Stepping into my first Critical Thinking and Writing class was unlike anything else I have experienced. I was so used to learning how to write very purposefully in my previous high school english classes and not ponder in depth about why or what I am actually writing about. Sure, there were some assignments where I lucked out and had a chance to write as I like (which is basically like so) but there was always a specific topic I needed to write about (which were not as interesting as they should have been). However, in this class we had free roam over a topic I had never written about: food.
We began the course by discussing happiness and what it meant to everyone, until we agreed that it varies from person to person. Individually in my mind, I compared happiness to the common saying “ignorance is bliss” and I am surprised to have been thinking in the direction the class was heading, which was towards exploring factory farming and dishonesty. The term “happiness” indirectly connects to morality because to live happily, we would want a clear head with no guilt.
The next class involved reading a David Foster Wallace article that discussed what it meant to be gourmet and how lobsters were treated at the Maine Lobster Festival. I used to think that a tank of lobsters in a restaurant was merely for decoration; as you can see, I was a little naive in regards to what people eat. Likewise before reading this, I had no idea there were enormous events centered around lobsters (or any food in general) and agreed with Wallace that the process seemed a little inhumane. Personally choosing a lobster to eat while it is alive and then having it squirm around in a pot until death seems rather extreme just to satisfy one’s luxurious taste buds.
My issue here is not with the eating of animals, rather the experience they have before they end up on our plate. If someone is going to pay for meat, they need to be able to justify paying so little and yet having animals treated badly. If it is because they are animals and don’t explicitly resemble humans, that is speciesism, which should be unacceptable. Animals deserve to at least have a pleasant life full of free space, good food, companionship and anything else they are known to like (much like humans). But they aren’t given this, not by a long shot currently.
Factory farming is a topic that is always controversial as food is something everyone consumes and deals with on a daily basis. In class we read a book titled “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. At first I suspected the book would be a hardcore supporter of vegetarianism and veganism but it wasn’t. Foer attempted to suggest it is one solution to pollution, illness and the disgusting practices on factory farms, but he also wanted to expose all of the secrets behind them. Supporters of factory farming claim that is it beneficial in that it lowers costs for consumers. In fact, the economic benefits are evident: the prices of chicken and eggs hasn’t even doubled as everything else such as homes and cars has drastically increased in price in the last 50 years (Foer 109). While that may appear to be true if one only glances at the price on an item, they also pollute the Earth with methane emissions, animal excrements and consume thousands of gallons of water. As a result of factory farming, there are “externalized costs–farm subsidies, environmental impact, human disease” that ravage the communities we live in (Foer 109). Furthermore, the film Cowspiracy points out the 5% of domestic water use versus 55% for animal agriculture. Water is an invaluable source of life and the entire state of California has been in a drought for years, and yet so much of the resources are used for animal farming. And it’s not even the perfect farming that we would want — animals are abused constantly due to lax laws and lack of restrictions. In the documentary “Meet Your Meat”, our class witnessed the horrors that animals are subjected to constantly as they are raised for us. It was recorded by individuals who went undercover because they knew that factories would not allow the truth to be shown. In fact they state that if “factory farms had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian”. The video shows that animals are tortured inhumanely with prods and lack of space, to which they can do nothing about. But as humans we can, as educated social and political activists. This class has opened my eyes and has made me believe that this is not something people should allow to happen without any protest. The government is in charge of food regulation and has a responsibility to reduce the loopholes companies continue to take advantage of.
I discovered that even outside of the actual raising of animals, companies in agribusiness continue to be unfair and dishonest about their products. For one of my essays, I researched food labels. On many meat products the words “organic” and “free range” dominated the packaging, although this is more often that not untrue and a downright lie.
I came to believe that the government, particularly the USDA and FDA, has a moral and legal responsibility to provide honest information to those who buy the products. It made me change my ways as a consumer, being more careful on what I put into my shopping cart and therefore saving a few bucks, which everyone likes.
Another event that was different about the class was the meet up at a local Safeway near campus. Before heading there I thought we’d be looking only at the meat or were there for some other reason entirely; however, I was intrigued when our professor wanted us to look at how the store itself was lying and tricking those who shop there.
Well in particular, we found that the store was organized to maximize the sales of all products. There were sections of the store such as the florist, cafe, and restaurants that made the experience more sensory in that it makes the customer feel good and spend more time there. There was even a certain way to make customers travel through junk food aisles to tempt them while shopping for only the necessities. But in particular and what was most surprising to me was when we revealed that there is a very specific way of stacking items on shelves. The top shelf is often “local, gourmet and smaller brands” while the middle shelf “is considered the bulls-eye zone, the location that falls perfectly in the shopper’s line of sight. This shelf stocks the leading brands and best sellers. Some groceries will sell this prime stocking location to manufactures for a fee” (Notre Dame College). This secretive scheming might not seem to be a big problem to some, but now that I am aware of this method, I will put a lot more thought into what my family and I are purchasing. We don’t want to continue giving money to people or organizations that don’t genuinely care about us, our health and our planet. Do you?
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York, Boston, London: Little, Brown, 2013.
Learning House Admin. “The Psychology Behind a Grocery Store’s Layout.” Notre Dame
College Online. N.p., 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.