There ain’t much thought put into the burgers, pizzas, or steaks on our plates; there’s a thick veil between what goes inside us and where it comes from. Whether it’s willful ignorance, lack of resources, or stuffy stigma– this lack of regard for our dietary choices breeds a kind of distance we really can’t afford to foster further.
Our communities, our health, our environment all, in some form or another, face detrimental effects following the consumption of animals and their byproducts. The animals ain’t too happy, either.
FOR THE PEOPLE
Too often, people are–as ironic as it sounds– left out of the go-veggie narrative, but the bitter reality of the animal agriculture industry affects more than the fates of cows and pigs. The people we pay to kill those biddies suffer from their own forms of trauma and exploitation.
The emotional toll such circumstances take on its laborers has been exposed by a myriad of activists and educators. Timothy Pachirat, a professor of politics and social research, contributed to the cause by going undercover in a slaughterhouse. The people he worked with were surrounded by constant violence, the brutality they both witness and inflict falling into just another part of their day. This industrialized murder is hid from mainstream America; “killing is carried out by a small minority of largely immigrant workers who labor behind opaque walls, most often in rural, isolated locations far from urban centers,“. The people slitting the throats of our dinners are conveniently kept away from us. Does this provide a sense of comfort? Normality? A subtle refusal towards acknowledging the explicitly violent practice we pay other people to perform?
This workplace also hosts some of the most dangerous working conditions. The grotesque aspect of working with slaughter is a given, but the morbidity of its description and fatality of its risks also extend to the employees. Blood, Sweat, and Fear is a report that looks into these workplace issues. Inadequate training, long hours, stressed line speed, lack of hygienic confidence, and close quarter cutting are but a few of the dangers exposed to workers. Since faster production equals larger profits, it’s standard to be working at a speed of “four hundred head of beef per hour, one thousand hogs per hour, [with] thousands of broilers per hour, [while] all the time workers [are] pulling and cutting with sharp hooks, knives, and other implements” (BSF, Linespeed). Supervisors apply constant pressure to keep the line moving, a pressure that instills heavy anxiety leading to a focus on being faster, not safer. Resulting injuries often go uncovered by workers compensation, including those that are a consequence of exposure to sullied environments (like getting an infection under your nails from dirty water, or slipping on floors wet with blood, yellow ingesta, animal remnants).
And in many cases, it’s the migrant workers who are most susceptible to these injuries going unheard.
An increasing demand of animal products brings an influx of immigrant workers, a workforce that constitutes the majority of animal-agriculture-related labor. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Economic Research Service of the USDA, immigrant labor accounts for over half of all dairy labor, and over half of all meat processing labor comes from immigrants of Hispanic origin alone.
Note: a good portion of these immigrants are undocumented. “Illegal” immigrants are more willing to work through these risks in exchange for set wages and even papers, what’s been referred to as “induced migration”. In 2001, Tyson was charged with recruiting and transporting undocumented workers from Mexico to 15 of their plants. In 2005, about a quarter of meat industry employees were undocumented in just the Midwest. In 2006, 1,297 undocumented employees were arrested during a series of Swift&Co raids. Two years later, 389 of undocumented employees were detained during a raid at Agriprocessors Inc., an Iowan kosher slaughterhouse.
Because of the fear of this sort of federal intervention, these workers are often unaware or inactive in their workplace rights. Although the ignorance is heightened by a fast introduction in order to accommodate the large crowd of seeking employees, these immigrant workers are simply not offered the same protections their documented counterparts are. Employers know this and capitalize off the vulnerability: why bother adhering to expensive, time-consuming regulations when you know a significant amount of your employees don’t feel safe enough to report it? Even with certain statutes and even international human rights laws protecting these workers to some degree, linguistic issues, lengthy and complicated processes, and threats to their status prevent them from speaking out against unfair or unsafe treatment. This injustice, by the way, is supported by your dinner.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
The meatless approach towards health is often countered by assertions of meat being necessary for a balanced, nutrient-fulfilling diet. Conventional wisdom says humans were meant to consume animal flesh and plants are an insufficient alternative, but these claims revolve more around traditional values than anatomical fact. Humans nutritional needs don’t exist in a vacuum, invincible to evolving standards and resources. Humans have always been opportunistic omnivores, and with a world as connected as ours is right now, it’s easier than ever to sway to the plant side. Our bodies have been, and continue to be, more equipped for meat-free living.
The information below comes from Anatomy of Comparative Eating unless cited otherwise.
- A natural carnivore has to be able to capture and dismember their prey. This requires a stable jaw joint for a wide gap. Their lower jaws’ mobility are very limited, unable to move forward and restricted in side-to-side movement. Herbivore (and–surprise–human) jaws are nearly the opposite, employing lateral movements to grind and chew plant foods, along with thick tongues and lips to aid in chewing and movement of them.
- Carnivore saliva doesn’t have the same enzymes that ours do, as they’ve the ability to consume flesh whole. When biting down, their cheek teeth come together in a slicing motion–perfect for severing bone. Meanwhile, herbivores (and once again, humans) have flat molars that are able to crush and grind with the help of our masseter and pterygoid muscles which are far more developed and utilized versus their unimportance to a carnivore.
