I grew up eating meat. Like so many, I never even questioned the legitimacy of doing so? I can’t even say that I connected the dots between the “meat” on my plate and the animal from which it came. I mean, I knew that a “hamburger” came from a cow…but it held little feeling or meaning to me (or anyone else in my circle of influence it seemed). My Mother was a fantastic cook who delighted us with many different meals, most of which contained chicken, pork, beef, veal, eggs, etc. She cooked it. I ate it. And it was good. Life was good. And before you jump ship on this article, let me just say that this isn’t another veiled lecture designed to proselytize vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. If anything, this is a story about internal conflict, or cognitive dissonance, set against the backdrop of factory farming and animal agriculture. On the one hand, I eat meat as a part of my regular diet. On the other, I have knowledge of where and how most of that meat comes from…and I am embarrassed and ashamed to support an industry that so clearly disregards animal welfare, the environment, and the collective future of our species as a whole. There’s genuine, real-world torture of animals happening on a HUGE scale out there (over 9 billion land animals in the US alone!) and everyone just pretends that it isn’t happening? It just doesn’t feel right. A couple facts as I’ve come to understand them:
- Over 1/3 of the land surface area of the planet is dedicated to livestock
- Factory farming makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world…combined. In fact, it is the #1 cause! (How come we hear so much about cars and not factory farming?)
- The vast majority of what we grow in America is fed to animals (so that argument about “needing to factory farm to feed the world’s population” is incorrect…it actually takes over 25 calories of food fed to animals to produce 1 calorie of edible flesh from what I read)
- Americans eat more meat than any culture in the history of the world!
- To sustain such levels, we have created factory farms…and applied standard factory operating principles (i.e. maximize profits)…despite the fact that they are dealing with live animals and not inanimate objects
- The documented atrocities of animal cruelty and abominable welfare conditions in factory farms are well documented and pervasive (See the book Slaughterhouse by Gail Eismitz if you want to be utterly disgusted)
- Over 99% of all meat on store shelves in the US comes from factory farms
I’m not making these up…these are actual facts. The existing system is completely cruel, completely unsustainable, and is completely ruining our planet. Let’s set aside the health aspects of whether eating a diet inclusive of meat makes sense or not. The ethical and environmental issues associated with factory farming alone should be enough to warrant outrage. Several years ago, I read a book entitled Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was the first such book on the topic that I’d ever read and I highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a good overall, non-judgmental discussion on the topic. And make no bones about it, the topic of eating meat, or not, can be a very polarizing discussion. There are many well-documented psychological and social behaviors and biases at play and Jonathan Safran Foer does a nice job at remaining impartial while presenting his exploration and journey into the topic.
Having read the book, I was left feeling “weird” for lack of a better word. I definitely felt that such cruelty towards animals was not acceptable. Moreover, I felt that the wool had been pulled over my eyes by our education system and Corporate America. I liken it to the feeling that I had when learning about the true history of the United States (ala Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States) rather than the sanitized “Pilgrims & Indians Thanksgiving Day Feast” version (spoiler alert – they were not friends). And yet, I continued to eat meat…albeit with a little more consciousness and awareness.
I’ve heard Oprah say “When you know better, you do better”. So how is it that I had acquired such knowledge and yet still chose to act in defiance of such knowledge? I think, like most things in life, the answer is complicated. What isn’t complicated, however, is the fact that such cognitive dissonance is likely causing me some degree of guilt or shame that I must bear with each bite of my hamburger, chicken sandwich, or omelet. At some point, I’m convinced that I will need to reconcile this fact if I am committed to living my life in alignment with my beliefs and values. This is a goal that I believe is worthy of achievement –not just for me, but for all.
For now, I buy organic, humanely-raised meat, eggs, and cheese when I shop. I support and donate money to progressive, sustainable farming organizations like Farm Forward. But I also eat a conventional steak or BBQ sandwich now and then. However, for better or worse, I do so with deliberateness and awareness in each instance. Some might say that such consciousness is meaningless in light of the end result…and it would be difficult to argue otherwise. I’m not looking for approval or disapproval by virtue of sharing my incongruencies (I think I just made that word up?)…I’m simply documenting the evolution and evaluation of my thoughts and actions in light of the information that I have learned. The gap between my existing diet choices and my value system with regard to animal cruelty, suffering, and the environment is still very wide…but it is narrowing with each kale smoothie that blend in my Vitamix and I suck down.
Every food choice that you make impacts upon your mental and physical health, your environment, and the future of our planet. You owe it to yourself and those around you to do so with knowledge and compassion rather than ignorance and indifference…whatever the end result.