Over time we have developed a lack of desire of being interested in every detail about the world around us. Our society has evolved into a selfish, egocentric, and blind group of people. Between the chaos of everyday life and so many problems occurring all around the world, we only have time to focus on things that directly involve ourselves, therefore allowing so much to go on under our radar. We are used to hearing about so many tragic stories that we either don’t look further into the subject, place blame, or make assumptions. It seems that we are becoming mindless machinery, unconscious to the big problems right in front of our faces. Through reading countless articles and books, being part of class discussions, making my own surveys, and watching movies and videos, I have gained a wealth of knowledge regarding a range of topics all revolving around food and violence. The topics that have been brought to my attention and that I have researched thoroughly have opened my eyes and made me realize this about our society. And more importantly that I am a part of it.
Food and violence are much more related than one would think. Once you start looking deeper into subjects, there are a lot of similarities to be discovered. For example, start with one topic and you will see that other topics will stem off of it. Jonathan Foer has done extensive research on the subject of factory farming and mixes secondary research with various personal accounts and stories investigating the issue. His book, Eating Animals, was the foundation and inspiration of all the topics I have personally researched. Personally, I had heard of factory farming before, but not to the extreme extent of it’s
existence today. It has gotten to the point where most real farms are rare and on the verge of non-existence. This is due to the growing population in our world and a high demand for cheap food, thus putting us on the road to mass production. Jonathan Foer defines factory farming as “a system of industrialized and intensive agriculture in which animals –often housed by the tens or even hundreds of thousands– are genetically engineered, restricted in mobility, and fed unnatural diets” (Foer 34). The stereotypical idea of a farm that you learned about in school is not what it used to be: spacious barns with a few animals are now rooms without windows leaving animals packed in so tightly that they can’t even move. Open fields are no longer necessary because the animals never get to see the light of day or breathe fresh air. These once happy and healthy animals are now crippled and ridden with disease, and farmers are replaced with cheaply paid factory workers. According to Foer’s Eating Animals, “Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed” (Foer 34).
Not only is there a disregard for the lives of the animals we consume, but the violent process of factory farming is slowly killing our planet and us along with it with an extreme amount of pollution. The livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transportation sector (Foer 58). According to the Organic Consumers Association, “the pollution from animal waste causes respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, depression and even death for people who live near factory farms.” Pediatricians are now saying that kids are getting more diseases and health problems that we’ve never had before (Foer 112).. To the big corporations in charge of factory farming, the life of an animal has been depreciated to being seen as just a commodity. The main focus here is the amount of profit made rather than the well being of the animal, the health of the human population, or our planet. As talked about in the documentary Cowspiracy, activists for eliminating factory farming are the highest on the list of people to watch for the FBI, carrying on this streak of violence. Foer makes a good point that “cruel and destructive food products should be illegal…we don’t need the option of buying factory-farmed animals” (Foer 266). Factory farming is a destructive and violent practice that should not be in existence at all.
In addition to factory farming, Zoos and Aquariums carry the same weight. Although they are meant to provide an educational experience, they are very popular spots for field trips
and family vacations, and could even be seen as more of an attraction. Not too many people think about whether it’s ethical or not to keep animals in captivity like this, myself included. Most families all over America are unintentionally supporting animal cruelty by purchasing factory farm products and visiting zoos and aquariums. By supporting those practices, Americans are leaving children with a diminished connection and respect for animals, as well as a changed perspective of the relationship between humans and animals due to changes in popular culture.
The fast food industry has become a huge part of American culture because of, you guessed it, factory farming. It’s peculiar that these outbreaks have remained a prevalent issue for current fast food restaurant chains, offering a strong implication that there is no real
concern on the issue be it from the USDA, American consumers, the meat industry, or the fast food franchises. In a survey I conducted, 42 out of 43 Americans said that they at least had some knowledge about the frequently occurring E. Coli outbreaks. Yet, 31 of those 43 Americans continue to eat fast food. Why does everyone seem to have such an apathetic attitude towards this problem? Within the past twenty years there have been ten notable cases of E. Coli outbreaks from fast food restaurants. Factory farming is a violent and fast process leaves no room for thorough inspections and leads to easily contaminated food products that will be consumed by a large amount of people, either making them sick or in the worst cases, causing an agonizing death. The USDA, the department responsible for our health and food safety, appears to be doing a lot of work when these deadly outbreaks occur, however further research proves otherwise. Slaughter lines moves so quickly now that “inspectors have been afflicted with repetitive stress injuries caused by prolonged high-speed repetition of specific tasks. More importantly, some inspectors say, company employees were not sufficiently motivated to do thorough inspections” (Mcdermott). After so many instances of food pollution, there should be a change. One would think when these revealing reports and facts come out, our entire society would be outraged and in an uproar. Maybe we’re lazy, maybe it’s too much of a sacrifice, maybe we’re spoiled, or maybe we think it’s not our fault or our problem. We have become caged in this unconscious mindset and we remain ignorant about such subjects.
