“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”
-David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
When I walked into my English Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW) class on the first day, I had no idea what to expect. My professor, Nick Leither, showed the class David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.” After discussing the speech, Professor Nick switched gears and flicked the screen over to the next slide. The screen displayed the course overview, reading “Food Porn: Reading Food, Self, & Culture.” Both intrigued and confused, I left class on that first day with two questions. First off, how can an english class be entirely dedicated to food? Also, what the hell is water? I had no clue what was to come during the two quarters of this class.
I should first explain that I did not sign up for this class. Every freshman at Santa Clara University (SCU) is randomly placed into a mandatory CTW class before even arriving to campus. I was honestly quite displeased when I learned that I had been assigned a 7:30-9:10 PM CTW class. Convinced that my brain would not be capable of attending class at this time of the day, my naive-self even talked to my advisor to see if I could switch into a different CTW section at a different time. As you can probably guess, my advisor told me to suck it up, and viola- my “Food Porn” CTW class at 7:30-9:10 PM was here to stay for two quarters. Although I was first unhappy by my CTW course placement, the class and its material caused me to reflect on my lifestyle and personal values, which which will continue to stick with me- not only for the remainder of my college experience- but for the rest of my life.
I was uncomfortable from the minute I walked into “Critical Thinking and Writing” at 5:25pm on a Monday–the first day of my college career. I was uncomfortable being in a new state, surrounded by new people who had new interests and perceptions of what was “in” and what wasn’t. I grew even more uncomfortable when my teacher was late and one of my classmates insisted we all get in a circle and chat. That was not me. I was also very intimidated by the idea of critically thinking and thinking for myself. I had become very good at keeping quiet and reading the classroom and then reiterating exactly what I knew the teacher wanted to hear on whatever assessment came up. In fact, if I was directly asked my thoughts on something I would mutter an “I don’t know” and quickly divert my attention. Critical Thinking and Writing? This was not my cup of tea, to say the least.
“No food is bad for you,” Lorraine repeated over and over again. No food is bad for me? How can that be right? “Besides diet soda, every single food you put in your body has some sort of nutritional significance.” But what about candy? Chips? Pizza?
As my nutritional therapist, it was Lorraine’s job to teach me about fueling my body properly. I was an athlete, and it was my responsibility to start taking care of my mind and my body—both for myself and my teammates. Ever since I was little, I can remember my parents, my coaches, my friends, and especially the media telling me how to eat healthy. But what does “healthy” even mean?
Have you ever looked at a menu at a restaurant and noticed that everything has meat in it or an option for meat? Meat is everywhere. I love eating cheese steaks, steaks, prime ribs, ribs, bacon, hamburgers, sausage, nearly every kind of meat I enjoy eating. There is nothing like a good steak cooked medium rare, it is perfection. Most of us know about how that meat then gets digested in our bodies, but most of us don’t think about how our food went from a living animal to our meal. I think we’ve all seen the news reporting about a murder or other violence crime as well. What could menus and murder possibly have in common? Both have an incredible amount of violence associated with each other. The murder to violence connection is obvious, but the violence to menu connection is more subtle because when was the last time anyone met their meat before they ate it. Awareness is the fault in our system, we are made aware of violence and crimes against other Americans through the media, but the real violence that affects us is the violence committed in our meat and poultry industry.
In 1928, Presidential nominee Herbert Hoover promised Americans “A chicken in every pot” (Miller Center). Ironically, this assurance of prosperity was derailed a short nine months later, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression ensued. However, the spirit of this promise lives on today, as Americans strive for prosperity- a successful career, a happy marriage, a quaint townhouse, two kids, a nice car, and family dinners.
