Suppose you want to make a tough math problem. You draw an integral sign, throw in a jumble of x’s, y’s, and maybe some z’s, a couple square roots, some constants, and a few exponents for good measure. Then you hand give problem to a friend and ask him to solve it. Clearly, if anyone’s going to spend more time on the problem, it’s your friend. As a general rule, it’s always easier to establish a problem than it is to discover the solution. Problems are often straightforward and easy to identify. On the other hand, there exists an infinite amount of potential solutions to those problems, each with its own set of consequences, both intended and unintended. It’s even harder to find a solution when people don’t really care about the problem to begin with.
Consider two significant problems we as Americans face today: the slaughter of animals in factory farms and gun homicides. These issues pose questions about animal and human rights respectively, and finding ways of resolving them and bringing them national attention has proven exceedingly difficult. Jonathan Safran Foer highlighted the issue of factory farming while Michael Moore explored the problem of gun violence in America. Both raised many problems and questions, but neither fully explored solutions to the issues they raised. While both tried to solve these issues indirectly by raising awareness about them, I contend that the best way to solve both the issue of factory farming and the issue of gun violence is by improving the lives of America’s downtrodden, specifically impoverished people and black people in gang-ridden areas.
To better understand the issue of factory farming in America, we explored Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. It contains detailed research, both primary and secondary, about the harsh living conditions of animals within the factory farm system. In the poultry industry alone, he describes baby chicks being urinated on, mutilated, decapitated, and enduring other incredibly cruel and excruciatingly painful fates. Foer also reveals how more than 250 million male chicks are destroyed each year because they were offspring of layer chickens and weren’t designed for consumption. Both chickens designed for egg-laying and those designed for meat are pumped full of expensive antibiotics and kept in extremely unsanitary conditions. All of the mass-production processes involved mean that factory farms can sell huge quantities of meat at extremely affordable prices. This high-cost, high-revenue business model has been extremely beneficial to both consumers and corporate giants in the industry, while the animals are left to suffer.
While this book highlights many ways in which animals are treated cruelly within the factory farm system, Foer himself states that he is not trying to make anyone become a vegetarian. Instead, he only wishes that people become informed consumers when it comes to purchasing meat products. Foer seeks to raise widespread awareness about animal abuse and bring discussions about the issue to as many American dinner table conversations as possible. By raising awareness in this way, he hopes that more people will become consciously invested in the fight against the factory farm system, whether it’s by choosing a more expensive but more humane meat option or lobbying for more humane and sanitary living conditions for the animals. Thus Foer attempts to solve the issue of factory farming by making more people aware of the issue in the first place and hoping that change will start to manifest itself from there.
While Foer’s efforts are admirable, I argue that there is a more direct and effective way of combating the monopoly that is the factory farm system: increase consumer buying power, especially for poor people. The documentary Food, Inc. included an interview with a poor Mexican migrant family that could only afford to eat fast food because those meals were the most affordable option they had. A head of lettuce at the grocery store cost more than an order at McDonald’s large enough to feed their whole family. Being forced to eat cheap fast food meals is detrimental to one’s health. Poor people often have to choose between buying healthy food, paying the rent, sending their kids to school, and making other tough calls in which some necessity you and I take for granted is always at stake. By increasing the minimum wage for these struggling individuals, we can improve their lives greatly and they will be able to afford more organic options, striking a massive blow to factory farms that greatly rely on fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s.
Raising the minimum wage seems nice in concept, but what’s the actual impact? The Democratic Party proposed a $10.10 an hour minimum wage last February. This new minimum wage would lift 900,000 families out of poverty and increase the incomes of 16.5 million low-wage workers in an average week. Imagine how many of these people would be able to afford healthier food options with this increase in income. In a survey of twenty peers, all believed that a minimum wage at least two dollars higher than the current minimum of $7.25 was necessary to provide for a family on a 40 hour workweek. To see a minimum wage increase in practice, one can look to Seattle, Washington, where in early June of last year, a $15 dollar minimum wage was approved, setting a new standard for big cities in America. If a city as huge as Washington can successfully pass this legislation, there’s hope that other cities will start to follow suit. Also, as an indicator of a wage increase’s impact on factory farms, guess who sued Seattle over this minimum wage increase? McDonald’s. Not only do they have to pay their workers a decent wage, they also lose many customers who can now afford to eat at better and healthier locales. Raising the minimum wage will clearly strike a blow against the factory farm industry and lead to improvements in the lives of both humans and animals.
Another huge area of violence in America is gun homicides. Michael Moore’s documentary film Bowling for Columbine does an excellent job of highlighting just how ridiculously prevalent gun violence is in America. We have more gun-related homicides each year than any other country buy a huge margin. Moore points to many causes of this violence. He notes how easy it is for people to gain access to firearms and ammunition; he got a free gun from a bank just for opening an account with them. He also noted how a culture of fear perpetuated by the media and gun-manufacturing corporations made people more likely to buy guns and use them. People felt an irrational sense of safety once they’d purchased a gun. However, the more guns made it into American households, the more likely they’d be misused, as seen in instances where children brought guns to school and murdered fellow students or teachers.
Like Foer, Moore sought to combat the issue of gun violence by raising awareness about it. He took several victims of the Columbine school shooting to a KMart superstore and made a media spectacle over how KMart sold massive quantities of the same ammunition that was still lodged in the bodies of the surviving victims. These efforts, and the documentary as a whole, tried to show Americans how dangerous the widespread distribution of firearms can be in a society that commercializes fear. Moore points fingers at trigger-happy militia groups, the NRA, gullible men seeking to defend their families from unlikely foes, and many others, but doesn’t provide any tangible ways to significantly combat the issue. It’s important to note that most of the people in the aforementioned groups are white men before looking at another possible source of gun violence.
Where Moore allocates the issue of gun homicides mostly to white males, I argue that the majority of gun violence lies with young black men, many of whom are involved in gang activity. Black Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average, and four out of five black homicide victims are killed with guns. A young black man is also nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young white man. These statistics and more indicate that the problem of black on black homicides is incredibly severe. Negative portrayals of black men in the media also condition viewers of other races to ignore their plight, enabling black on black crime to continue relatively unimpeded for years.
Fortunately, there are tangible solutions to this issue. Increasing donations to anti-violence organizations like the Urban Peace Movement can ensure that they continue their valuable work. These groups educate today’s black youth about the risks of joining gangs, and they often include speakers who are themselves former gang members. They provide a convincing and effective narrative that keeps the young black people of today from becoming tomorrow’s gangsters. A survey of 20 of my peers revealed that while all of them knew gun violence was an issue, none knew of any concrete ways they could help to curb it. Donations to these groups are an ideal way to do so. Also, government funding of specialized police forces that integrate themselves in gang-ridden communities will significantly reduce gang violence, as seen in the effectiveness of Salinas’ anti-gang police efforts a few years ago that effectively reduced gang homicides by a third of their original number. By helping black people instead of ignoring them, we can combat the issue of gun violence head on and make tangible progress.
In short, issues of violence can’t be solved quickly or easily. Solutions to these problems require time, energy, and resources that we are not always willing to spend. However, I strongly believe that taking action on these problems is better than simply trying to raise awareness about them. I agree that social commentators like Foer and Moore are doing important work by making people more informed about factory farming and gun violence. However, the next step after becoming informed is to make real progress towards eliminating these forms of violence. We have demonstrably effective ways of doing so; now we just need to follow through. A better America for both animals and people awaits, but only if we’re willing to do something about it.
Bowling for Columbine. By Michael Moore. Dir. Michael Moore. Dog Eat Dog Films, Alliance Atlantis, 2002. Web.
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