A more obvious form of violence that I researched recently was the act of mass violence at Columbine high school on April 20, 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were seniors at Columbine and on the day of their attack killed 13 people and injured 20 more. The school was broadcasted across the nation as events unfolded. America was in a state of disbelief and utter confusion. Everyone had different opinions and explanations in regards to why and how the attack happened: some speculations included bullying, the outcasts in the Trench Coat Mafia, the goths getting revenge on the jocks, and even Satan. However, in the chaos of the aftermath, ultimately one factor was once again brought up, as in most cases involving mass violence, as a main component of all these explanations: mental illness. House Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS that “a common theme among many of these mass shootings—is a theme of mental illness” in an interview addressing a recent tragedy (Quartz).
After countless occurrences of mass violence, the often immediate conclusion and recurring opinion is that the murderers had to have been “insane.” Mental illness has become a stigma in our society. Inflicted upon every individual who has a mental illness is the assumption that these 450 million people are seen as a group and that they are all dangerous and we should be afraid of them. However, the majority of people diagnosed with a mental disorder do not take part in violent behaviors, supporting the notion that mental illness is only one of many key factors that contribute to extreme violence. Therefore, it is wrong to single it out as being a main component to blame for the Columbine tragedy and simplify the complexity of the matter at hand in order to avoid the reality that other factors contributed to the event. Maybe it is too hard to face the fact that those two boys were actually just normal citizens in our society. After all, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, “less that 3 to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness” and “fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness” (Metzl and MacLeish). All the major tragedies we hear about, which are very rare in comparison to the overall gun-crime rate, are major news stories where mental illness could be a key factor. Therefore, that emphasis on mental illness leads us to believe that most crimes are committed by mentally ill people. So if in reality most violence is committed by sane people, why do we use mental illness as a scapegoat? Are we afraid of the reality that violence is very common in our world? This blame and assumption takes attention away from the real issues at hand that could be addressed more effectively if we looked at reality instead of using a scapegoat to avoid tough and controversial issues. We ignore it and are shocked when some tragedy appears on the news. Are you actually surprised?
To conclude, Foer says in Eating Animals, “Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless—it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another. Consistency is not required, but engagement with the problem is” (Foer 267). This applies to not only factory farming, but how we should act in response to all issues in our society. We are all living in a world of our own. With the steady rise of electronics and new technologies, people are becoming more blind to what is going on around them in the real world. Violence is happening right under our noses in so many instances and the facts are almost being shoved in our faces with the constant reoccurrences of disease outbreaks from contaminated food and violent acts in general. Yet, we are still so oblivious and disconnected. American health and well-being is put on the back burner when it should be a priority. In a sense, our ignorance to such important issues implies that we are almost verifying that it’s okay and giving permission for this violence to carry on. We need to start thinking beyond ourselves because we have the privilege of being able to make a difference and stand up for what is right and wrong. We have done this many times throughout history and we have made great strides towards what is right in various instances. Why should this be any different? Don’t be a bystander in this sea of ignorance.
- Fader, Sarah. “The Mental Illness Myth: People like Me Aren’t the Cause of America’s Mass Shooting Epidemic.” Quartz. N.p., 6 Dec. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. <http://qz.com/565472/ the-mental-illness-myth-people-like-me-arent-the-cause-of-americas-mass-shooting-epidemic/ >.
- Metzl, Jonathan M., and Kenneth T. MacLeish. “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms.” American Journal of Public Health 105.2 (2015): 240–249. PMC. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
- Cowspiracy. Dir. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. A.U.M. Films/ First Spark Media, 2014. Documentary.
- Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
- Mcdermott, Terry. “The Jack in the Box Poisonings – Why Inspection of Meat Fails – USDA Says It’s Too Difficult; Critics Say System Benefits Food Industry.” The Seattle Times 31 Jan. 1993, Final, News: A1. NewsBank. Web. 1 Feb. 2016. <http://infoweb.newsbank.com.libproxy.scu.edu/resources/doc/ nb/news/0EB53637133FA91A?p=AWNB>.