With amazing technological and medical advances and a material wealth unmatched by any other in history, we have created the world’s most prosperous economy. In fact, we have quite literally reached the goal of “a chicken in every pot.” For the first time in over one hundred years, chicken is more popular than beef in the United States. A Huffington Post article focusing on this phenomenon reveals that the average American ate about sixteen pounds of chicken per year in the 1950s. Fifty years later, that number grew to over fifty pounds per year (Huffington Post). That number has continued to rise and chicken has steadily become a main staple of the American diet. It is everywhere. It is the foundation of common restaurant dishes, such as parmesan, barbecued, and grilled chicken. It is included in many ethnic meals, such as the Mexican taco and the Chinese chow mein. It is prevalent in the fast food arena, not only with poultry based chains, such as Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and KFC, but also among well-known burger franchises, such as Burger King. Sometimes, it’s even hard to find a salad without chicken in it. Continue reading Uncaged: The Truth Behind The Poultry Industry→
Many of us have seen friends and family members attempt to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Some succeed. Others find that the cost and hassle of preparing an alternative meal each night prevents them from sustaining vegetarianism for long. And while many attempt to live life without meat to live a healthier life, other vegetarians and vegans uphold a higher cause. They believe that eating animals is cruel, and protest this cruelty through their refusal to participate in a cruel system. Vegans and vegetarians often argue that humans have a moral obligation to abolish the structures that have allowed, regulated, and institutionalized the mistreatment and exploitation of animals in the food industry.
Defined as a system of rearing livestock including poultry, pigs and cattle using vigorous and intensive methods, factory farming confines animals indoors under strictly controlled conditions. The government, due to beneficial results such as high yields of more affordable and readily available meat, remains intent on perpetuating the practice of factory farming. While producing food in large quantities seems like a good idea, there are numerous unseen consequences, particularly for the animals that will become the food. Many upper middle class Americans know that there are problems with factory farming, so they choose to buy products labeled “local,” “organic,” “family farmed,” or “free-range.” However, most Americans do not realize that these words are often misleading, and the images of a barn and Mr. and Mrs. American farmer that they represent do not often reflect reality (see table below). This misconception often leads to self-deception, and many of us fool ourselves into believing that there is nothing wrong with factory farming. This lack of awareness remains vital to the system of factory farming. They use our ignorance to exploit both us and the animals involved. An increase in transparency within the farms would cause us to be more inclined to fix their poor conditions.
“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
Throughout this country’s history, many Americans have been in favor of, or indifferent to, continuing wars overseas. When we declared war on Iraq in 2003, more than three-fifths of the nation supported the president’s choice wholeheartedly. Pictures of our troops fighting bravely took over every news broadcast. No matter where you turned, someone, whether for or against the war, was talking about America’s decision.
However, as the war went on, no one seemed to talk about the innocent Iraqis who were caught in the crosshairs. The fathers, the mothers, and the children became used to waking up to the sound of explosions. Families were left homeless after returning to the rubble that used to be their home. America hasn’t experienced a home-front war in over a century, like the way the Iraqis had to experience it. Therefore, American society is unable to empathize with the countries we occupy and the many lives we change completely. Due to a lack of transparency very few Americans can actually see or even imagine the effects of such a war. We are fine with being ignorant of the horrors of war in order to benefit ourselves; although in the end it may cause harm to other living beings. This “out of sight, out of mind” outlook is much like the way we treat factory farming. As our survey shows, we care less about the process and more about the product. Just like the way many of us have ignored the harmful treatment of innocent people, many of us are ignoring the harmful treatment of animals simply because we do not have to get our own hands dirty. We simply reap the benefits. As Paul McCartney says, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” Therefore, if the practices of factory farms were visible to us, and were completely transparent, we would have no choice but to feel some sort of shame that we no longer can ignore.
The number of people in this world is rapidly growing and so is the rate of the amount of meat we produce. When family farms couldn’t produce their meat fast enough, factory farms were created. Factory farming was started to increase food production, where animals could be kept in confined places without transporting diseases. Although these factory farms have increased food production rapidly, the abuse these animals have to undergo is far more drastic. Through genetic engineering and the use of antibiotics, animals are now able to grow larger at a faster and unnatural pace (Kirby). If animals are getting fed these growth-enhancing antiobiotics and chemicals, they are essentially going into the human bodies that eat these animals. Genetically modified meat is not healthy for animals nor humans because it breaks the rules of nature. Once these animals are injected with these chemicals, they have changed from nature’s creation to a man’s creation. FDA would dispute that chemicals are tested to be safe for human consumption. However, FDA has failed many times in taking into consideration the risk factors. For example, “In 2010, the FDA allowed the resumption of commercial shrimp harvesting in coastal waters following the BP oil spill based on the results of only 67 samples.” This shows that FDA does not test thoroughly and mindfully. 67 samples will not give you accurate results and more samples need to be done in order to know if the coast waters are safe or not after an oil spill. Although this is unhealthy for both the animal being treated on and the human that eats the meat, this is the unfortunate reality of how factory farming works.
