People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. -Friedrich Nietzsche
CTW opened my eyes to a world that is often left hidden behind a veil of “hush hush”. The name of the course, Critical Thinking and Writing, spoke for itself when I walked into the classroom on the first day. I presumed I was going to think and write critically about subjects which were rather deep. By “deep”, I mean the subjects had great substance and meaning. It also turned out to mean “secretive”; people don’t talk about these subjects on a typical basis.
Our unit was on food and culture, two topics which I felt familiar with; my checking account, or lack thereof, reflects a personal investment with food, and culture is something I interact with everyday. Later in the year our focus shifted to “violence”, another topic which I believe the news and entertainment culture have certainly exposed me to. It seemed like there was not much to scrape at with food, culture, or violence. However, as we started to read Foer’s “Eating Animals” and Cullen’s “Columbine”, as well as watch documentaries like “Conspiracy” and “Bowling for Columbine”, I learned about an ugly truth behind our society’s consumption of meat and prevalent exposure to violence. Perhaps most disturbing, however, was realizing how ignorant people choose to be regarding serious issues. Although animal cruelty in the food industry is a daily occurrence, few do anything about it. Although the media portrays violence on a daily basis, not many people watching decide to take action on the issue. Of these two examples, let’s choose one to look at specifically, one which I hold dearly to: food.
Although many people enjoy eating meat, there are ethical consequences which result from the factory farm industry. Both quarters of CTW asked me to research these problems, and it quickly became evident that the meat we eat comes at a price. The documentary Cowspiracy exposed a great deal about the environmental impact of our carnivorous decisions. The film ultimately communicated how eating meat contributes to global warming and excessive resource expenditure. For instance, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions according to Fao.org, adding that this figure is greater than the combined exhaust from all transportation (Cowspiracy). Cows and livestock account for this number due to the methane which they produce. Just as, and perhaps even more, unsettling was the 80% projected increase in agricultural emissions by 2050 (Cowspiracy). It struck me how environmentally degrading the animal food industry is. Not only do animals produce more greenhouse gas than I initially thought, but the growing trend challenged me to rethink my eating habits.
In addition to gas emissions, livestock require copious amounts of land and water. Cowspiracy illustrated through visual graphics how livestock cover 45% of the earth’s total land, a third of the Earth’s ice-free land (Cowspiracy). These facts first seemed startling but innocent, however the stats started to expose a level of concern. For instance, animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction (Cowspiracy). Little did I understand how resource-grabbing the agricultural industry was. Before watching the documentary, all I knew was it took some water and feed to support a cow. I was unaware, until watching Cowspiracy, that it takes 2-5 acres of land to properly support a single cow.
And then there was water usage. For me, this category of environmental statistics were the most shocking. Every year, 34-76 trillion gallons of water are consumed by animal agriculture (Cowspiracy). A figure like this was hard for me to visualize because it was so large. An easier number to comprehend was 80-90%, which is the proportion of US water used for agriculture. However, I found the most shocking of the water statistics to be the following: it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef (Cowspiracy). Any statistic that involves water usage is especially attention grabbing for an individual who is from California due to the current drought. When I learned that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to make just four standard-sized hamburger beef patties, I almost felt obligated as a native Californian to stop eating meat all together for that one reason. However, chances are I returned home that evening and proceeded to have some meal consisting of meat.
So if the environmental consequences to eating meat were not enough to quell my carnivorous tendencies, perhaps the ethical violations would put an end to them. When reading Jonathan Foer’s Eating Animals, I learned that the high demand for meat resulted
in an unethical treatment of animals. The book was descriptive to say the least. Foer described scenes where animals were mercilessly beat, dragged, and handled with the least concern of preserving their dignity. He also describes the inevitable living conditions, where piglets are crushed by the mother and chickens are left to die from disease, both due to a lack of space. The crammed quarters result from a high demand for meat, such that farmers have to pack a certain quantity of animals into a restricted amount of land. In addition to these inhumane conditions, it’s not infrequent that animals are improperly slaughtered due to the high production speed of a slaughterhouse.
