I eat animals and animal products. There, I said it. I primarily eat other things, but I'm not going to pretend I'm vegan or vegetarian. I have found places that raise animals and plants in a manner consistent with my values, and I didn't think that was possible...it is (hint: it's farmers markets). It's not everywhere, it's not mainstream, but we have to change that. We're not helpless. We are the consumers and the food industry can't survive without us.
Are you ready to know why animal confinement operations are illogical? I'm not interested in praying on people's innate compassion or their guilt or their squeamishness. This doesn't need to be an emotional matter. It's a practical matter. That's because we took a system that worked perfectly, a closed ecological loop, and tried to make it better. And we broke it.
How food animals are raised traditionallyA food/dairy animal farmed traditionally walks around on pasture. It eats forage and grass and if it's omnivorous like chickens, some insects, too. Their bodies are designed to eat these things. The forage and grass have adapted to this animal eating it and depends on being eaten to thrive. The animal has lots of unique behaviors, just like humans do, and can carry them out, so they are happy, healthy, and stress-free. They feel the sun on their backs and a fresh breeze in their face, and they get to exercise and interact with other animals, their kin, and humans. They have a very low-rate of illness and their immune systems are robust. The animal poops on the pasture, which fertilizes the soil and in turn, their future meals. The animal ingests the energy from the sun that the plants synthesized. The pasture isn't watered, and the farmers skillfully rotate the animals on the pasture so that the pasture isn't over-grazed.
We don't have to remove the poop. We don't have to confine the animals. We don't try to make every single animal taste, look, and live exactly like the one next to it. Ok so tell me, really. Isn't this what the overwhelming majority of people want? Isn't this what you'd like be eating if you're a consumer of animals/animal products?
Why industrialized food animal operations make no senseMost animals now are not raised traditionally. They're raised in confinement from birth to death. Why is this illogical? It's simple. You can even just read the bolded parts if you're in a hurry:
- Confinement operations are not more efficient. Plant synthesizes sun into energy; animal eats energy, we eat animal. Eating a plant is far more efficient because there's one fewer step between us and the sun's energy. Anyway, once we take the animal off the grass and put it into a metal confinement building, we have to put a lot of energy and resources into producing its feed, which is mostly GMO grains. These genetically-modified monocrops use a tremendous amount of energy, because they require the production of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which are derived from fossil fuels. It also takes a lot of water and depletes the soil of nutrients, making large swaths of land baron for years. And we subsidize this with our tax dollars. Confinement operations make more meat than a small family farm, obviously. That's because the animals are slaughtered very young and are bred, injected, and fed to be huuuuge. Guys, we don't need all this meat. We really don't. We'll be better off with less of it.
- Confinement operations and industrial agriculture are not fixing world hunger. Even if they were trying to, they'd fail, because world hunger is about power and politics, NOT abundance. The United States produces an overabundance of real food. The planet produces 4.3 pounds of real food per person per day. Corporate profitibility is the only reason we moved to industrial animal operations anyway. Ok, that, and the ridiculous overabundance of corn, pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics.
- Poop is getting in our water. Mostly characterized as a hog operation and bovine operation byproduct, manure lagoons are huge pools of liquified manure that's been removed from underneath the animal, liquified, and then transported. Some of it is sprayed on land to fertilize it, but the vast majority has to go somewhere else, because there's not nearly enough land to spray it on: lagoons. These lagoons do not stay contained and dump huge amounts of nitrogen and toxic substances into the water supply, which completely throws off the ecosystem in the body of water, and millions of fish die. In short, this is a health risk for us and an environmental risk everywhere there's a CAFO anywhere near a body of water.
- These animals are very unhealthy. Many are always on the brink of dying from illness, so they are fed and injected with ridiculous amounts of antibiotics, some on a daily basis from birth to death. Not only am I creeped out by the idea of eating an animal that can't survive with copious amounts of drugs, but I'm going to be ingesting some of those antibiotics, too, which makes my body more resistant to antibiotics when they could save my life. They are not provided the conditions that lead to good health. They are too close together. They sometimes can't move at all and hogs, egg-laying hens, and dairy cows usually can't turn around. They can't exercise. In the case of hog operations, they're inhaling toxic gases produced by their own waste with every breath. They are not clean and pass diseases onto each other all the time. They stand and lie in their waste. They eat a diet that is equivalent to a human eating only Twinkies. The way I see it, when you eat an animal on Twinkies, you're pretty much eating Twinkies, plus a bunch of other crap. Anyone can figure out that's not healthful. Eggs are dyed because they're devoid of nutrition; salmon is dyed for the same reason. Both would be gray without the dye. Gross. Bovine especially have it bad when eating grains, because their rumines can't really handle it, so they have a hole in their side so the "farmer" can reach into the rumen and pull out the acidic, bacteria-laden (read: E. coli) frothiness that results from their unnatural diet. And blah blah blah, there's so much more. I don't want to eat that.
- CAFO-borne meats/dairy products are not cheaper. Yes, it seems cheaper in the grocery store because of government subsidies that WE pay for! Then there's the hidden costs of poorer health (higher medical bills, more medications), and the ENORMOUS carbon footprint. Like, way bigger than never driving your car ever again. It's the hidden costs that bite us in the ass, and they're the hardest ones to pay attention to, because they may not be obvious and they're rarely instant.
