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.
This article dives deep into only one example of many.
“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.”
PRI has a fantastic article and podcast on this very issue.
There is even a fascinating link between slaughterhouse facilities and violent crime. Psychology Today offers even more insights.
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.
Iowa Public Radio has a great series “In the Shadows of the Slaughterhouse. I highly recommend it.
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.