- Small intestines in carnivores are about 3-6 times their body length, and contain gastric acid with a pH level of 1-2. This allows for the the quick digestion of meat. On the other hand, herbivores have to ferment their food (due to the complex fibers of plants and the considerable amount of time its nutrients need to be properly absorbed). Our intestines, meanwhile, are greater than even ten times our body length!
- Colons in carnivores are very simple organs, with their only process being absorbing salt and water. However, it is one the most complex organs in herbivores (and ours). If it fails to absorb vitamins, store waste, or process fiber, our overall health declines. What improves the function of this vital part of our digestive system? Limiting intake of meat.
- Omnivores, the moderate bitch of these carnivore v. herbivore comparisons, share more physical traits with carnivores than they do with herbivores. Humans, on the other hand, are more similar to herbivores than omnivores. We have the same jaw motion, flattened teeth and nails, same enzymes in our saliva, uses of our colon and liver, and even nearly identical stomach capacity (humans and herbivores share around 30% while carnivores/omnivores are around 60-70%).
Although our bodies have evolved to consume meat, we still process plant diets better. Not only that, but most of us don’t need meat to survive. Most of us aren’t outside every morning foraging for berries or stalking a deer. We’ve transitioned into an age and form whose requirements can be satisfied by a plethora of means. We are in the twenty-first century! We have never been this connected. Produce is available all year round, no matter the season. Legumes and grains from distant lands are sold at your corner market for the price of a tank of gas.
If you’ve the means to access this, what’s holding you back?
For many, meat is the luxury commodity, and while there are two billion people living with it in their diets, there are TWICE as many who do not. For many, meat is damaging their health. The quality of it is in a decline to a growing, competitive industry. “Some [cattle producers] might cut corners on medicine, feed and veterinary care” to accommodate this fierce, corporate monopoly controlled market. For many, meat is simply unnecessary.
FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Industrial animal production contributes to nearly every environmental issue in one form or another. Global warming, lack of biodiversity, water and air pollution, deforestation, unsustainable reliance on natural resources– those furry/scaly bastards have done it all.
“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” -Food and Agriculture of the United Nations
LAND: Animal based diets require more land than plant based ones. The need for agricultural space increases with the market for meat. In 2050, it’s predicted the demand for animal based foods will increase up to 70%. As the desire for these products rise, so do the need for natural resources, which are already dangerously finite and depleting rapidly. A report from the United Nations Environment Program states a global transition in consuming less meat would have dramatic effects on this use. Thousands of millions of hectares of land would be relinquished! Already now, animal based food requires 4.8x more land per nutritional value versus plant based consumption. Over a quarter of Earth’s land is used for grazing, and a third of all cultivating land is required for feed crop production.
WATER: Eight percent of drinkable is used for the irrigation of feed crops alone. Water shortages like the one seen in the Californian drought ain’t from milking almond titties or flushing your pubes twice. It’s livestock. Animal agriculture is the greatest contributor to water consumption in the world, and California is the second in the United States to use the most water for livestock needs. We consume 1500 gallons per person daily! Nearly half of this is associated with meat and dairy consumption. The number includes irrigation use, cleansing systems, feed growing, meat processing, transportation, fertilizer etc. See the total “water footprint” of your consumption has here and here, or even using this interactive graphic. Or, more specifically, for an estimation on the water requirement for beef production, check here.
WATER POLLUTION: About two percent of the American population, or 1.5 million people, have been exposed to contaminated drinking wells, this is measured in nitrate levels– found in manure. Many animal feeding operations, or AFO’s, lack the necessary systems to divert storm water which causes the manure to be washed into nearby water bodies, and in turn the waste is absorbed by nearby land and crops. Beyond the tainting of water, pollutants transport pathogens to us, here’s a list, and endanger ecosystems. Water pollution leads to eutrophication , ocean deadzones, and coral reef degeneration; affecting the bio diversity found in our oceans.
AIR POLLUTION: Animal agriculture accounts for 14-18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from manure and fermentation processes, a larger contributor in air pollution than transportation. Respiration, transportation, feed fertilizer, manure, processing, and refrigeration all play a role in the amount of emissions released into our atmosphere. Read more about animal agriculture’s affect on our environment here.
Want to do your part to literally make the Earth a better place? Reduce your carbon footprint? Decrease deforestation and pollution? Opt for some fucking potatoes.
FOR THE ANIMALS
Often the motivation behind choosing to live a meat-free lifestyle, or even a variation of it (like through pescetarianism), comes from a place of ethical conflict. To be blunt: supporting animal agriculture through purchase and consumption is supporting the exploitation, abuse, and murder of sentient beings.
