Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Factory Farms

One day, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, we will look back on this time, the turn of the 21st century, and hang our heads in shame in the "developed world" as we recall an unfortunate period of history when we behaved, as a society, like a bunch of whiny, greedy, selfish children. A time when we wanted what we wanted fast and cheap, and we didn't care where it came from or how it was produced. When it comes to cars and homes and other "things" it's bad enough. But consider the way we also treat sentient beings as commodities, as mass-produced "food products," despite them being not very much different in some ways from the pets we keep in our homes – to love and care for. We would be appalled at even the idea of them being treated in the same way as, say, the average sow on the average farm in this country.
Yet animal cruelty, real suffering, is something we ignore daily in North America – particularly in the US – because we want to be able to eat anything we want anytime we want it, because it happens where we can't see it, and, most importantly, because we expect it to be affordable for everyone. I won't go into the gory details I've read in books like Eating Animals, because PETA's already got a handle on the shock and awe strategy. (I couldn't bring myself to watch more than 10 seconds, but if you want to see what it's like, check out this short video.) I don't need to tell you how bad it really is for the chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys, sheep, and other livestock on factory farms, from which 99 per cent of the meat we eat is sourced in America. 

The power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated.
I don't have the statistics for Canadian farms, but I'm pretty sure a hell of a lot more animals are being raised as "things" for us to treat as objects for our own consumption than as they should be – as valued sentient beings that have feelings (both psychological and physical) and which deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. 

From what I've observed from working, albeit briefly, on both an organic family farm and a factory farm, I can say without much exaggeration that the difference between the two is as stark as that between a concentration camp and a holiday resort. 

But, perhaps even more importantly, we should ask ourselves why our food, especially meat, is so (relatively) inexpensive? We pay less for our groceries than we ever have in history, and the trade-off is the suffering we cause by this fact. Is it worth it? If we spend more for meat that comes from family farms, are we not voting with our dollars for a better way? 

Some people argue we should stop eating animals altogether, that killing them is wrong. I respect this view, but I personally disagree. I have no moral qualm with eating the flesh of an animal if it experienced a full life, had a fair chance at living in fresh air, with its own kind, in the most natural way possible, and then died humanely. 

Eating hunted game is infinitely better, in my mind, than eating factory-farmed meat. Eating less meat is better than eating more, overall. But eating meat produced by giant corporations is simply disgusting. It is one of the most awful disgraces of our time.

We look back in disdain and with smug contentedness in our hearts at the times in our history in which racism, sexism, homophobia, extreme pollution, genocide, the marketing of blood diamonds, and various other human injustices were considered par for the course. We know now without a doubt those things are wrong and we won't stand for them. But how long will it be before we end the factory-farming industry that causes one of the worst types of animal suffering, not just harming the animals themselves, but the people who work and live in and near these massive corporate operations?

In two weeks from today my official vegetarian experiment will be over. If I decide to go back to eating meat, I will do my best to be mindful in my consuming, avoiding the purchase of any animal products that come from an inherently cruel system. I don't know exactly how I might navigate the grocery store conundrum of finding ethically sourced, healthy animal products, but I know I will give it my best shot every time I buy food. 

Some people might see me as a softy, or think I'm being too extreme and call me ridiculous or naive. But the real question is, isn't it better to be ridiculously caring than needlessly cruel? 

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