- Confinement operations are only more profitable for corporations, not the farmers. Traditional farmers are much more profitable than industrial farmers. Most industrial farmers are in their line of work still because they can't get out without losing everything and are usually eternally beholden to the corporations.
- These animals are deformed. Pigs are injected with steroids that make them produce tons of muscle, but no fat. They look more like dachshunds than pigs. If they went outside and it was cold, they'd most likely die because they can't regulate their body temperature any more. Their tails are cut off to discourage tail-biting, a side-effect of confinement. Cows can't walk well and become lame because their udders are bred to be oversized (so they can produce 10,000 lbs of milk a year; p.s. we produce too much milk). Their tails are also cut off, because it's an annoyance to humans. Chickens' beaks are cut off so they won't peck each other to death, a side-effect of confinement. They also can't walk because their breasts are too big (same with turkeys).
- Confined seafood and livestock eat each other's parts and waste. Most of the fish you eat eat pellets that comprise livestock waste (read: poop), grains, minerals, and dye. A lot of the land animals (and their products) that you eat eat farmed fishmeal, blood, feathers, animal by-products, and GMO grains. This is not a natural closed loop. Again, does it make any sense to feed your dog only grapes? I mean, what the hell? I mean, one could say they're being resourceful and not wasting things, but it's being done for the wrongest of reasons: profit. And it's stupid.
- Confined animals are pointlessly abused. You can find lots of videos and articles and books describing this if you want the details. It's pointless from our perpective, but it all makes sense in the context of screwing up that perfect, ecological loop for $$$.
- Producing only grass-fed animals won't automatically cause deforestation. It requires skilled grass-farming, and while most industrial "farmers" may feel it's too much work, I'm sure any real farmer could do it just fine. In fact, well-managed grasses grazed by livestock can actually produce far more vegetation than they normally would. And guess what would replace all that land covered in monocrops that currently produces feed? GRASS. And guess what is particularly good at removing CO2 from the atmosphere? GRASS. Guess what's pretty bad at it? GRAINS. We have plenty of land for there to be food animals that live off of it. We don't have enough land or time for every American to eat a hamburger every day, though. We just don't. We eat so much more meat now than we did 50 years ago, and we're not any healthier for it.
- You're pretty much not allowed to see how confined animals live. And if you're "lucky" enough, you scrub yourself down in a hot shower and put on a hazmat suit. If I can't see how my food is being grown, something is wrong. And if I can see it but want to vomit/punch someone, something is very wrong.
So I'll ask you again.
Do you want to eat products from animals that live that way?
I'm going to guess NO. Obviously those that feel deep compassion for animals are freaking out right now, but even putting those feelings aside...who'd want to EAT that?
You are not a horrible person
I'm not exaggerating. I'm not trying to sensationalize things and make you feel like a horrible person. You are not a horrible person. Forgive yourself for all the animals you've eaten in the past (and that you probably will eat) that you wish hadn't lived the way they did and move on. These are just the facts. This is the way most of our animal-based food is produced, and it's just stupid, stupid, stupid. It must stop. We can change it, but we have to change our relationship to food and how important it is to us. We have to devote more of our income to it. We have to tell people what's really going on. We have to vote with our dollars and our forks. We have to walk up to a burger place that clearly serves meat produced in this stupid way, and say "Um, excuse me, are your bovine raised traditionally on pasture? No? Ok, thank you." And walk out feeling like a freaking idiot. We have to go to our college reunion and explain to our friends at the dinner table that we rarely eat food produced in a way that's inconsistent with our values, while they struggle to understand...and feel like a freaking idiot while munching the apple you brought from home. We have to look a farmer in the eye and ask him how his hogs live and what they eat and sound stuck-up and entitled. We have to risk our reputations and our tenuous relationships and our egos for food that's stupidly produced. But it's hard. It's not just about our health. It's not just about animals' welfare. It's also about the lasting and devastating impacts to the planet. It's about not letting corporations that care only for money bastardize our food supply because we think we, the people, don't have power. It's about protecting the welfare of the people that are working in these so-called "farms" and the people that live around them. It's about going "excuse me, what the %(&*$$%@*! is going on here? This is ridiculous!" You have rights.
- Horizon sucks. Don't trust their happy cow drawing.
- Whole Foods only sells beef from bovine that are grown on grass and then finished on grain, because Americans love their fatty beef. This is better than it could be, but seems somewhat backwards since putting them back on grain introduces the risk of E. coli. Just thought you should know that if you want 100% grass-grazed, it's off to the farmers market with ya!
- Organic Valley is a pretty trustworthy brand.
- I went to Elevation Burger today and asked the cashier if the dairy cows were pastured (since there's a big poster about how their meat bovine live). She didn't know what that word meant and then realized I must have meant grass-fed, and said "yes, they all eat grass." Didn't feel comforted. Half the menu involved dairy but there was no mention of dairy cows on their posters. I put this question on their FB wall.
- Hahn Niman, N., The Righteous Porkchop (2009)
- Pollan, M., The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006)
- Wiederholt, R. and Johnson, B., Unintended Impacts of Fertilizer and Manure Mismanagement on Natural Resources (2005)
Morris Hicks, J., Healthy Eating, Healthy World (2011)