Because there is a lack of transparency in the factory farming industry, most meat consumers are unaware of the cruelties that go on within the facilities. When the facts are revealed, people’s blissful ignorance is destroyed allowing them to feel shame for allowing factory farming to increase in size. For example, DoSomething.org reveals that most consumers do not know that “egg-laying hens are sometimes starved for up to 14 days, exposed to changing light patterns and given no water in order to shock their bodies into molting.” Around 5-10% of hens die during this forced egg-laying process (11 Facts). When consumers read about unnatural and even malicious practices that happen behind the curtains of factory farming, they realize most of their consumption is directly connected to the factory system. When people consume more meat the demand for farmers to produce and process meat quickly increases. In order to increase production, unnatural raising to speed up animal growth and weight gain occurs and more animals are slaughtered. This provokes shame in individuals because they feel they are responsible for the killing of animals in mass numbers. In recent decades, with increased media coverage against factory farming, people are beginning to realize that ignorance about food production is more serious than it seems. An IBM poll released results claiming that 77% of Americans want to know the history of their food (Botelho). As of November 2013, the U.S. government requires that the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) mandates all meat labels to include where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. COOL represents a start to transparency in the farming industry, but individuals need to know more than where their food came from in order to make ethical decisions about their meat purchases. Even the terminology used on food labels hides what truly goes on in food production. For example, “food producers might have to print ingredient lists, but no one ever passed a law saying we had to understand them. (How do you hydrogenate an oil, anyway?)” (Klein) which is a major concern for animal activists. Lack of transparency in the factory farming industry makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to know or understand anything that goes on behind the doors of factory farms. Because we are not adequately informed, we often do not make appropriate decisions while consuming meat products which ignites shame in us when we find out the drawbacks of our consumption.
Many American consumers suspect a lack of transparency in factory farming, and more and more American consumers feel a sense of guilt and shame about contributing to the suffering of animals going on behind the scenes. However, as more consumers feel a sense of guilt or shame, they don’t always make a change in their food choices. In terms of food quality and animal treatment, the lack of transparency can be blamed both on consumers and corporations.The corporations pursue and manipulate us as consumers, and we choose to ignore and allow it which creates a corrupt food system that does not fit our cultural ethics. Several corporations, like Tyson Foods, have refused to release information regarding their malpractices, and as a result, they are able to act freely and do as they please while worry for consequence. When consumers know less, they are less likely to refuse to buy the product, create laws, and criticize. As time goes on, activist groups like PETA, continue to educate American consumers by protesting and making ads that show the harsh truth of how animals are treated. However, some of the ways PETA uses are alienating consumers because they are turned off and don’t want to make a change.
The lack of transparency in factory farming is what creates this sense of shame. With the use of technology and endless resources, we have access to learn about where our food is coming from and both the benefits and drawbacks of the foods we are eating. There are food companies who know what they are doing is not healthy for the consumer or the animal, and make sure that what they are doing is covered up. The book Eating Animals, written by Jonathan Safran Foer, uses his perspective as a new dad to explore the importance of the types of food we eat and why we eat it. This topic became increasingly important to him when he found out he was going to be a father and have the responsibility to care for a human being other than himself, along with the responsibility of helping his son make dietary choices in order to raise him in the healthiest way possible. Foer writes to Tyson Food Company on multiple occasions, inquiring about the health and different aspects of their food company, and never gets a response. If Tyson company was to respond, they would have to respond to everyone who writes to them, and that would be a difficult task since it would be close to impossible to be honest to your customers while not losing their loyalty. If they told them what they wanted to hear, it wouldn’t be true. If they told them the truth, then people would be less willing to want to eat their food. If you see a video of the inside of a factory farm, it is probably going to be off of a personal cell phone that someone is hiding underneath their t-shirt. The film is going to be shaky and not only is it unreliable but it is also unauthorized. How do you know it is real? Obviously, this is not CBS and their crew going in because they wouldn’t be allowed near a factory farm. If you had something you were proud of, you would want to show it off, and so getting the attention of a major news source such as CBS would be very good publicity. The state of Iowa, which is mainly farmland, enforces the Ag Gag Law. This law states that reporters are not allowed to take pictures or film inside of a slaughterhouse or factory farm. This further shows the extremes that factory farms are willing to take and attempt to hide the process from the public. This makes it hard for the consumer and general public to gather information and insight in regards to the reality of the process inside factory farms.
