I find that a lot of the issues surrounding animal rights nowadays are pretty polarizing. On one side, we have organizations like PETA that grab headlines with crazy stunts. On the other hand, we have people like Ted Nugent screaming about how many animals he mercilessly slayed.
I find that the vegans are preaching to the vegan choir, and the hunting, consumptive users are preaching to Ted Nugent.
And, with that scenario, it is impossible to make any progress.
Johnathan Safran Foer, in his book Eating Animals laid out an extraordinary story about a vegan that helped build a slaughterhouse. Basically this vegan wanted the ability to help build and design an ethical(ish) slaughterhouse. This viewpoint is similar to my personal objective on hunting.
1. Global Veganism just ain’t happenin.
Do I wish that tomorrow, the World would be vegan? Yes. Absolutely. We would very quickly improve a lot of the health issues we all face, as well as make inroads on curing hunger, and potentially reverse climate change, as well as countless other benefits.
But we all know that just about will not happen. So, once we can accept that, we need to ask ourselves the next question.
If the World isn’t vegan, what is the next best moral position?
Let me start this off with me saying I was a meat eater.
I remember going to a wholesale club in Massachusetts, where there were ham steaks (big ones, too) on a sort of tape. They were vacuum sealed and perforated between each one. They came off a huge spool in a cardboard box. Once you had the quantity you wanted, you simply tore off the last one, and tossed them in your cart.
It was only later that I realized those pig slices were probably like some sort of cross-section of the same animal. At least for 4 or 5 of the steaks. It was actually really gross.
I bring this up, as it was probably my first epiphany about what I am actually eating. Growing up, we are told that meat is an important part of your diet, and that beef is “what’s for dinner.” Of course I didn’t stop eating meat because of that realization, but it was the first of many small moments that finally ended with me being vegan.
The meat and dairy industries spend immense budgets on establishing the “black box” approach to meat. Their labels have pastoral farm imagery, and catchy phrases like “Smithfield Farms” and even extensive rebranding efforts on the names of cuts. This is, of course a huge lie being fed to Americans. There is no “farm” in the animal industrial complex. The days of the local farmer, humanely raising and caring for livestock are sadly close to an end.
NOTE: This post contains a lot of linked articles and reference materials. Click on any images to read more of the referenced article.
Whenever I am in a discussion about veganism with someone, the conversation almost immediately turns to the animals. And, the inevitable comparison also follows:
“So you think that animals are above people?”
Of course my answer to this question is a resounding no – but not because of some self-implemented superiority complex (ala speciesism) but more because I don’t think there is an “importance pyramid.” Everyone on this planet should just be treated with the same respect.
But let’s just take the more popular approach for a second, the approach where humans are in fact superior to everything else. And, if you agree with this approach, you should be vegan. AND, if you are a rabid immigration reformist you should also be vegan.
The large meat production corporations (think Tyson, Smithfield Farms, Cargill and National Beef) have always setup facilities in areas of rural economic hardship. This is because to work in their facilities, you must offer either large sums of money, or in the case of rural America, just a “good paying job.” So the labor is cheap and plentiful. And most people in these areas are familiar with agriculture and harvesting of animals. Check and mate.
But even these good paying jobs and corporate benefits are not enough to keep turnover low. Working in these facilities is a physical and psychological nightmare. It really does take a desperate (or psychopathic) person to spend a 10 hour shift slicing open the throats of animals and watching them bleed out.
So, instead of addressing these issues and improving worker conditions, the slaughterhouses are luring illegal immigrants from Central America and using their illegal status as a retention tool. Want to quit? They’ll call ICE and have you at the curb waiting for deportation. And, as in the case of Tyson, they’ll keep a large portion (10-30%) of your pay too.
“Those arrested were bused to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo for hearings in a makeshift courtroom. Most pleaded guilty to identity theft charges, spent five months in prison and were then deported. Many families were split up for years by the deportations.”
Perhaps you are OK with using illegal immigrants to do the dirty work this country is not willing to do. But what about mentally challenged Americans?
In Iowa, a slaughterhouse (meat packing facility) that processed turkey just about enslaved a team of 21 mentally challenged men, forcing them to live in squalid “bunkhouse” conditions. I am not making this stuff up.
The story is rife with horrible working conditions, physical abuse, and mental manipulation.
Even for the legal worker that can withstand the task at hand, slaughterhouses are some of the most dangerous places to work. That same article cites, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking is the nation’s most dangerous occupation. In 1999, more than one-quarter of America’s nearly 150,000 meatpacking workers suffered a job-related injury or illness. The meatpacking industry not only has the highest injury rate, but also has by far the highest rate of serious injury—more than five times the national average, as measured in lost workdays. “
That is an older statistic, but the technology in these factories has not changed much in the last 15 years.
Additionally, when these workers are unable to maintain their jobs due to these conditions, who pays the bill? We all do via welfare, worker’s compensation insurance, and other social support systems. The costs of these corporate failures falls back on the wallets of us all.
The bottom line: When we feel that humans are superior to all other living beings, that same approach trickles down within our own societies. We can manipulate minority groups and abuse the law, just as we in turn manipulate animals and abuse them to fit our own needs and agenda.
By moving to a more plant-based diet, we not only prevent the needless suffering of literally billions of animals, but also the injury of 140,000+ meat industry workers, reduce illegal immigration, and prevent fellow Americans from working in some pretty horrible conditions.
When you really boil it down (no pun intended), the point of food is to act as nourishment for our bodies. Somewhere along the line, the importance of food changed into more of a social and even ideological undertaking. What a luxury.
I consider the ability to be vegan a highly privileged option. A lot of people in this World barely have enough to eat, and yet vegans can determine what they want to eat on an ideological level. Let me say that again.
We actually have the luxury of turning down certain foods because we don’t agree with how it was raised/what it is/where it comes from/how it is cooked/etc.
As some of you may know, I am a HUGE Sea Shepherd fan. I have been a donating member of them since forever, and even had the pleasure to chat with Paul Watson when I was working for the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
They are not perfect in their execution, but they are in their mission: They are one of a very small number of activist groups that ACTUALLY get involved in the cause. They literally put their lives on the line.
Every year, they head to the Southern Ocean to protect endangered whale species from Japan’s whaling program. While Japan uses a loophole (for research) they process and sell the whale meat back home to a rapidly dwindling customer base.
This ruling from the UN’s International Court of Justice is hopefully the final blow in the battle over whaling in the Southern Ocean.
If you have not seen the video yet, I recommend you do. It is hard to watch. However, whether you are an omnivore or a full on vegan, we need to witness the brutality of what goes on behind closed doors in our food’s production process.
I am a huge believer that a free market economy can only thrive on an educated population – watching this video is part of that education. People need to vote with their wallets.
Primarily, my opinion is that we as humans know this is wrong. There is no sugar coating it. While these animals are alive and in our custody, we owe them the respect and dignity of any living being, regardless of species. It needs to be fixed on a systemic level. Continue reading My response to the MFA “Digiorno” Video→