Part 2: Meet your Meat.
The first time I ever actually considered changing my dietary habits to organic/vegetarian was when I lived in Los Angeles. America, by any standard, has the world’s unhealthiest food as their standard cuisine – generally rampant with bad fats and grease, over laden with salt, processed and refined flours and sugars, and additives to numerous to count. Fortunately, produce is easily accessible in the Mediterranean clime of California, so one doesn’t have to go without fresh food if they don’t want to. But, as is the case with most people in the Western Hemisphere who are crowding into cities daily, pulled by the lure of convenience, comfort and flashing lights, we are generally ignorant as to the massive system that brings food to our plates, and entirely content to just go to the supermarket, collect our “food” and go home.
On a beautiful day in late summer several years ago, I was driving the I-5 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The Pacific Coast Highway was of course the far more beautiful option, but required more time than was available. The I-5 is a more direct route north, but also cuts through the heart of America’s agricultural Garden of Eden. More than 50% of America’s produce and dairy is from California. Lovely groves of lemon trees, softly waving fields of olive trees and strawberries passed across our field of vision as we wound up hills and around lakes, and back down through flat valleys. As the miles sped by into dust under our wheels and the Eagles roared from the stereo, we started to notice an acrid smell. Nothing was visibly wrong with the car, but it ominously remained and grew stronger.
Having reached a plateau, we started to notice that the once dusty-olive coloured horizon was darkening. As we grew closer we realized with increasing horror that the encroaching darkness was cows awaiting their turn in the slaughterhouse. For miles and miles on both sides of the highway were black with cows. Visibly depressed, heads drooping, not even bothering to flick their tails to shake off the thousands of flies that swarmed them greedily. Some stood crammed side by side, some laid down, all languished without shade, or any sight of troughs of water or food. In the distance, a squealing factory that we presumed to be the slaughterhouse emitted a stench that required us to cover our noses – even inside the car with the windows up. A dark energy settled over the place, almost as tangible as the smell and sight. Then and there I gave up on factory beef. My disillusioned visions of cows prancing around green meadows of flowers and tended to by charming farmers with rough hands and warm personalities had been shattered.
As it turned out, what I saw on the drive back to LA on the same trip, I gave up on factory chicken too. Driving the same I-5 late at night several days later, a screeching sound started behind me. A truck going way faster than it should have been at 1 AM sped past me. My initial glare gave way to confusion as I saw open-air wire cages on the bed, stacked 10 deep. The thought that crossed my mind was akin to “What the f*K%?!”. On the back of a single truck were easily a thousand chickens, each crammed in cages no taller than a few inches, stacked with no space in-between, and chained down, squawking for all they were worth (pun intended). I’m not sure if any of you have been on the back of a truck, but it’s definitely not spacious enough for a hundred chickens, never mind close to a thousand. I found out later that they also clip all the beaks and claws so that they don’t scratch and potentially infect each other, thereby leading to a loss of product for the company.
Both of these experiences are only momentary glimpses into what is the final end of all of these animal’s lives before they end up on our table. There is more disgusting reality to your meat.
The average life of a factory cow begins in a pool of shit. Not a natural, small pile of shit, where the mother would then clean the calf and guard him as he wandered around the field, but literally, a massive pool of shit and urine. Often several feet deep, these are from the uncleaned grounds that his mother is crammed into sideways, with hundreds of other cows. If they’re unlucky enough to be destined to be your soft, tender veal, the calf heads off to a cage no bigger than him.
Exactly no bigger than him – for in order for veal to be tender, the calf is prevented from almost all movement from birth to death, so that his soft baby muscles don’t develop and become hard. They used to keep the calves destined to become veal encased behind steel bars, but they began licking them for iron as their food was purposefully lacking in this, and so most corporations switched to wooden prisons (iron encourages muscle and bone development – veal must be soft for humans!)
The other cows grow up with no room to move either, crammed in stables or fields of feces, pumped full of hormones to encourage rapid growth, antibiotics to prevent the rampant diseases, fed cheap, chemically treated grain mixed with the ground leftover organs of other animals, and die miserable deaths in factory slaughterhouses.
As for chicken, almost all chicken farmers in USA have now been bought out by Tyson, and are forced to grow their animals pumped full of hormones and chemicals to encourage rapid growth of their breasts (that meat we love most). Many of these chickens literally cannot walk more than a step before collapsing to the ground because of the weight of these breasts, and often die diseased and trampled by the thousands of other chickens that live in their tiny hundred foot, non-ventilated enclosures. Additionally, studies done across the world have proven that little girls who live in countries with heavy chicken diets are now going through puberty as early as 8 on average, due to their body absorbing all the hormones in the chicken. Think a step further – when we go to the bathroom all these hormones that haven’t been absorbed by our bodies are flushed into the environment, poisoning our waters and soils even further. Why are we so content to remain ignorant?
Just the other day, my family sent out a video from an undercover investigator working at a foie gras factory (found here: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/738619/the_foie_gras_assembly_line). In order to get that luscious French delicacy, male and female ducks are separated at birth. The female chicks are tossed by the hundreds into garbage bags that are sealed shut to deprive them of air, and then tossed into the garbage. The males have their feet literally snipped off to prevent growth of toenails, and are then shoved into cages where they can’t move. Foot long tubes are forced down their throat, and they are force-fed daily, in attempts to instigate liver disease (for this is the hallmark of tasty foie gras). They often have collapsed lungs, weak muscles and gasp for air with every breath. They are then slaughtered while still alive and painfully aware of the blood draining out of their body.
I’ve said quite a bit here, but the sheer amount of examples of disgusting meat productions is enough to testify to the fact that these super-corporations are content to sell us these unhealthy animals that have been tortured and abused their entire lives. Would you still eat that hamburger if you had to watch the accelerated-growth, weakly-diseased cow dragged from a stinking pile of shit into the slaughterhouse, where its first shocked with an electrical jolt to the brain, then watch its throat slit while still conscious, left alive hanging for its blood to drain, then ground to thousands of bits by illegal, underpaid workers that don’t have to report when the dull knives slice their arms open and their blood mixes freely with the cows meat?
For me personally, what matters is not the consumption of meat, but the atrocious manner in which the animals that end up in the supermarket live (and die), and the absolute incredible amount of food that is consumed in the West, at the expense of the planets agriculture and starving billions. For every pound of beef, it is estimated that anywhere from 5 to 16 pounds of grains is gobbled up by these animals that could be used for human consumption (as billions starve daily). .
I am not promoting strict vegetarianism (though I think this is a very healthy practice when done right) as I am not against eating meat. What I am against is the inhumane treatment of animals and the over-consumption of meat. At what cost are we eating these meats that go through processes too hideous to conceive of? While I find PETA rather extremist at times, I do recommend taking a look at the videos they have managed to capture while visiting various slaughterhouses– if your stomach can bear it (www.peta.org ). And if your stomach can’t bear it, I would think twice about why it is you can’t watch what the animals go through to get to your plate, but you have no problem when it’s on your plate. Out of sight, out of mind, is an outdated concept that is ruining the health of our planet on too many levels. Where is the love?
“Overconsumption of meat by the rich means hunger for the poor” – Rene Dumont, France’s National Agricultural Institute, Rome 1974.
“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” – Paul McCartney
For anyone interested in if I’m practicing what I preach, I avoid red meats and almost always buy my chicken, fish and eggs as hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grain-fed, free range products from organic, sustainable farming/harvesting practices.
Next Week: Fruit and Veggies?