“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness.” (Foer)
Santa Clara University is a school that strives to educate the whole person. Throughout my time here (only seven months) not only have I learned in a purely academic sense, but I have also learned how to take these academic lessons and apply them to real life outside of the classroom. The core content in my Critical Thinking and Writing class was initially easy for me to implement from the classroom into my daily life. Some of the main themes for this class were food production, sustainability and honesty. All of which I had previously thought about on a daily basis: “I should probably just have a salad for dinner”, “maybe I should turn off the lights quickly on my way to class”, “is this person really being honest with me right now?” I know these seem like very different topics, but I promise that all of these themes have been interwoven throughout my life over the past two quarters here, in and out of a classroom setting. Talking about these topics weekly (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3:50 to 5:30) for the past seven months really allowed my class to dive deep into these themes. Everyone seemed to have different opinions on the issues surrounding these topics and different ideas on how to combat them. Two things that we all could agree on, however, is that there is a negative and a positive side to each of these topics, and we have the power to make small positive daily decisions that have a greater impact on the world if we take the time to educate ourselves about these issues.
To look at one of these topics more specifically, food production and factory farming have many negative side-effects. However, many people are unaware of these harmful issues because they are not widely published. Although most people know that it is important to be conscious of what they’re putting into their body, as it effects your health and the overall quality of your life, but they don’t take the time to research these problems. After taking this CTW course and diving in deeper into these topics, I’ve come to realize that it honestly is easier to be ignorant about all of these issues and be unaware of all of their negative side effects, especially when these side effects don’t affect your daily life. For example, daily decision-making becomes more difficult if you are aware of and educated about the detrimental effects of factory farming on the environment, your health and the lives of millions of animals. When you become mindful of these negative effects, you are called to question your decision every time you want to order anything containing meat. For example, let’s say you’re out for dinner with your friends and you’ve been craving a cheeseburger all day. When you get to the restaurant to order it, you can easily just ask the waiter for it with no internal conflict. However, once you are aware of the negative effects that arise from the creation of cheeseburgers, it becomes more difficult to order it. Even though you love the taste of it, now you are aware that animals have suffered and that the environment has been compromised in the production of that cheeseburger. So even if you’re craving it, your morals tell you not to do it. Therefore, knowing being more educated creates additional internal dilemmas that most people just don’t want to deal with. If you are unaware of these problems, then you won’t feel guilty when you order something containing meat off of the menu and you can cure your craving. People don’t want this moral responsibility, so they decide to remain uninformed which leads to further problems.
Despite the larger moral responsibility, it is better to be educated and aware of issues surrounding these themes so you can make decisions that decrease the larger negative impacts created by factory farming, as it will create a better world.
I think the most widely known issue about consuming meat products is the animal cruelty because there are many popularized movies such as Food, Inc. that present this problem. Before taking this course, I knew that animal cruelty was an issue that arises from the meat production industry. Animal cruelty was something that people always talked about: “oh I don’t eat meat because it’s mean to animals” or “I don’t eat meat because of the conditions the animals are kept in”. But I only really knew that animals were being kept in horrible conditions because of what other people said. I never took the time to consider it on my own. After taking this class and becoming more educated about factory farming, I soon realized why so many people were claiming this. For example, on a factory farm that Jonathan Foer visited,there were at least thirty-three thousand chickens are kept in one small room. These tight quarters lead to numerous issues, such as “walking impairments and chronic pain” (Foer). Not only do tight, overly-populated space create uncomfortable living situations for the birds, but it also makes the birds go mentally insane. “Of course chickens will go crazy if forced to live in such grossly unnatural conditions for long- the lighting and crowding, the burdens of their grotesque bodies” (Foer). After learning about these conditions in class, it forced me to stop consuming as much meat- because I was genuinely disgusted by the conditions that these farms were forcing their birds to live in and I did not want to continue to contribute to their misery.
“Few people have seen the insides of industrial dairies, egg or pig operations, and most consumers truly have no idea what is going on at such places. I’m convinced that the vast majority of people would be appalled with what goes on there” (Foer).
Not only does factory farming have the obvious immediate visible effects of animal cruelty, but it also has a much more subtle, gradual negative side effect. Although you wouldn’t notice if you were just walking into a factory farm, the production of meat within these major corporations has an enormously destructive effect on the environment as it creates large amounts of air and water pollution. For example, in 2000 manure from a factory farm ran off into the town’s water supply in Ontario, Canada. As a result, seven people died and over two thousand three hundred people became ill due to drinking tap water that had been contaminated with manure (Environmental). Not only does cow manure from factory farms contaminate our water supply, but it also emits greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Before taking this Critical Thinking and Writing course and learning about food sustainability, I was under the impression that cars and planes were responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emission. And I imagine that many others are under this impression as well, however this is not the case. Manure from factory farmed cows emits over one hundred and sixty different kinds of toxic gasses into to the atmosphere (Farm). It also makes a “forty percent greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change” (Foer). Therefore, consuming meat not only promotes animal cruelty, but it is also incredibly unsustainable and leads to further issues for our environment.
“Animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse, and manure has been turned into toxic waste” (Foer).
Despite all of these drastic issues surrounding factory farming, the majority of people continue to buy these products. When we buy factory farmed products, we are increasing the demand for them. And with an increased demand, factory farms will respond and create a larger supply of meat in order to meet the demand and increase their profits. “The irony is that while factory farms don’t benefit the public, we not only support them, but pay for their mistakes” (Foer). We have to remember that factory farms are money hungry corporations. When we buy meat products from these factory farms, it just leads to more suffering of animals and more feces infected water. I think the majority of people continue to buy these products simply because they are unaware of the fact that there are such large negative side effects surrounding factory farms. These issues aren’t widely talked about mostly because “The institution (The USDA) we have put in charge of telling us when foods are dangerous has a policy of not telling us when foods (especially if they are animal products) are dangerous” (Foer). We put trust into the USDA to tell us that what we are eating is healthy, however in reality they are not explicitly telling us when factory farmed meat is not healthy or good to consume. Therefore, it’s up to us to look further into issues, rather than just relying on one source (especially when they might not be telling you the whole truth) and determine what practices are morally okay to support and which are not.
It can be easier at times to choose to ignore larger issues that do not immediately affect us in a negative way. When we are ignorant about an issue, we can continue to live our daily lives and make decisions that provide immediate satisfaction and have the greatest positive effects for only us, without thinking about the bigger picture. However, when we become aware of the fact that our actions have an impact on the rest of the world, our daily choices become more difficult but also more important. For example, if we are aware of animal cruelty and environmental issues surrounding factory farming then we can decide to make better dietary choices and create less harm throughout the world. However, if we remain uninformed about the issues surrounding factory farming, it might make our dietary decisions easier, but it will in turn have a negative impact on our individual health and the environment. Even though it makes daily decisions more difficult, this idea of being educated rather than ignorant can and should be applied into other aspects of our lives in order to make the world a better place.
One thing that I learned in CTW is that the easiest way to fix an issue and to make others more aware, is to simply start a conversation about it with others. If you ignite someone else’s interest about the issue, they might look further into it themselves and then come to the same moral conclusion as you did. If enough people are aware and educated on these problems, it’s possible to decrease their negative effects on the rest of the world. So go out there and start some conversations. Who knows? it might lead to a more sustainable planet!
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