack of time or energy angle: rather than track down meat products produced on small farms at their own groceries or go out of their way to find groceries that stock them in abundance, Americans just buy whatever they can get for the lowest price. Their finances are stretched, they need to pick up the kids in less than an hour, and they are generally not in any position to make choices about what they eat.

In closing, it would be for the best to consider the people making these bad decisions. From where we’re sitting, it is quite easy for us to judge them. We have resources and time they don’t have. But from where they’re standing, they have little option but to go along with a bad situation. If we want them to change the choices they make, the environment they make their choices in needs to change.

Works Cited

Gilson, Dave. “Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil.” Mother Jones. July 2011. Web. <;.

Huber, Bridget. “As Factory Farms Spread, Government Efforts to Curb Threat From Livestock Waste Bog Down – FairWarning.” FairWarning. 30 Mar. 2013. Web. <;.


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