August 5th, 1864, the Civil War has been raging for four years and has been the bloodiest war in the history of the young United States. Although the defeat of the south is imminent surrender has not yet been announced. Two fleets stand on either side of Mobile Bay, Alabama. Commanders David Farragut (Union) and David Buchanan (Confederate) are at a stalemate as Farragut cannot advance due to the confederates torpedoes (underwater mines) and Buchanan is blockaded by the Unions significantly larger fleet. The battle had begun only three days ago and, although the fighting on land had been intense, the sea had remained fairly calm besides one of Farragut’s ships that had been destroyed by a confederate torpedo. Farragut knew that if he advanced with his fleet he would most likely take heavy casualties and probably lose the battle but he could not stand sitting there and doing nothing. With one look to the captain of the ship he famously proclaimed “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”. Experts in military strategy struggle to put into words how silly and rash this decision was. There was no reason for Farragut to attempt this kind of advance as the blockade was practically unbreakable. Farragut knew that this was almost a certain death sentence for his ships yet he went ahead with it anyway.
As I have made my way through this course I have increasingly felt like Farragut. I continue to learn information that should almost certainly cause me to alter my behavior. Everything from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer to Cowspiracy has detailed why meat consumption is one of the most harmful things that one can do to the planet as a whole. Everything from the inhumane practices to the environmental impacts make it one of the least sustainable activities that one can participate in. Yet I continue to eat meat. I continue to participate in this system that has shown itself, time and time again, to be a torpedo waiting to be hit. I do the exact same thing as Farragut and charge headfirst into the torpedoes knowing in the back of my mind that it will most likely end in disaster.
Why do I do this. I rationalize it to myself saying that even if I change it will have a negligible impact on the outcome. Everyone else won’t change so why should I? Why should be the one that sacrifices if ultimately the same result will occur? What impact does my meat consumption really have in the grand scheme of things? When you consider that at Santa Clara University alone there are more than 6000 students I am barely even a percent of a percent. No I could not possibly make a difference. I alone could not possibly change this crash course that we seem to be careening towards.
Yet the more I learn the more empty these statements sound. When you actually find out that a quarter pound of beef–ONE burger–takes over 450 gallons of water to produce. To put that into perspective the average shower uses nearly 15 gallons (USGS, “How Much Water”). This is absolutely inexcusably large. If I could see 450 gallons of water being dumped out every time I ordered a hamburger Santa Clara would become Atlantis. If I could see the cow being kept in a cage for it’s entire existence before “humanely” slaughtered and chopped up I would perhaps think twice. If I could see the inevitable spread of disease and death that is predicted by many prominent intellectuals such as Sam Harris–a Stanford graduate who holds a Phd in Neuroscience–predict will most likely come from the incomprehensible use of antibiotics on farm animals–ultimately creating super germs that are resistant to them (Rogan, “Sam Harris”). If I could see the environmental damage that meat is responsible for as it claims 50% of all emissions contributing to global warming (Cowspiracy).
The thing is, I don’t any of these things. All I see is a delicious looking burger that is going to leave me with a full and satisfied feeling. This is where I see the similarities to Farragut. If he could see the minefield and how nearly impossible it would be to navigate through there is no way that he would have made the order that he did. There is no way he would have let his men go on a near suicide mission when they could have easily continued the blockade and ultimately won the war of attrition. Humans have this worrisome ideology that what they don’t know can’t hurt them and if they don’t see it outright they have trouble envisioning that it exists. We see this all the time from issues such as whether global warming exists to the insane belief that the Holocaust never actually occurred. People can hear and understand something but until they see it with there own eyes we can never quite grasp the reality. A more lighthearted example that I experienced was when I was invited down to Brazil by my friend to see the World cup. When you watch the games on TV you hear that there are 60,000 people in the stands, you see them pan over the crowd as a whole, you see the size of the stadium, you have all of the information to understand the sheer magnitude of people there. Yet, when I walked to my seat, sat down, and looked around I was absolutely flabbergasted. The breath literally came out of my lungs. After all of the games I had watched, all of the stats I had heard, NOTHING could have prepared me for this absolute ocean of people. This is a perfect example of me being told countless times but never truly understanding until I saw with my own eyes.
This is the reason that I–and many others–cannot convince myself to not eat meat. It all goes on behind the scenes. It is out of sight and out of mind. I applaud people such as Kip Anderson (director of cowspiracy) for his attempts to bring issues with meat consumption visually to people. I am sure he has had a great effect on many people but there is still an element that gets lost in the movie screen. Nothing can quite compete with seeing something with one’s own eyes. Experiencing something first hand is the best way to comprehend it. This is why we see these factory farms and meat lobbyists creating laws that protect them from the very scrutiny that they know will vilify them in the public’s mind. We are left in this state of knowing but not really comprehending, hearing but not understanding, being told but not listening. This is far from an excuse on our behalf. As modern day humans we should be expected to look past the limits of our caveman psyche as many vegetarians and vegans already have. Just because it is made easy to not do anything doesn’t make it right.
Yet here I am continuing to eat meat. I literally just “Tapingoed” (Santa Clara’s food ordering system) a burger while writing this. My brain is capable of understanding how hypocritical that is and yet I did it anyway. I know that this is a suicide mission but I just gave the order “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”. Farragut receives an incredible amount of criticism for his decision at Mobile Bay but can any of us really say we wouldn’t have made the same mistake given our actions around meat. He most likely would have been branded a traitor to the union for intentionally sabotaging the siege if it hadn’t in fact worked, by some miracle. The ships made it through the torpedoes and the captured the Confederate forts, ultimately heavily contributing to the end of the bloodiest conflict in US history. I fear we may not be as lucky as Farragut however. I fear that we will inevitably actually hit into a mine that is outside of our range of vision. Yet I still give the order. “One burger Please”.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Rogan, Joseph. “Sam Harris.” Audio blog post. JRE, 1 June 2016. Web.
“The Battle of Mobile Bay.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.
“The Water Content of Things:How Much Water Does It Take to Grow a Hamburger?” How Much Water Is in Common Foods and Products: USGS Water Science School. The USGS Water Science School. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.