It can be agreed, more or less unanimously, that the factory farming meat industry is one of (if not) the most gruesome and horrific enterprises in existence today.
The past decades of mankind’s over indulgence, industrialization, and solipsism have brought us to a point where it is no longer morally acceptable to ignore the atrocities being carried out on thousands of blameless creatures each day. The majority of society has tacitly decided, repeatedly, that having a few strips of bacon with breakfast or some chicken in our noodle soup is worth a life of unimaginable suffering for some innocent animal, whose only purpose in life was to be slaughtered.
Most people believe that they have good reasons for eating meat, and will argue as if they have no ethical qualms in doing so. Very rarely do people think deeply enough about its consequences, or are honest enough with themselves to admit that it really is just a selfish act stemming from our insatiable appetites and complacency. In reality, there are virtually no good reasons for a person to continue eating meat, especially at the same rate of consumption as most Americans.
The contention that meat eating is a natural phenomenon is exceedingly the most common excuse for not abstaining from it. While it is true that eating meat is something that our bodies have evolved to do and therefore must have been done for some time by our ancestors, by no means does that imply that our current situation is analogous to theirs in any way. A lot of research into the diets of our early ancestors has been done, and it can be said confidently that their diets consisted mostly of fruits, nuts, and vegetables at the time when the primary features of our guts evolved. For a large portion of that time, meat was a rare “treat”, if eaten at all, and was typically done so in life or death situations. Even if it were the case that our ancestors were voracious meat eaters, we would still not b be absolved from the ethical implications of factory farming. Every piece of meat consumed by early humans would certainly have been, what we consider today, free range. The practice of factory farming only just began in the early 20th century and at a much smaller scale than what we are witnessing today. Reverting to a more natural approach to meat consumption — one in which we hunt, kill, and butcher our own food — would undoubtedly be more humane and sustainable. However, as it stands, that option is not being seriously considered by any significant number of people, and factory farming remains the most economically and logistically sensible approach for the average consumer.
I often hear concerns from others about staying healthy while on a vegetarian diet. While it is true that meat in general has some health benefits, it is untrue to say that it is a required facet of a healthy diet, or that the majority of meat available to us is in any way a healthy option. Research tells us that going vegan is one of the healthiest dietary decisions to make – reducing one’s risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and a variety of other conditions. Questions about how I feel after deciding to not eat meat, and about how I get enough protein and nutrients to stay healthy, are a regular occurrence. It is a fairly common misconception that meat is essentially one’s only source of protein and that without it one must resort to supplements; this is patently false. Protein comes from a variety of sources, including beans, grains, and vegetables, and is usually overly consumed in the first place. There are other vitamins and minerals that are commonly found in meat, such as iron, that may be more difficult to acquire while on a vegetarian diet, but that is not say that it is impossible or even difficult to find them elsewhere, only that it may require more diligence to ensure that it is included in one’s diet.
Another common rationalization for eating meat, believe it or not, is that we breed animals specifically for eating. Indeed, every animal finding themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of being raised on a factory farm can find solace in the fact that they are fulfilling their intended life’s purpose of becoming a ham sandwich or a hot dog. Perhaps this the most gruesome aspect of the factory farming industry: the immense number of beings deliberately brought into existence that experience nothing but a life of misery and pain, punctuated by a violent, and often times agonizing, death. Living conditions on these farms have been well documented and attested to, and in the vast majority of cases can only be described as horrific. Last Chance for Animals gives a particularly chilling account of conditions for veal calves:
Veal calves live in small wooden crates; some are chained. They cannot turn around or even stretch their legs. The floors of their stalls are slatted, causing them severe joint and leg pain. Since their mother’s milk is taken for human consumption, they are fed a milk substitute deficient in iron and fiber. In other words, they are deliberately kept anemic and their muscles are atrophied so that their flesh will be pale and tender. Craving iron, they lick the metallic parts of their stalls, even those covered in urine. Water is often withheld from them. Some are killed when they are only a few days old to be sold as low-grade veal for frozen dinners and the like. The rest are slaughtered when they are 16 weeks old; they are frequently too sick or crippled to walk. Ten percent of veal cows die in confinement. They never see the sun, touch the Earth, or taste the grass.
Our acquiescence and tacit support of these ghastly circumstances must cease. The scale at which we impose needless suffering and harm on these fellow creatures is obscene, and unlike any seen before. It cannot be said by any thinking person that this is morally or ethically acceptable, and it should be clear that a shift from factory to free range farms or hunting, where the animals can live a relatively normal life, is long overdue. A decent starting point in this process is to change the cultural perspective on eating meat, and to view vegetarianism as a goal — not just a hippie lifestyle. Recognizing and being mindful of the ultimate price that is paid for eating meat is a crucial stepping stone on the path to reducing our world-wide meat consumption, and a more humane and sustainable future for all of the earth’s creatures.