The Silent Stain of Factory Farms and Selective Compassion
Today, while watching a father happily stuff cheese pizza into his toddler’s mouth at a public food court, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. The joy on the father’s face as the child gulped down rope after rope of the stretching oily mass brought to my mind the despair of the mother, whose precious child had been taken from her at birth.
Upon having her child whisked away, the mother probably felt the same crushing agony from when it happened before. And the time before that. And the year before that. She probably fought desperately, but no one came to help. She probably saw her baby’s eyes for the last time as they took him around a corner, and then she was left alone with nothing. Just like the last time.
She thought this one could be different. Heartbroken and helpless, she threw her bloated, motherly body into the barrier, crying out, bashing her head over and over against the steel in one last try for justice. But no one noticed. And business as usual went on as she lay, finally, on the floor, looking up through filth and feces. The machines whirred and the men kept talking and no one stopped their busy pace as the mother lay dying. She had broken her own neck, and still: nobody cared. The difference between the father with the toddler and this mother is that one is human—the other, a cow. And her life, suffering and death was for the cheese topping we can’t seem to get enough of.
What has brought us to this this shameful lack of humanity? What will we do about it?
We can unravel this nightmare called “factory farming,” its holocaust for living beings and the planet, by honestly looking at ourselves, our culture, and making changes now to find the answers.
Once upon a time, humans stopped roaming the earth and set up agricultural practices. Along with the “my grain silo, my woman” mentality of sedentary, non-communal life came domesticated animals, banking systems and organized religions. If anything today is testament to the failures of mankind, surely it’s the relationship we have with animals. There was a time when “traditional” farming and husbandry practices were in place, and animals were free to roam the pastures, feel the sun on their faces, touch the grass and breathe fresh air. That time is largely gone.
Corporations have swallowed family-owned farmland and taken Henry Ford’s production line idea and applied it to living beings. They have thrown traditional farming out the window, and you’re paying for it with millions of dollars a year in “subsidies” that create cost advantages for corporations, not family farmers—or you.
The current model of factory farming considers living animals units of production. These living beings do not get to go outside; they live and die in concrete buildings. They never lead a normal life, raising their young with dignity. They are confined for life in a space equivalent to you sitting in an economy airline seat—forever. (Oh, you’ll also have to go to the bathroom in that seat, and your food will be mixed with antibiotics to keep your body going even though your soul and spirit have died.) The industrialized farm business has gone to great lengths to make sure the consumer never knows about this. Five states have now made it illegal to conduct undercover video or research in a factory farm. The same factory farm that feeds you and your family.
Why do we consume so much flesh and bodily fluids of animals? Because a group of people in the early 20th century decided to market meat to the public. Led by Edward Bernays, who marketed cigarettes to women in the 1920s, ad campaigns popped up touting the “health benefits” of eating a big breakfast of bacon and eggs each day. This putrefied into the misconception that meat at every meal was an American standard.
The reality of eating a diet laden with flesh and animal products speaks for itself. The National Cancer Institute has found that men who eat meat often are 27% more likely to die from heart disease. In turn, a recent study published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention tracked nearly 70,000 participants over four years, finding a 34% decreased risk of cancers among the vegan participants. In addition, a new report by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine found that 63 out of 100 packages of grocery store chicken tested positive for fecal contamination. Those chickens are also fed arsenic to keep their skin pinker. Cows are fed unnamed animal byproducts which cause widespread disease. All of these profit-based schemes end up costing you your health.
Factory “farms” also deposit huge amounts of toxic pollution into our soil, water and air. They are responsible for 500 million tons of manure per year, three times more than all waste created by every human in the U.S. Much of this eventually seeps out of massive holding lagoons and contaminates streams and groundwater. The vast amount of land needed to produce the animal feed ties up space that could be used to grow other food for humans. The amount of oil and water needed to produce feed and process the carcasses is also astronomical—as is the oil used in transportation to and from slaughter, and after slaughter.
That next stage of the animal’s life is so horrific it makes Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle seem pleasant—for being boiled alive in “scalding tanks,” dragged upside down, slashed, electrocuted, hung, and beaten to death is what awaits you after leaving the lifetime economy class airline seat. If the animals are “cage free,” they’ll have been upgraded to business class sized crates, allowing for a few more inches during their life in a box.
One must ask—is there a spiritual or emotional toll we incur? Do we take on the horror, frustration, sadness and fear from the animal products we ingest? Do the chickens who live lifetimes unable to spread their wings contribute to our own depression? For every egg we eat, there’s a living chick. If it’s male they’re stuffed into garbage bags, the tops tied tightly and tossed away as trash because the egg “industry” has no use for males. Do we feel suffocated as we eat another egg? Another croissant? Another ice cream cone for another special, loved, human child?
Does making something kosher or organic alleviate the problem? One would hope so, but that is not the case. The existence of those labels attest to the fact that other animal products are unclean, unsafe, inhumane, tainted or less desirable. Why should we submit to living in a fractured world like this?
The only way to escape the madness, the absolute inhumanity, of this disease is to face it together. The elephant in the room is called selective compassion. Our moral compass has been marred, and all the organic meat in the world isn’t going to correct it. We are compassionate creatures and we know it. We have feelings, and we have forsaken them. It’s killing us. We eat pigs, who dream and are as smart as dogs, but we love dogs and keep them as “pets.” We allow others—be it because of financial or religious rank—to eat things we deem unfit. We don’t barbecue our dead and eat them—why? We are saddened by the slaughter of school children, yet not by the slaughter of baby animals for our palettes. This all adds to the schizophrenic nature of our culture. We cannot live in a reality where selective compassion and selective consideration is de rigueur. This violent, aggressive and diseased way of living has finally caught up with us mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. The grain silos are filled, yet we have less and less.
I do not foresee an intentional turn to veganism sweeping America anytime soon. However, due to rapidly dwindling supplies of oil and fresh water, it has been suggested that it might become an inevitable reality in as little as fifteen years. In the meantime, shall we carry on blindly consuming that which is given to us as scraps from an “industry” hell-bent on profit? Should we feed racism and classism by knowingly allowing some to eat filth and others to eat better? Or should we move into a new phase of humanity, step up to the plate and make the real changes needed?
We must revise and update the way we see and interact with all others on the planet. We must revise and update our ideas of quantity and quality. Consideration for living beings, especially if they are to lay their lives down for ours to continue, needs to be of utmost concern if we are to thrive as a species. The quality of life that we consume is the quality of life we live. Our body’s cells replace themselves and reform anew every few weeks. We are what we eat, and we can build a world where wholesome, humane foods are a right that everyone enjoys, no matter their financial or social standing.
Until this becomes a reality, what we can do is limit—or, if possible, stop—our intake of animal products, especially all commercial, factory farmed products. If you support the best local farms available, you’ll be sending a message to the commercial meat industry through your dollars. If people ate no animal products, even better: a vegetarian saves more than thirty animals per year.
In protest of the slave trade in the 1790s, British Quakers and the working class boycotted West Indies Sugar. By 1807, slave trade ended. By 1833, slavery in Britain was outlawed. Until factory farming ends, I will be vegan. Our continued support of a system that abuses innocent beings, poisons our land and bodies, steals livelihoods and liberties, and shames us into believing we can do no better is our continued support of our own enslavement.
For more information:
Or write to the Secretary of Agriculture at [email protected] and demand regulations on factory farms in line with what the EU has mandated.