Many of us would like to think that we care and are reasonably informed about the broader world. We obsessively check social media or other websites to stay up to date with the news. We vote in elections every two to four years. Unfortunately, despite all this, in 99% of these cases, our primary motivation is our self. We’re checking social media because we have some time to kill. We just want to watch the news to make sure nothing terrible has happened to someone we know or are close to. We vote for the politicians who keep making unsustainable promises to simultaneously cut taxes and increase the quality and quantity of services that the government provides. Deep down, our primary concern is what’s good for ourselves, not what’s good for everyone.
This attitude worms its way into how we treat anything and everything. Our food is a key example of how our self-centered outlook negatively affects everyone. When we purchase food, perhaps the most important factor in deciding what food we buy is its price.
The overwhelmingly vast majority of people, when presented with two (at least superficially) otherwise-identical options will choose the cheaper one. In this instance, our primary priority is what’s better for ourselves (we choose the cheaper option since that way we spend less money on food and we can instead spend it on something else to make us happy), and not necessarily what’s better for everyone. This attitude applies to most things, but the effects of this choice are perhaps most prominent when we consider our food. As Johnathan Foer points out in his book Eating Animals, factory farming has become the most popular method to produce food (specifically, meat) for human consumption—less than one percent of the animals in the United States killed for consumption come from sources other than factory farms (Foer 201).
This is largely because factory farming—industrializing the process of raising and slaughtering animals—is one of the cheapest ways to produce food at the scale required to feed hundreds of millions of people both in the United States and in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, factory farming has a number of unsavory (pardon the pun) consequences.
Most notably, factory farming is contributing massively to climate change. The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, edited by Daniel Imhoff, points out that factory farming of livestock is the cause of 18% of the climate change effect—more than all forms of transportation combined (Imhoff 241). Our self-centered perspective is one of the direct causes of climate change. Our selfishness leads us to want the cheapest food possible; and since factory farmed food is the cheapest food around, that’s the kind that we buy. In doing so, we are focusing on our own personal well-being (in terms of wealth) and disregarding the greater consequences that factory farming has (climate change, global warming, etc.).
We need shift our perspectives. Instead of being so self-centered, we need to broaden our perspective. We must stop prioritizing ourselves above all others. Instead, we have to start prioritizing everyone else above ourselves. The world would be a much better place, on the whole, if we started placing the needs and the wants of everyone else in front of the needs and wants of ourselves. While it may be a pipe dream to expect everyone to be totally selfless, the very least we can do is try and start going down that path by changing our own personal attitudes.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Imhoff, Dan. The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2010. Print.