Willfully ignorant is not a phrase that anyone would use to describe me. When it comes to eating meat, however, that is really the only phrase that can apply. I have known about the horrific state of animal husbandry in the United States for years. I have heard many stories about the abysmal conditions in which animals are kept in factory farms. I am aware of the vast ecological destruction that occurs from industrial fishing practices. I have known that the meat we eat often makes us sick, the people who work in the industry sick, and the people who are unfortunate enough to live nearby a factory farm sick.
These are all facts that have been fed to me little by little over the years. I have known about them the way I know about the fact that the sun rises in the morning. Very little thought was put into it. That has all changed because of a book.
I am currently reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I’m about half way through the book and I’m finding that nothing I’m reading is new to me. There are no new facts and no new conclusions. What there is is everything I have known as disparate facts all condensed into one book. And it is devastating. There really is something incredibly powerful about reading page after page of how awful factory farming is to force you to come to terms with your complicity in perpetuating mass suffering.
99% of all meat and animal byproducts consumed in the United States comes from factory farms. They live in inhumane conditions from the day they are born to the day they die. They live in pain from the day they are born to the day they die. They are killed in ways that are inefficient and often lead to fully conscious animals being skinned and gutted. And that’s if they live that long. Male chicks are almost all killed after hatching. Unhealthy pigs are taken by their hind legs and swung against the ground bashing their heads in. None of the meat that comes from these animals can be considered healthy because of the conditions in which they are processed.
Terms like “cage free” and “free range” and “grass fed” are merely marketing ploys and are all but meaningless. “Cage free” can mean that the enclosure the animal is placed in doesn’t meet the definition of a cage even though the animals are packed in just as tightly. “Free range” can mean that the animal can look through a screen window and see the outdoors. “Grass fed” can mean that a minimal portion of the animal’s diet is grass. If you do not have first hand knowledge of the conditions in which the animal was raised, you must assume those terms are a lie.
Seafood, alas, isn’t much better. One pound of caught shrimp can cause over 20 pounds of bycatch (sea creatures that are not the intended target). The world average is 6 pounds of bycatch for every pound of shrimp caught. Almost all this bycatch dies and is thrown overboard. “Dolphin friendly” tuna is anything but. All it means is that they don’t specifically target dolphins when looking for tuna. All tuna fishers end up with dolphin bycatch.
There are much more humane alternatives, but they are difficult to find and require research that is really not possible for big city dwellers. And even if you can find them, they are only more humane. There is no such thing as a humane way to kill a living animal. There is only more humane and less humane methods. Even the most humane current standard causes suffering.
Despite all that, I still find it really difficult to say that I will give up meat. It is a completely unnecessary food item to consume in a first world country with a vast agricultural distribution network. I don’t need meat’s nutritional content and I get plenty of pleasure from other non-meat food items. There is really only one logical, moral, and ethical choice in the matter, though, and that is to give up eating meat.