Beyond a lack of transparency at all levels, the ubiquity of factory farming is created by other levels of ample and varied support throughout the nation. Individuals who support current farming practices, such as economists, argue that factory farms are the most efficient, the only process capable of keeping up with the nation’s ever increasing demand for meat. The United States Department of Agriculture, a segment of the government that is responsible for the nation’s food production, stands by factory farming with a public statement available online: “advances in agricultural productivity have led to abundant and affordable food and fiber throughout most of the developed world,” (USDA) while maintaining a veil around the truth by not specifically addressing or defining these advances. This standpoint taken by the government also justifies factory farming by suggesting that it provides jobs and capital for the citizens of its local area. But economists often argue about the technology of factory farming producing ample meat at a low cost, which is transferred to and enjoyed by the consumer through their savings (Farrell). But because a low price in the supermarket trumps quality, the vast majority of consumers also support the growing industry. This flawed argument focuses solely on the questionable economic positives of factory farming, and ignores any moral obligation that human beings may feel toward animals.
The government also supports Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, because many officials on the boards for the EPA and FDA are currently or have previously been employed for major factory farm-using companies, including Monsanto, a supplier of agricultural products (Food Inc). This internal corruption dominates the lawmaking process and makes change difficult. These individuals face opposing forces and are unable to claim they represents the well being of Americans as advocate for the factory farms for which they used to work. Clearly, change must be accomplished from the outside, by knowledgeable consumers acting on their shame and demanding reform. The difficulty was made evident in 2012, when the USDA retracted its support for “Meatless Mondays,” a campaign to promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier environment. Meat industry officials claimed that the support of this restricted diet was a direct attack on the industry whose self-proclaimed role is to sustain the hunger of the world. The USDA also went under attack from Kansas senator, Jerry Moran, who publicly emphasized the beneficial economic effects that the state receives through their sale of meat worldwide. Senator Moran took the USDA’s suggestion even farther, interpreting it as a personal attack on farmers as individuals (Lupkin). This loud, public outburst from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and political leaders scared the government into taking back their statement. These forces combined may be nearly unstoppable against factory farming.
One of the largest factory farming companies is Tyson Foods, which produces a high percent of beef, pork, and broilers. Although they produce the food we eat, many Americans do not know what effect that food has on our bodies because of the way the meat is produced. It is important to take into consideration how they make that meat and what the animals go through in order to produce meat fast enough. Tyson Foods has treated their animals in ways that they should not be treated. in Not too long ago, there was an undercover video caught of a Tyson employee being violent towards a pig. These are the kinds of exposure videos that are useful in shocking a consumer into wanting to change the way the food industry works.
In order for people to understand what actually takes place inside a factory farm, they must be shown images of the grueling process or understand the farmer’s reason for this abusive behavior through advertising and entertainment. 99% of animals that reside in a farm are living in a factory farm. In these farms, 10 billion animals are killed inhumanely annually in the U.S alone. Many films and documentary show the graphic actions that take the lives of these animals in their movies. In the documentary Farm to Fridge-The Truth Behind Meat Production (see below), many graphic images of the process of meat production are brought to light. Within the first two seconds of the video, they show a cow’s skull getting bashed in and a pig being suffocated to death. This is only a 12-minute documentary, but it’s easy to stop the video out of digust after only ten seconds. Throughout many responses to this documentary, such as comments, reviews etc. many people became activists and attempted to fight these farms. On the online blog Kiss me, I’m Vegan, many people are taking a stand and building awareness through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The blog owner, Lindsay said, “Will you make a pledge with me to feature ‘Farm to Fridge’ on your Facebook wall for the next week? Or at least the next day? Because even if a thousand people don’t stop to watch it, one might. And that one may be a person who never before considered changing his or her ways from carnist to vegan.”