I decided to get an inside look at what goes on inside a typical slaughterhouse and searched for videos on Youtube. The results were, as expected, gruesome and disturbing to watch. I quickly learned the process for which animals are stunned before being killed: either receiving a metal bolt to the head or being dragged through an electrical water bath. Unfortunately, the undercover footage I saw on Youtube showed chickens still conscious after going through the electric bath due to improperly being shackled at the feet. In addition, pigs and cattle were shown still conscious and responsive after receiving the metal bolt to the head (Hormel…). Although the videos were crucial towards understanding the slaughter process, it was very difficult to watch them and not feel physically nauseous afterwards.
It was this mistreatment of animals which I researched twice, both in Essays 1 and 2. The projects directed me back to Youtube and even more horrifying videos. It wasn’t just that the animals were improperly slaughtered, they were being abused by the slaughterhouse workers. I found one video particularly disturbing—a worker grabbing the head of a shackled chicken and literally pulling its head off as it was carried down a conveyor belt (Tyson Caught…). I researched on Google articles about slaughterhouse worker abuse on animals, and one study drew the most attention. It was conducted by Amy Fitzgerald, a Ph.D. in green criminology and critical animal studies, and looked at the crime rates in areas where slaughterhouse workers resided in. Interestingly, there was a positive correlation in number of slaughterhouse workers and amount of crime, particularly ones of violence such as rape, murder, and domestic abuse (Fitzgerald). This study drew an eerie realization: working in a slaughterhouse has the potential to very negatively affect a worker mentally and emotionally.
Ultimately, what is the point of all these cons regarding the meat industry? The point is my decision following the research. Despite the numerous videos of smashed piglets on the ground and the eye-opening facts about the large amounts of water required to provide meat, I still chose to eat my regular diet of meat everyday. Even though I saw an environmental and ethical drawback to eating meat, it is engrained too much in my culture to reduce consumption. Had I grown up in a society where meat is never consumed, I certainly would have a different story to write. However, it comes down to the hard truth that I just love the flavor of meat too much to avoid it. And although others in my CTW class did not extensively research the same amount on animal cruelty as I did, we were all exposed to a level of environmental and ethical reality when it comes to operating the meat industry. Unfortunately it does not sound like anyone in our class, based on conversation, decided to go vegan, with only one student “trying” to reduce their meat consumption one day per week.
This hesitation to cut out meat, or even reduce it in one’s diet, comes from a shared stance: we do not want to support a cause if it comes at too big of an inconvenience for us. When I conducted interviews for my first essay in CTW 1, all 6 participants knew of some level of corruption going on within the meat industry. However, they admitted that they eat meat because it is too good to give up. It’s this unwillingness to personally sacrifice which I’ve learned in CTW. The meat industry’s animal abuse and mistreatment is not being discussed because people do not want to admit their unwillingness to make a dietary change. Even though each purchase of a burger contributes towards an environmentally and ethically destructive industry, people still want their meat. And it’s this “hush hush” mentality which allows for all the above issues regarding the meat industry to persist. It all boils down to this: we want animal cruelty and environmental degradation to end, but we also want to eat what we want. We only get to choose one, and at the end of the day, people will allow others to suffer so they themselves can get what they want. Our society’s problems will only be solved when people start to prioritize others’ interests before their own.
Cowspiracy. Dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. 2014. Netflix.
Fitzgerald, Amy J., Linda Kalof, and Thomas Dietz. “Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates.” An Empirical Analysis of the Spillover From “The Jungle” Into the Surrounding Community (2009): n. pag. Print.
“Hormel: USDA-Approved High Speed Slaughter Hell.” YouTube. YouTube, 11 Nov. 2015.
Web. 09 May 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPGIMCmpfxU>.
“Tyson Caught on Hidden Camera Ripping Heads Off Live Animals.”YouTube. YouTube, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 09 May 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0L2mGC4zezM>