Bright lights, shiny floors, shelves and shelves of food—the average grocery store. “Humanely raised,” “free-range,” “natural”—the average label on grocery store chicken. You would think you could believe your food labels. You would think these labels would actually mean something. They do not though.
Today, chickens are raised mainly on factory farms. The farm system in America is not even close to the old picture that comes to mind. There are not animals happily roaming on green grass. These farm animals do not soak up the sun, graze naturally outside, nor live happily or healthily. They are fed antibiotics and hormones and crammed into small indoor spaces. Yet, Americans buy factory farm produced meat because it is readily available and cheap in comparison to quality, natural, truly humanely raised and organic meat.
Although for as long as I can remember I have known that organic food is better than its alternative, when I took my first college English class, Critical Thinking and Writing (Food, Self & Culture), my mind was truly opened to the health and humanity that factory farms threaten. That English class did for me just what its title suggests—it taught me about critical thinking and writing. Through that class, I have learned to question things that I would not normally question. I found out the truth about the cruelty and repulsiveness of factory farm meat, after being assigned the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Eating Animals informed me of the inhumane treatment of factory farm animals, like cramming tens of thousands of birds into windowless sheds, where they sit in cages stacked on top of each other. I learned that “free range” means nothing. The conditions and requirements for that label are so loose that a chicken that spends nearly its whole life in a shed can receive that tag.
The situation on factory farms makes the meat produced simply repugnant. I read about how once chickens on factory farms are slaughtered, they are sent into a refrigerated tank of water. Birds that are clean and dirty—meaning birds oozing yellow pus and covered in feces and bacteria—mix together, insuring all birds are contaminated (Foer 134).
The USDA may monitor factory farms, but the conditions there get approved and often ignored. One would hope to trust a label approved by the USDA, but one cannot always trust the voice of perceived authority. In my Critical Thinking and Writing class, we were also assigned the book, Columbine, by Dave Cullen. After reading Columbine, strangely enough, I came to a similar conclusion as I did after reading Eating Animals. While reading Columbine did make me lose my appetite, that is not the similarity I am referring to.
The news media was a massive feature in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre. The news media reported misrepresentations of the killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, and of the events of the massacre. While the killers were certainly not gothic, the media portrayed them as such, as if it were factual. Even victims of the massacre repeated what they heard on the news because they trusted such an authoritative source.
It can be easy to take what we hear, read and watch as the truth and it would be nice to believe what is written and spoken about when it pertains to our lives. Sadly, even companies and figures of perceived integrity do not always have the full story and honest truth. This is where you, the viewer, play a role—you must take what you read, hear and view and apply your own critical thinking. Do your research. And if you are the one writing about something, write critically. Let us not perpetuate a cycle of misinformation. We all deserve to know the truth.
Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.