Due to the persuasion of this blog, many people are responding to this call to action and becoming activists . In another documentary produced by HBO titled Death on a Factory Farm, an undercover animal rights group investigates the actions that take place inside the Wiles Hog Farm near Creston, California. They find out that the farmers euthanize pigs by suffocating them with chains and beating them until they die. What takes place inside this farm is not any different from any other factory farm in the nation. In fact, these types of farms are considered commonplace, and the Wiles Hog Farm is no exception. This documentary, much like the other one, was made to raise awareness for these actions and encourage people to change the food industry’s process. Thanks to these graphic documentaries, many people are putting a stop to factory farming and are aware of the cruelty farm animals face. Showing graphic images through entertainment and advertisements is a harsh way to alert the public, however it is one of the more effective ways of getting the point across.
Sometimes, it’s not just enough to inform the general public of the horrors that go on inside of factory farms. In the minds of some activists, the use of shock tactics, or outrageously spectacular displays of public awareness, have become more common, especially on the internet. Popular videos (The Meatrix) gif-sets and even video games (Can Your Pet?) have made widespread appearances. Gruesome images of chickens going through blenders, cows being thrown into dumpsters, “worker were documented tearing the heads off live birds, spitting tobacco into their eyes, spray-painting their faces, and violently stomping on them” (Foer). Shock tactics are especially effective at grabbing attention and burning images (and opinions) into your mind because they often open a person up, and make them nice and vulnerable (imagine a happy background music along with a title to a video like “cute baby chicks”), then they line up the shot (video opens and for three seconds you get to register a couple dozen fluffy chicks that are all standing on top of a big machine), and metaphorically punch you in the nuts (the blender turns on and those chicks are turned into paste) (LiveLeaks). Upon seeing gruesome images like this, one has questions in their heads. Things like, “Did I really just see that?” “Does that actually happen?” “Who would do something like that?”. These questions are designed to spur those who get bombarded with gore to support campaigns against factory farming in a quest to answer these questions and correct them. However, many people tend to have a more avoidant nature to disturbing imagery, which means there’s a good chance that such traumatic pictures and videos might instead cause the person to block out the source that is giving them the information. The power of one person choosing to share or not share this can easily block or allow a large population to feel these same feelings and make their own choices as well.
Extreme Cruelty & Extreme Activism
But shame in the individual is also sparked by deceptive information. Some animal rights activists unfairly guilt people for not taking action by using misleading statistics. From the activists’ perspective, big numbers are better than little numbers, broad is better than narrow (which increases the number of animals put into a category affected by factory farming), and defending numbers by attacking critics is useful. These tactics can skew data of animal cruelty in farming by overestimating the amounts of animals harmed, using too broad of definitions to classify cruelty, or only focusing on specific factory farms that violate animal protection regulations which do not properly represent the entire factory farming industry. For example, in 2008 the USDA published data claiming 34.4 million head of cattle were slaughtered for commercial use while activist website Animal Liberation Front estimated 40.8 million cow deaths. So, who’s right?
Animal rights activists often reveal statistics from only the worst factory farms, which takes advantage of individuals’ ignorance to the industry. Some activists believe “extra” emphasis is necessary because “when people feel guilt about a specific behavior, they experience tension, remorse, and regret… [which] typically motivates reparative action — confessing, apologizing, or somehow repairing the damage done.” (Tangney). Activists argue that people would not feel shame for the wrongs they commit unless the wrongs are exaggerated, in which case people feel more obligated to change and help lower animal consumption from factory farms. However, many people agree that honesty is the most ethical approach when delivering information to the public, and because factory farming is such a controversial issue that individuals should be accurately informed in order to make the right judgments about their food choices. The state of factory farming in this country is bad enough as it is. The truth speaks volumes. And the exaggerated rhetoric can often alienate those who might otherwise be open to change.
