responsible eating I can’t and won’t relay them all to you. From corrupt practices that are commonplace in the slaughterhouse – including leaving animals conscious even as they are bled, skinned and dismembered – to the corrupt psychology of the workers there – some of whom have been documented throwing, beating and even sodomizing animals with electric rods – the price we are paying for a few moments of pleasure is much higher than what we see at the grocery store. Some people justify their decision to eat meat by saying that humans process emotions differently than animals. One of the emotions we tie specifically to humans is shame. Do you feel shame when you look into your dog’s mopey eyes before you are about to leave the house for a long day? Would you feel shame if you were to look into the eyes of a cow as it traveled down a conveyer line, still conscious, frantically kicking, approaching the slow painful death that is so common in the factory fall 2013 37 farm system? I do not mean to suggest that eating meat is wrong. Eating meat does not make an eater irresponsible; there is historical precedent to suggest that it is part of our natural habits. Our ancestors began eating meat over 1.5 million years ago, and animals in the natural world eat the flesh of other animals. But in my opinion, no single practice is more irresponsible than factory farming. Our health, our ethics and our planet are at risk, and the only way to end the problem is to demand change. Some people have begun to make these changes, and there are alternative markets that support traditional, small-scale farming. These sustainable, antibiotic-free, humane farms are the answer, and their products are becoming more readily available for everyone. Individuals are the mechanisms to change, and it is in our hands as consumers – as eaters – to commit to responsible eating. Could these surgeries be avoided with a change in diet? Probably. The ADA’s summary goes on to say, “Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower levels of blood cholesterol, blood pressure, risk of hypertension, risk of heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI), and lower overall cancer rates.” Meanwhile, factory farming has become the common practice for harvesting the meat that ends up on our plates. From farm to grocery store, 99.9 percent of chickens, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs and 78 percent of cattle live and die within the factory farm system, according to Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. The image of a farm is a very wholesome one for most of us, but if most people knew where their food was coming from I believe they would be shocked and appalled. It starts with corn. The crop became a subsidized good around 1973 after its initial start in the New Deal Era, in which the government would make up for the price of the corn if it sold lower than a set market value, and essentially write a check to farmers. Because so many farmers thus continue to raise corn, there is a gross overabundance, meaning that the grain sells for a lower value than farmers can live on. To make back the money, the farmers grow more corn. The answer to too much corn is more corn. So what do we do with all of it? We put it in everything and force animals not bred to digest corn to grow fat on the grain. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan declares: “Most of the health problems that afflict feedlot cattle can be traced either directly or indirectly to their diet.” To combat these health problems and to keep the animals from rejecting the unnatural diet, we pump them full of antibiotics. Sulfa drugs and antibiotics are added to chicken feed to stimulate growth and attempt to inhibit the diseases induced by confinement. Today, on a typical factory farm, drugs are fed to animals with every meal in a nontherapeutic practice, meaning the animals are given drugs before they become ill. Mr. Safran Foer reports that “In the Being informed about your options and making choices that you feel good about is responsible eating. United States about 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to humans each year ... but 17.8 million pounds are fed to the livestock,” which will eventually become our dinner. Antibiotics lead to antibiotic-resistant microbes, such as the superbug MRSA, also known as staph infection. The continued use of antibiotics is not sustainable and will lead to more long-term problems than it solves. One of these problems is the overabundance of toxic, drug-contaminated feces. Instead of being recycled as natural fertilizer, as it is on a traditional diversified farm, the toxic waste fills “lagoons” as big as 120,000 square feet adjacent to factory farms, Mr. Safran Foer says. Jeff Tietz reports in Rolling Stone magazine that the feces of factory-farmed hogs can contain “ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorus, nitrates, and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can make humans sick, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptococci, and giardia.” So: What do we do about all of this? There may not be a way to eliminate what has already been done, but we can change our practices for the future. It will take a conscious commitment to demand better standards for the way in which animals are transformed into our dinner. The descriptions of the lives and deaths of animals in Eating Animals bring me to tears and contain details so gruesome that Grace Mican is a sophomore Environmental Studies major at Bellarmine. This essay is adapted from a paper she wrote last semester.
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