I can’t help but think that there was something wrong with me. After everything that I had learned about animal agriculture, I still continued to eat meat. I hadn’t even cut back on the amount of meat that I consumed. It was very easy to make excuses about why not: that Benson Cafeteria has primarily meat based dishes, that it’s hard to change eating habits in college, that lapses in eating habits will always occur, but people continued to prove me wrong. Many of my fellow classmates had made the switch to vegetarianism or veganism and successfully stayed with it, but I couldn’t do it.
However, the relentless enlightenment to the animal agriculture industry became so unbearable that I had to make a change. The path that lead me to the change wasn’t perfect, and it did involve a few mistakes, but, for the most part, I made it- I became a vegetarian.
The effects and realities of animal agriculture and eating meat are so pressing that I can’t afford not to be vegetarian. The most significant lesson that this course has taught me is that our current animal agriculture system is sickening and reprehensible. Professor Nick has done a lot for my writing abilities and so forth, but twenty or thirty years in the future, what I will remember the most about this course and what will have the biggest impact on me is my enlightenment into the horrors of factory farming and the unsustainable practices of meat production.
I was disgusted when I read Eating Animals spring quarter. I had no idea how unethical and disgusting animal agriculture is; however, what really shocked me was the treatment of chickens. Chickens are the most popular and highest eaten meat in America. Nine billion chickens are slaughtered a year in America, while 280 million are caged to lay eggs. Life is terrible for these birds. There are two types of birds- egg laying hens and broilers, who are used for meat. When born, if a hen’s offspring is male, it is either immediately killed on an electrified “kill plate” or ground up alive. Should the chick be female or a broiler, it is immediately debeaked using a searing hot rod and without anesthetics. For the “lucky” ones that survive, they get to live out the remainder of the short life either crammed into battery cages with ten other birds or in a feces covered room crammed between 33,000 others- each bird having about one sheet of paper of space. The egg-laying hens are starved for weeks at a time to induce higher egg yields, while broilers live out their average 42-day life deformed, drugged, and overstressed. Assuming that the broilers don’t die at the farm, they are sent to slaughter, where about 30% have freshly broken bones from genetic deformation and maltreatment. At the slaughter houses they are dragged through an electrified water bath, get their throats slit, head and feat pulled off, and chilled in something called “fecal soup” (Foer 135). Horrendous.
If I am being honest, although I was sick hearing and seeing what happens to factory farmed chicken and other animals in the industry, I didn’t think about changing my eating habits because of it. I strongly believed that the system needed to change- and I still do- but I didn’t see my eating habits really inciting any change in animal agriculture.
Selfishly, I didn’t consider stopping eating meat because I didn’t think that meat consumption had a direct impact on me. Well, actually, according to Jonathan Safran Foer, in his book Eating Animals, “Scientific studies and government records suggest that virtually all (upwards of 95 percent of) chickens become infected with E. coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected… Seventy to 90 percent are infected wit another potentially deadly pathogen, campylobacter” (Foer 131). In fact, the World Health Organization said “We know another pandemic is inevitable… It is coming,” and they think that it will be due to zoonotic pathogen jumping to humans. Additionally, the significant amount of waste created by cultivating so many animals in one, small place pollutes the air, land, and water of the surrounding area.
This information freaked me out and sparked an inner debate of whether or not I should go through with the change, but that is all that it did. Indeed, it wasn’t until I saw Cowspiracy that I decided to make change. The sustainability issues of animal agriculture really struck a chord. In, Cowspiracy, Kip Anderson- the film’s writer, producer, and director, proves that the primary deterrent to sustainability in today’s world to be animal agriculture. He states that “livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions” (Cowspiracy) and that “livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years” (Cowspiracy). He then goes on to say, “Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.” (Cowspiracy).
These bold, telling statistics ultimately made the decision for me. In my mind there is no way around them. The film and its research did such a great job at holding me complicit in the degradation of the environment that I decided to alter my eating habits. It hasn’t been easy, but I know that it is the right choice.