“According to PETA, these kinds of shock tactics are an effective way of keeping its issues in the news” (Commonplace). PETA, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, has been known as one of the biggest groups to abuse the use of shock tactics to fill their own agenda. From what could be considered more mundane, like their sexy girls playing with vegetables commercial, to their slightly more rash, placing a tombstone that says ‘KFC Murders birds’ next to colonel sander’s tombstone, publicity stunts. PETA is one of the most well known groups, not only for its ability to make changes in world of animal rights, but also for its shock tactics which typically lead the front pages wherever they go. It’s certainly true that shock tactics, especially public displays, are very helpful in getting your information into the news and minds of the general public, but it also has to be asked, at what cost? A certain cycle can be seen, from people feeling shame, to allowing lack of transparency, to rediscovering the shame and taking activist positions, to creating transparency, to feeling shame again. Activism is an important part of the battle to make our food production more transparent. The choices that the individual makes on a day to day basis in protest can change the way we eat as a group. But it’s the actions of groups that defines the way our food makes it to our plates as a country.
We produced a survey and gave it to a group of 36 college students. The ten question survey asked questions regarding socioeconomic background, dietary positions (ie: veganism, vegetarianism), and about their recognition and standpoint on factory farms. The responses were not too surprising, but they lead to some interesting ideas and opinions. Out of the 36 students, 34 of them had at least some of their tuition paid by their parents or guardians while only 9 of the 36 students had financial aid. This controlling question leads us to assume that most of the students in the survey wouldn’t have too much of a problem, financially speaking, with buying organic and/or vegetarian/vegan foods. Out of the 36 students only 4 consider themselves vegan or vegetarian and 20 would consider trying it mainly for health reasons and because of the practice of family farming. The remainder of the survey asked the students if where their food came from affected what they would eat and a majority said that it would. The remaining part of the survey also asked if they considered themselves informed on the topic of factory farming and the difference between organic and processed foods. While most people considered themselves well informed, I would argue that in reality they are not actually fully informed.
The Down Side
Have you ever been going somewhere in a hurry, stopped at a convenience store, such as 7-Eleven, and gotten something to eat? You walk in and you are bombarded by numerous candies, sodas, ramen noodles, and microwavable burritos. Beyond that, you might be able to find something healthy like a granola bar or a pack of cigarettes. These “convenience” stores fill neighborhoods like West Oakland and Richmond in cities where unemployment is high and median income is low. Many parts of metropolitan cities are starting to become what is known as food deserts. Defined by The Center for Disease Control (CDC), food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grain, low-fat milk and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.
Eating healthy and teaching healthy eating habits is made nearly impossible within the conditions of a food desert. According to OnEarth.org, a website published by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the community of West Oakland has 25,000 residents who pay $58 million dollars a year in groceries, yet there is not one single full-service grocery store. Lack of access to food with actual nutritional value has left Oakland with a 48% make of people who are obese or overweight (Ogburn). How can this be? Someone has to see this economic opportunity and take it, but why don’t they? Possible answers could include things like the high rate of theft and shoplifting or the fact that many residents of these areas are car-less, and full-service grocery stores are modeled to serve people with cars. None of these solutions should be reason enough to ignore the millions of dollars that are spent on this necessary commodity every day.
“Animals deserve the most basic rights, consideration of their own best interests regardless of whether they are useful to humans. This stance is based on the notion that animals are capable of suffering and have an interest in leading their own lives” (Paul J. Fitzgerald, The Theological Status of Animals as Moral Beings). We found this sentence very interesting since it shows how humans should respect animals because we can all agree that they somehow suffer in the same way we do. We should always act and make decisions about animals while taking into consideration our principles and our morals.
This is why killing animals in such a cruel way should not be allowed in farms and people should start to spread this message in order to make more transparency about this topic. There needs to be some rules that manage the breeding of farm animals so that they can live in a decent way. We shouldn’t exploit and damage nature so that it gives us the bigger amount of final product, instead we should adapt to what nature gives us spontaneously. The bigger problem though, is to figure out who it is to blame. In my opinion, the USDA and FDA should intervene and establish some rules that need to be respected nationally. The blame could also be given to those farmers who grow their animals in the worst conditions in order to gain the most money as possible.
A lot of people justify the overproduction of meat as their instinct to eat meat. It was really impressive to find out that the increasing demand of meat is rising exponentially. Experts say that “By 2050 nearly twice as much meat will be produced as today” (Worldwatch Institute, Meat production continues to rise). At the same time though, those same people would have an instinct of stopping someone that cruelly raises and kills animals. A big contradiction then arises and finding a solution to it is very hard. This contradiction is exactly what Steve Loughnan defines as the “meat paradox” in his article “The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals” (Steve Loughnan).
