I stopped eating meat at age 10. And a few months ago, at age 20, I began again — with vigor. Contrary to common assumption, my youthful decision was not the result of an emotional school farm trip; it was actually a thoughtful choice, made by a well-informed and zealous youth. So why did I turn back to the dark side? Has adulthood jaded me?
Animal activists seem to imply that the only choice is a rigid one, between meat and abstinence. But the decision doesn’t have to be black and white. Even if you don’t go full veg, you can still make decisions that are better for animals and for yourself.
Popular books like “Fast Food Nation” and movies like “Super Size Me” have brought attention to the cruelties inflicted on animals by the meat industry. It is also becoming more common knowledge that meat production wastes grain and fuel, contributing to the world hunger problem. It is getting harder to hide, so if you’ve been living in meat-production ignorance — give it up.
Factory farming practices are inarguably abusive to animals. Meat production at these farms has, in this modern age, become far removed from what might be considered natural. All animal reproduction is the result of artificial insemination; animals are weaned too early and fed foods their bodies must be conditioned to accept. Death is untimely and painful. These farms are highly mechanized and forgo basic ethical and environmental guidelines in order to maximize earnings. Stacey Moore put it best when she wrote, “Factory farming regards animals and the natural world merely as commodities to be exploited for profit.”
One fact PETA and other activist groups fail to realize in their campaigns is that many people don’t care about animal mistreatment. For these people, animals are more walking carrots than actual entities, put on earth simply to provide food for humans. But everyone is concerned with personal health, and thus should be concerned with the state of factory farming. There is an increasing amount of bio-chemical strangeness taking place within their food.
Food animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them healthy and constantly growing. Human ingestion of such a high amount of antibiotics via meat is leading to drug-resistant bacteria strains. The hormones present in meat have been shown to lower the average age women begin menstruating. Serious side effects to be sure, but perhaps most frightening is the fact that we cannot predict what additional effects and consequences these technological advances will have.
Additionally, excessive meat production and consumption ties up resources that otherwise could be used to help alleviate hunger. Most U.S. grain is fed to animals, which produce a much lower amount of food energy than it took to sustain them. The oil it takes to fertilize that grain, transport it, transform it into feed, keep farm and factory machinery going, then eventually to transport food animals, is very wasteful. We have huge corn excesses, encouraged in part by outdated governmental subsidies. Our excesses are what Harvey Levenstein referred to as the “paradox of plenty”: more food and more hunger.
These points aside, it can be difficult, and unhealthy, to sustain a fully vegetarian diet. So how can one reconcile ethics with these concerns?
First off, decide what kind and amount of meat you are comfortable eating. For example, some animals, such as veal calves, are subject to more cruelties than others. It can be difficult to believe that you, the lonely vegetarian, are actually making a difference besides the boost you give to your ego. But the less meat you consume, the less harm is caused.
Secondly, stay informed. Know where your meat comes from, and what production techniques you are comfortable with. Make the extra effort to find cattle that are grazed, poultry that are free range, salmon that swam free, and so on.
Finally, support local farmers and small farming ventures. Large factory farming corporations are responsible for the greatest waste and the greatest cruelties. They are also fast replacing traditional family-owned farms. To kick-start this research, check out Certified Humane online to find meat and poultry that has been raised under a stricter set of guidelines.
Eating meat is not evil. But it should not be done in ignorance. Those of us who do eat meat must act to boycott and oppose bad companies and to reward good ones. We should throw our economic weight around when it comes to demanding less wasteful and more humane practices.
Molly Green is a sophomore in Pierson College.