Eating Animals

I have been doing a lot of research on the food industry and our food supply over the last couple years.  It started around the time Food, Inc. and a couple other books/documentaries came out that brought the unethical (and government supported) methodologies of these industries to the public eye in a big way.  Since that time, my family has been seeking out food that comes from farms that use sustainable practices, and raise animals in traditional ways rather than to maximize profit at the expense of the world’s welfare.  We have been supporting small farms, buying products through co-ops and at farmer’s markets, purchasing grass-fed raw milk and organic produce grown in-state, and are trying to cut back on processed and GMO (genetically modified) foods.  We have cut back on our meat consumption because buying it from a small farmer that raises it the right way is much more expensive.  But I have continued to purchase sausage and organic chicken at Trader Joes, not knowing what farm it is coming from.  I still buy run-of-the-mill organic cheese, ice cream, half and half.  I still eat out at restaurants when I know that their food comes from a big distributor and probably originated at a factory farm.  I still drink Starbucks lattes.  So, there are still some improvements to be made, but overall I felt pretty good about my family’s diet.

And then, this weekend, I read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I realize that I am not doing nearly enough.  I am now angrier than I have ever been at our government for what it has allowed to happen to our country’s food supply for the sake of the economy and our preference for tasty meat, and at the expense of everything else: morality, animal welfare, human health, the preservation of our environment – things that matter immensely more than having access to cheap meat and milk.  How much money have I given this industry over my adult lifetime?  I have not only supported the industry through my tax dollars that are used to subsidize the farms that use these methodologies, but I voluntarily give them hundreds, maybe even thousands more each year through the purchases I make at the grocery store. Why?

1.       It’s convenient.

2.       It’s good for my budget.

And these reasons just aren’t holding up enough anymore.  They just aren’t strong enough when I am faced with all of the damage that is being inflicted upon the animals we eat, the environment that we are leaving to our children, and our own health and well being.  Here are a couple things that I learned from this book that are causing me to make radical changes to the way we eat:

1.        Virtually all of the chicken and turkey we eat are mutants.  Yes, mutants. Even organically raised chicken is of mutant stock  🙂  They have been bred to provide the maximum amount of meat in the shortest amount of time.  They have to be killed before they are 45 days old because they will die shortly after that if they are not.  They cannot even reproduce –  they don’t live long enough to reach maturity.  We are eating animals that are so unnatural, they can’t even exist without our intervention.  And we eat 18 times as much chicken as we did 80 years ago.  Americans eat an average of 28 chickens per year, per person.

2.       The way we farm our animals provides the perfect breeding ground for serious diseases.   I’m convinced that the next worldwide pandemic will be a direct result of our farming practices.  Six out of eight pieces of 2009’s swine flu virus were traced back to factory pig and chicken farms.  The animals that live in these farms are weakened by their diets and living conditions and are the perfect place for viruses to mutate into fatal strains that can (and have) jumped from chickens and pigs to humans. The antibiotics used at these factory farms are creating superbugs and causing resistance to more and newer antibiotics.  25 million pounds of antibiotics are given to farm animals each year in the U.S.  In contrast, about 3 million pounds of antibiotics are used by Americans.  Oh, and over 85% of chickens are infected with bacteria like Salmonella.  These are major health hazards, for both the animals and humans.

3.        Factory farmed animals are contributing to the destruction of our environment more than anything else.  Pig farms have polluted 35,000 miles of streams and rivers with their waste run-off, which is so massive that it cannot be reabsorbed into the ground and sits in football-field sized waste lagoons that are 30 feet deep.  50 percent of people living near a pig farm have respiratory disorders, among other issues.  Our huge stock of farm animals puts more harmful gases into the environment than humans do.  The amount of annual waste from one major U.S.  pork supplier’s farms is greater than the annual waste produced by the entire human populations of California and Texas combined.  And our waste is treated before it is returned to the environment; animal waste is simply dumped.  All in all, the farm animals in our country produce 130 times as much waste as the humans do.

4.       The “organic,” “cage-free,” and “free-range” labels that are put on our animal products don’t mean as much as we think they do.  Most farmers do the minimum they can do to comply with the rules of labeling, and nothing more.  The minimums do not ensure anything, especially a healthy animal.  Cage-free chickens can still be packed into a building so tightly you wouldn’t be able to see the ground.  Organic eggs can still come from chickens that are forced to live in complete darkness and then in complete artificial light with no darkness to make them start to lay eggs at an unnatural rate.  They start to go crazy and attack each other for lack of sleep.  We wouldn’t raise our animals this way if we were farmers, but we eat them all the time and feel good about the “all-natural” label on the package that really doesn’t mean a thing.