This literal description of industrial meat is written off as extreme and sensitive, met with stubborn resistance and ridicule. Regardless, the truth is that humans breed animals to slaughter. The decision regarding your compliance in this process is completely your own, but to remain blind to its reality by choice ain’t a hot one.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find hard numbers accurately encompassing the deaths of all the animals victims of the industry, but there’s not much left to the imagination anyway. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has a somber interactive visual on their website that gives you inventory numbers of the world’s “livestock” and their “commodities”, in terms of individuals.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the procedures turning these millions and millions of animals into products. You’ve got that shit sitting in your stomach, you’re spending your paychecks on it. This really is more than mere curiosity or performative empathy. It’s as personal as it gets, ya know?
To begin, “livestock” is bred through artificial insemination (WARNING: videos contain graphic content). Semen is collected through a variety of methods, most commonly by inserting a rode into the penis or having them get some strange with a fake biddie whose “vagina” collects their product. The nut is then inserted via metal rod into the female animal. They have nerves and shit, by the way. If having a metal stick shoved into your vagina or penis hole sounds uncomfortable to you, it’s probably unpleasant for cows, too.
Once the spawn are taken away to be plumped up or shaved down, they’re confined to sheds or cages until they’re finished, for lack of a better term. Many begin their lives grazing on fields, some more open than others. Transportation to a feedlot follows after a few years, to reach optimal size and all that jazz. These lots serve one purpose and one purpose only: keep animals alive long enough to be killed at the right time. Expecting anything more than the bare necessities to achieve this is more than unrealistic, but as these animals live for just a fraction of their natural (void of human intervention) lifespan, they don’t suffer too long.
Once reaching a company’s desired weight, achieved through feed mainly composed of corn, slaughter is commenced. Stunning, denting the skull with a bullet, is a popular method. It leaves the animals unfeeling, though conscious, and prevents them from kicking and screaming. (Yes, animals scream when they’re scared). Their throats are then slashed while hanging from a machine implemented on the abattoir ceiling. They are left to bleed out.
I urge you to see these victims of slaughter as beings, not products. They are cows and hogs, not beef and pork. We’ve established the means that allow these creatures to fulfill our needs, but to reduce them to this purpose is the epitome of egotism. Our ability to collect and consume them does not legitimize claims of entitlement and protection to do so. And it especially does not dismiss the brutality of satisfying these desires.
Animals feel the same emotions we do. They experience fear, pain, hunger, loss, and empathy. The instincts that drive our daily desires are reflected in the beings resting on our plates. We seek interaction, affection, safety and security. Cows, like us, take pleasure in solving problems, and sheep, like us, can form deep friendships.
What’s permitted us to rip these experiences away? We’ve the ability to build machines and come up with all sorts of shiny ways of slaughter, but does that necessarily mean we ought to take advantage of more vulnerable creatures? How can we pride ourselves as being this evolved, advanced species when we celebrate and preserve an industry literally founded on slaughter? Especially those of us who have the means and health and access to abstain from its practices– how do we accept this? Or those of us who adore our pets and rescues, yet exempt our diets from that sort of empathy? You know, the hand that pets your dog is the same one that cuts your steak.
This selective compassion is just one of the many, creative ways we desperately try to nullify that nagging voice of “wrong”. I mean, look at all these marketing attempts to appease our consciousness! These labels (free-range, grass fed, humane, etc) targeting that stifled guilt ultimately just turn an innocent being’s untimely and manufactured death into a spectacle that makes the customer– you— feel better. It may reduce the amount of stress and health issues striking the animals victims of the agricultural event, sure. The end game, though, remains the same regardless of any moral considerations guising capital gain; a creature is turned into a product, a life is ended.
And even if the life of that creature was spent on a sweet, family-owned ranch, and they faced a completely painless, bloodless death, would that make the meat any less perverted? Use of their carcass any more justifiable? That sense of wrong a little more quiet? Tuning out your conscious for your tastebuds a little easier?
Remind yourself that what’s on your plate was once a sentient being that you payed to be assaulted and slaughtered. You are consuming a product of violence. They were once alive. They had bonds and memories. They were bred for this twenty minute meal you are going to end up shitting out.
You have a limited amount of funds you choose to allocate towards markets you support. Either intentionally or not, you contribute to their growth or decline. Although your abstention alone won’t lead to a potentially significant demise, it’ll be a part of it nonetheless. It matters. And it adds up.
Realize your power as a consumer. Your values are externalized by your purchases, your voice employed by your money. Where you spend it and who you give it to, says something.
Look at how Ben and Jerry’s started a line of dairy-free ice cream. They understand veggie bitches are a growing pool of consumers to pander to, and in response have created products to satisfy that niche. They probably aren’t going to stop selling dairy ice cream anytime soon, but the fact such a prominent company has begun to branch out in order to appease the rising trend of vegans is in itself a feat to cheer, one that would not have been accomplished if demands weren’t made apparent either through statements via shopping habits (or letters to corporate, but still).
Keep asking that pho place on 99 if they have vegetable-based broths. Keep choosing tofu or vegetables as the “meat” for your pad thai. Keep requesting bean patties or no cheese on your beans. No matter how big or small the steps you are willing to take are, going in the cruelty-free direction establishes a feeling and pattern of doing better, of being more conscious and proactive. Even if you fuck up and quit and bitch, you gave it a shot. That counts for something.