The majority of US Citizens are not educated about the processes of factory farming, the reason being that these food companies go to extreme measures in attempt to hide what they are doing. If these companies were not doing anything wrong, then they would not have reason to hide any part of the factory farming process. Although there is negativity towards factory farming, it still takes place in America, mainly because there has not been enough action towards changing policy. Food, Inc. is a popular documentary which explores the truth about how farmed animals are cared for, contrasting it with where people think their meat products are coming from. In an ideal situation, you think of your eggs coming from a chicken that was raised and cared for properly on a family farm in Iowa. Instead, the movie informs the viewer of the crowded areas in which chickens are kept; small cages where they are almost stacked on top of each other. This is a setting where the light is manipulated, mocking the different seasons in hopes the chickens cycle adapts to it so that they can reproduce faster and more frequently. Is this caused by demand, or the selfish desire of factory farmers to produce faster in a way to make money quicker? There is this idea of factory farms having glass walls where the public would be able to see everything that goes on in the inside. If people had access to see what was on the inside, then they would not eat the food coming from there. If it was mandatory to have glass walls, then maybe companies would change their means of production because they would be too embarrassed to show what is going on inside the walls of their factories. The negatives of these unnatural, genetic modifying food techniques outweigh the positives as they pose health threats to our bodies, the environment, and our future. After watching the film or having access to see the truth, you would think that people would be more careful and interested in changing their eating patterns, along with showing more interest in where there food comes from. The problem is that although people are interested in it, there is this lack of transparency of factory farms that hides the process and necessary information from the public.
Part of the reason for all this, in America at least, might have to do with the American people being overworked compared to the rest of the first world. According to Mother Jones, American productivity has more than tripled since 1970, but average household wages have lain stagnant in that time. While the value of the minimum wage has gone up by 21% since 1990, the cost of living has gone up by 67% in that time. Also according to Mother Jones, he yearly income on the minimum wage, $15080, is almost exactly half the income required for economic security. More of the middle class is working over 50 hour weeks since 1977.
In roughly same time frame, according to the EPA, the number of factory farms has more than quintupled, from ~3600 in 1982 to ~20000 in 2012. The livestock products you buy are now more likely to be from a factory farm than not. And the American people go along with this. Why? They don’t have the time or the energy. More than they ever did before Reagan, they need to focus on keeping their jobs, keeping themselves and/or their families in the black, keeping their households in shape, and getting enough leisure time. They’re buying from the same groceries as always, but the groceries’ suppliers have changed, and they don’t have the energy to look up from the daily grind and change their ways.
Although factory farming began as something intended to be helpful and positive, it has become an entity that negatively impacts people and animals for various reasons. The initial idea of factory farming along with the goal now, which is to sell the most meat at the lowest prices, have not changed. However, the ways in which those goals are being achieved are much different than they were when factory farming first began. Some of the main causes of the negative downturn of factory farming are a lack of transparency, a false view of farms by the public, government legislature, and our human demand for more affordable food. Many people know about the dangers and negative effects of factory farming, but few people actually buy meat products that are raised in animal friendly environments solely because they are much more expensive than meat that was raised on a factory farm. Because our demand for cheap meat is so high, factory farms stay in existence as a result of a large number of people who are still willing to buy meat solely based off of price. Also, factory farms are able to fly under the radar at times because of their advertising. Products from factory farms can be seen with depictions of animals living happy lives on a farm with a red barn, which is how people like to envision farming. However, factory farms are quite the opposite, with animals stuffed in pens smaller than the size of their bodies.
The other two factors that have caused the transition of factory farming from a good idea into a negative entity are government legislature and a lack of transparency by factory farms. These two go hand in hand, with government legislature aiding factory farms in their non-transparency. One of the most important pieces of legislature protecting factory farming transparency are the Ag-Gag Laws. These laws make it illegal for anyone to take undercover footage of acts occurring at factory farms and release said footage to the public. Footage that would be potentially revealing and devastating to factory farms cannot be shown to the public. All this really says is that such footage exists if there is a law against it, and that if the public were to see said footage they would be mortified and may not eat meat produced from factory farms ever again. These Ag-Gag Laws make it even more difficult than it previously was to discover what is really going on in factory farms because of the lack of transparency that they have. Factory farms continue to exist because of the limited amount of transparency that exists within the farms.