5.       Every day, Americans eat animals that were born to live a life of confinement and pain.  We eat animals that have been mistreated and fed a diet that they would never eat in the wild and that they could not survive on long-term.  We feed it to them because it makes them taste better.  We confine them so they add tasty fat and so the cost of raising them is cheaper.  We choose to ignore the living conditions of the cow that provided us with a nice piece of steak at our dinner out, or our cheap hamburger from the fast food restaurant.  We nourish ourselves with animals that have lived a short, horrific life. I’m sure that if every package of chicken breasts or tri-tip we buy came with honest pictures of the animal and its living quarters and described in detail what it ate, how it lived, and how it died, we would probably leave it on the shelf 95% of the time.  I won’t go into detail on what happens in slaughter houses or on the average pig or chicken farm here, because it just grosses me out too much to relive it.  But it’s probably much worse than you imagine.

6.       Our large-scale shrimp and fish catching practices are also destructive.  Before I read Eating Animals, I had no idea that for every pound of shrimp we eat, another 8 pounds of accidentally caught sea life are thrown back into the ocean, dead.  Talk about unbelievably wasteful.

7.       Most states have issued laws that exempt farmers from animal cruelty laws.  What does that tell you about the way we raise our animals?  And what does it tell you about our government?

After reading this book I am making a lot of changes.  I am committing myself to not eating any more animal products if I don’t know for sure that they don’t come from a factory farm.  This means eating vegan at nearly all restaurants and only eating animal products at home that I have purchased from farms I can support.  This is a huge lifestyle change, but I don’t know what the alternative is.  I just can’t knowingly support an industry that is doing so much harm.  And I encourage everyone to do their own research into the industry.  So many Americans are just blissfully enjoying their meat in a bubble, either not knowing about or simply not wanting to think about the processes that brought it to their plate for the low price of $1.99 per pound.  At some point the costs are going to catch up with us. Things won’t change until we start demanding something else.

The easiest change you can make if you are so inclined is to simply eat less meat.  50 billion land animals are factory farmed globally each year.  My family eats meat on average a couple times a week.  Many Americans eat meat every day.  The amount of meat and poultry that must be raised for Americans to eat the quantity that we do is unsustainable.  And it’s unnecessary, really. Why do we need to eat meat every day? If the true cost of the meat was reflected in its price (including the damage done to the environment, and the damage done to human health) we would be eating a lot less of it.  Meat that has been raised to have no negative impact on the land it is raised on, that has been raised humanely and with a proper, nutritious diet, is significantly more expensive than meat that comes from a factory farm.  But isn’t it worth it? I think so.  So from now on, I am attempting to completely boycott the factory farm industry and  will be using my grocery money to support the less than 1 percent of animal farmers that are doing it right.

If you are interested in purchasing meat and animal products that have been raised this way, I will be posting some of the resources I have found later.  🙂

9 CommentsLeave a comment »
  • February 21, 2011 Reply
    cara said:

    Great, Ruth! We’re in this together. 🙂

    • February 21, 2011 Reply
      Virtual Pilgrim said:

      Sure are. Thanks for the shout out. 🙂

  • February 21, 2011 Reply
    Christy said:

    🙂 Ha Ha! I’m already in! Welcome to the Vegan Wagon!!

    • February 21, 2011 Reply
      Virtual Pilgrim said:

      Haha, Christy! Thanks for that hearty welcome, I feel honored that you are making room for a part-time vegan in your wagon. 😛

  • February 22, 2011 Reply
    Susan said:

    I’m in!

  • February 23, 2011 Reply
    Lisa said:

    I just wanted to add that pretty much everything we eat is mutant… And while I agree that the consequences are far more serious in the case of eating animals, it is still something to consider. Corn, even organic corn that doesn’t have pesticides engineered into it has been hyper bred so that it produces the biggest wars, kernels, etc. and there is very little biodiversity left in the corn species because of that. I think it also leaves us open to things like pandemics. Wheat, as you know and have told me, has also been hyper bred to have more berries per head and gluten in those berries so that wheat today hardly bears any resemblance to the wheat of ancient times. Again this hyper breeding has left us with very little biodiversity in the species. Even things I have been thinking are safe I find out something new and it really makes me so angry that they are screwing with our food this way. I think I remember you saying once that almonds are one of the only nuts you eat because they are the least genetically engineered and most hypoallergenic of all nuts. I repeat this statement to my mom, who works for one of the largest almond growers in the central valley (among other things they dominate in the market including “organics”) and she actually laughed at me. She said I would be amazed at the things they do to almonds. For instance almond trees are very rarely started out the way you would typically think by planting an almond in the ground. Rather they graft them to a plum tree or grape vine. My mom says ever now and then they get some really interesting things growing on the almond trees because of this.

