I’m hopeful. There—I said it. Four food empires—Smithfield Foods, Cargill, Wolfgang Puck, and Burger King, have vowed to alter their practices to reflect more humane standards of care for animals used for food. Gourmet Magazine featured vegetarian recipes in April and vows to include them in every future issue. Schools and universities are making pledges to purchase cage-free eggs. America does not like agribusiness, and business is taking note. Ordinary people are driving profound change.
Smithfield’s and Cargill’s decision to phase out the “gestation crate” is certainly a step towards more responsible stewardship over animals used for food. The crate, a tiny steel box in which mother pigs are confined for most of their lives, is considered one of the cruelest practices of agribusiness. Likewise, Puck’s decision to use only humanely-raised meat and to take foie gras off his menus is a ground-breaking precedent: for the first time, a high-profile restaurateur is acknowledging that commercially-raised meat comes from tortured animals. Even Burger King has opted to replace a small percentage of its commercially grown meat and eggs with more humanely grown products. Collectively, these decisions suggest that we are at a tipping point.
Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth brought conversations about global warming into the mainstream. But Gore omitted any discussion of meat production, a primary culprit in the warming of the Earth. Agribusiness taxes and pollutes our water supply, contributes more of the greenhouse gases that are cooking our planet than all transportation combined, and is destroying the planet’s biodiversity. It is either the primary or a primary contributor to air pollution, soil erosion, rainforest destruction, and land contamination. As we turn away in larger numbers from meat, the planet that supports us all will thank us.
Perhaps more of us are acknowledging, too, that agribusiness is poisoning us. Do you want to eat growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids, pesticides? You’re eating them in abundance when you eat commercially raised meat. Vegetarians are about forty percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, and about ninety percent less likely to have a heart attack. Strokes, many degenerative diseases, and diabetes are all markedly lower in vegetarians than in meat eaters. Vegetarians not only have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but not surprisingly, we’re slimmer on average than our carnivorous friends.
Finally, we’re rejecting an industry that tortures animals from birth to death. Agribusiness grows 11 billion animals each year in spaces so tight that they can barely turn around. Animals live in their own excrement, breathing in ammonia so potent that it damages their throats, lungs, and eyes. Pigs’ tails and chickens’ and turkeys’ beaks are removed without anesthesia. Male chicks, “by-products” of the egg industry, are suffocated, crushed, or gassed to death. At the slaughterhouse, animals are moved at breakneck speed through a mechanized process so that every day, countless cows and pigs and most meat birds have their throats slit or are boiled alive while fully conscious. Increasing numbers of us are saying that this is unacceptable.
It has certainly not been our intent to participate in torture, to poison the planet and ourselves. In The Way We Eat, Why Our Food Choices Matter, Jim Mason and Peter Singer argue that “good people” make “bad food choices” because they lack access to information that would encourage them to choose differently. But Americans are lifting the veil behind which an ugly industry has hidden for decades. Based on what we see, we’re starting to choose differently, as evidenced by changes at Smithfield, Cargill, Wolfgang Puck, Burger King, and Gourmet. It is consumers who drive the market. When you purchase with compassion, the whole world will thank you. Go to Burger King if you must...but buy a salad. In these dark times, here’s hoping that you’re far hungrier for kindness than you are for that burger.
(The above article is from the Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Spring 2007 Newsletter, Sanctuary Scene)
Kathy Stevens is “A Modern-Day Noah”––The New York Times