With the current problems present in the strategies of animal rights activists, the power that factory farming exerts over the government and us, and the tendency of American consumers to choose the cheapest option, there is no simple way to resolve the issue of transparency in factory farming. Many Americans want to know more about where their food comes from, and might be affected by seeing the processes involved in factory farming, but the issue is that the factory farming industry (which is an industry with money and power) does not want the public to be educated about the topic. Therefore, the question still remains of what should be done about this issue from consumers, activists, and producers. The consumers have the greatest power to resolve the issue, since if every person on the planet got educated about factory farming, there would no longer be a wall of ignorance. However, the consumers have many obstacles in their way of becoming informed. Factory farms do their best to keep the press from reporting on their practices, which makes it difficult to get an unbiased understanding of factory farming, since most of the reporting (and certainly the most prevalent) comes from animal rights groups like PETA, which are known for using overly-dramatic shock tactics and false or misleading statistics, and are therefore less trustworthy. Fair and unbiased reporting on the factory farming industry would have a significant effect on this issue, since it would allow people to learn the truth about the practices of factory farms. Unfortunately, this would only help to educate consumers who want to know more about the subject—there would still be many people who would remain blissfully unaware of the practices used in factory farming. Currently, animal rights activists use shock tactics to force these people to become more aware of the infractions on animal rights, which has had mixed results. Fortunately, the public is becoming more educated about the issue of factory farming, and many people want to know more about it, so fair reporting on the practices of factory farms would help give these people a way to learn more about the issue.
This all begs the question, so what? Why is this something that we as consumers should be worried about and if we are in fact worried, how can we change such a large production? At the end of it all, there is no real way that we can stop this cruelty with just a snap of our fingers. It will take us, as a society and collective whole, to begin to change the practices of how consumers get their meat- because we all aren’t converting to vegetarianism anytime soon. Awareness and transparency is one of the biggest gifts that people can give the common American in regards to the food farming industry. Once people are aware of the practices, their ideas and opinions tend to change and action wants to be taken against how these animals are treated. This is not a change, like I said, that can happen with the snap of our fingers.
There’s an old cult classic film that many of you probably have seen called Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott in 1982 and starring Harrison Ford. In the film, ignorance about the origins of many of the characters creates a sense of both secrecy and violence. The tension stems from the existence of what are called “replicants,” who are genetically engineered robots who are indistinguishable from real humans.
The film is often referred to as “dystopian,” and, like a lot of dystopian fiction, it’s not what the characters know that creates the violence or sense of doom. It’s what they don’t know. It’s what’s kept from them. Harrison Ford’s character, a “Blade Runner” out to hunt down and kill replicants ends up falling in love with one. In the end, it’s his refusal to stoop to what’s expected of him that leads him not only victory and love, but to what’s right.
The same idea applies to us. We have turned our animals into genetically engineered robots with a termination date and one purpose: to give us cheap, crappy, unethical meat. The problem is, we don’t even see how cruel the process is because the walls on the factories are opaque, the doors are locked tight, and the people who run them are rolling in money. We don’t need a movie to give us a dystopia. We’ve got one. And now it’s time to decide if we are going to do what’s right or continue to stoop, play dumb, and to do what’s expected of us–blindly consume.
Propoganda. 2011. Hgerber13’s Blog, n.p. By Hgerber13
Farrell, Robert R. “Factory Farms – Are They Good for Consumers?” Factory Farms – Are They
Good for Consumers? The Real Truth, 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2009. DVD.
Lupkin, Sydney. “Meat Industry Has Beef with Meatless Monday, Forces USDA to Retract
Ignorance is defined as a lack of knowledge or information. Ignorance is everywhere, it is especially found within ourselves. Think about the last time you ate a meal. Imagine you had a hamburger and french fries. You probably ordered the meal because it looked appetizing, then the waiter brought the food to the table, and you ate it like you would any other meal, without any thought. Did you have any idea where that hamburger came from and how it got to your plate? Most people do not- ignorance. It seems harmless to be unaware of where your food comes from, but after researching the food industry for two quarters at Santa Clara University, I have determined otherwise. Continue reading Ignorance: The Opposite of Bliss// Marissa MacDonald→