    Anyway, the more research I do the angrier I get and the more helpless I feel and more vulnerable. Like really, what can little me do and how can I do it under budget and how can I get the safest food possible? It just seems completely overwhelming and impossible.

    So when are we moving to Corvallis and starting our farm? 😉

    • February 23, 2011 Reply
      Virtual Pilgrim said:

      I agree about the mutantness. 🙂 It’s everywhere! I’m hoping to find places that grow heirlooms and I might grow some myself this season. My heirloom tomatoes didn’t do well last summer – they got attacked by wilt, while my mutant hybrids did just fine. I have a feeling that is the case now with most heirlooms, they are more prone to all of the new plant diseases we have created by getting rid of plant diversity.

      As for the almonds, those are the only nuts I eat because when I was adding nuts back into my diet after eliminating a lot of things, they were the first ones I added back. Then I tried walnuts and they made my mouth burn, so I decided to stop there. 😉 I honestly don’t remember anything about their genetics! But I will say that grafting doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what they have done to GMO plants. Grrrr.

  • February 27, 2011 Reply
    Jennifer said:

    Hey Ruth ~

    I began to hear rumblings on this topic before I moved to Wa. I think I did what most do when they begin to realize the nasty truth. Freak out! Do more research, and then FREAK out some more. Do some more research and then FREAK out some more. One month I refused to buy anything “nasty” at all. Everything I purchased was safe to eat, non GMO good food. Well, my budget really couldn’t sustain that. So then I did some more FREAKING out and I went on a tirade about how I have no choice but to feed my family some poison. As time has passed, I’ve resolved to do the best I can; not in the cliche way, but truly do the very best I can for my family. My choice seems to have satisfied my conscience , my budget and created a great family project! We bought chickens and are raising them in a happy, friendly and organic environment. We let the hens lay eggs as hens naturally would. And in the winter months, I buy eggs when I need them. We just purchased our first batch (only 4) of birds to eat. We’ll raise and process them and see how that goes. I’ve had great luck in getting together with other like minded folks and trading resources and ideas too. We have a neighbor who raises turkey and he is giving us a couple of eggs this spring. We will raise our own organic turkey for Thanksgiving this year. We are considering asking him if he’d be willing to let us raise chickens for our family’s table on his property. We would, of course, compensate him. But it would be a great way to be sure that our meat is well fed, happy and stress free. Maybe that’s something you could look into? If you do the research (and I know you would!) you might be able to find a local chicken owner who would sell you the chicks and then you could be sure to raise and eat birds that are not mutated into “meat” birds… We buy our beef from another local acquaintance by the side and share it with our next door neighbors. Jason and our neighbor go to the butcher and help process and wrap the cow to cut costs a bit. This is great for making sure that nothing goes to waste! Our dogs get the bones after I use them for stock. And our neighbors love the organs. It works our perfectly! And wow, does it taste amazing. Of course, like you said, it’s much more pricey and so we are eating significantly less meat in general.
    Lastly, we garden. Our growing season is considerably shorter than yours down there. But we are researching growing a four season garden. It’s taking some time… But we are good for spring, summer and fall! We have used major portions of our yard for growing food. We’ve even cut down trees in order to produce more of what we eat. We’ve also encouraged our neighbors to do the same. It’s been a really great way to get to know our neighbors and get involved in each others lives! We had a house full of “boys” living across the street from us last spring and they joined in the gardening gig! Jason and I helped them get their garden started and gave them some seeds and shared some info and they brought us goods out of their garden when there was more than they could consume! It was so great! I’m wondering as I type this, about you and some of your other readers ( HI GIRLS!) doing some community gardening? Maybe at your place? I don’t know who else has dirt… But I bet you girls would have a great time and really experience a sense of community and accomplishment. Just a thought…
    All this is to say that when my garden is in the off season, I do the best I can with the dollars God has given me and try to be content knowing that spring is on its way!

    Here are some of my favorite websites. You probably already know about them but on the off chance that you don’t… =)

    • February 27, 2011 Reply
      Virtual Pilgrim said:

      Jennifer, you are my hero! 🙂 Seriously, it sounds like you have found a system that is working really well. Reading about everything you have been doing is very inspiring!

      Our HOA doesn’t allow us to have chickens, I looked into that a long time ago. 🙁 I do have a garden that I really do need to rely on more. We have been getting some great veggies through a CSA so I stopped growing as much of my own. I still do green beans, tomatoes, and squash every summer. This year I’m going to try to start from seed. We have really lousy soil but it seems to get better every year as I add more good stuff to it.

      Thanks for sharing your resources!! I subscribe to some of those sites already but some of them are new to me, so I’m excited to check them out. Let me know how the turkey turns out! I would love to raise a little flock of heritage birds and a couple goats… maybe someday. 🙂 *Sigh*

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