Although I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life, my family, including Comet, is not. Most Americans eat a lot of meat. Burgers, hot dogs, steaks, bacon, and chicken are all plentiful in the U.S. and are for the most part, reasonably priced. The same goes for eggs and dairy products. We simply go to the grocery store, traverse a few aisles and pop a few neatly wrapped items into our cart and check out. Done-deal. But, how often do we stop and think where our meat, eggs, and dairy come from? I know that in Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, I don’t see any large, beautiful farms with animals grazing on rolling, green meadows.
Today, most animal food products that we eat are produced on factory farms, a method of farming where very large numbers of animals are raised in small, confined areas, to maximize productivity (make the most money). Animals living on factory farms have an unnatural and poor quality of life with much stress, limited space, and socialization. Tragically, these animals are taken away from their mothers and families, and put in large buildings more like warehouses than barns, where their movement is much restricted and their daylight limited or even absent. In fact, these animals are treated more like machines than living, feeling creatures. Can you imagine spending your entire life indoors, without feeling the sun on your skin? I cannot.
Like many people, I took a long time to realize that my food came from such inhumane conditions. Pregnant pigs, called sows, who produce piglets for pork are confined to “gestation crates” where they are forced to lay down, unable to move or even turn around. Dairy cows are given growth hormones and forced to produce very large, unnatural amounts of milk, stressing the bodies of these sweet animals. Egg-laying hens are confined to “battery cages” where they are packed in so tightly that they cannot even spread their wings. And we haven’t even talked about the stress and inhumanities at the end of their lives! The examples of how we mistreat our farm animals seem endless. But all is not hopeless, as each one of us can make a big difference and huge impact. Times are changing.
All animals, even those who are raised for food, should be entitled to live a humane and quality life. California recently passed a ground-breaking law, The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which will eliminate many types of inhumane farming methods in that state by 2015. Many other states have similar legislation in the works. If we stop and think about where our food comes from, we can make better informed and more humane decisions that will help animals. Here are only a few of the many things we all can do:
1. Eat less meat! Plain and simple. If we all ate half the meat we do now, there would be half the demand for the 10 billion animals raised and slaughtered each year for food in the U.S. And as a special added bonus: we would likely be much healthier with a more vegetarian diet. If you want to consider a vegetarian diet, talk with your parents. My parents would only allow me to drop one food group at a time; first red meat, then chicken, etc… to make sure I was still able to get all the nutrients I needed from the other food sources during my growing years.
2. Choose humanely raised animal products (read the labels on your food). When I was a teen, I remember going to barbeques and enjoying a plain bun with mustard. Times have changed and there are more vegetarian and humane options. There are more options becoming available every day as people become educated about where their food comes from. Humanely raised products are from more traditional-type farm settings, where animals are allowed space, quality food, social-interaction, and sunlight. If your grocery store doesn’t have humanely raised meats, eggs, and dairy, ask the store manager to get some or shop at health and organic food stores.
3. Educate others by teaching them what you’ve learned. If you share what you’ve learned with one friend, you have a chance of doubling the impact! Most people don’t want to think about where their food comes from, as it is unpleasant to say the least. Explain what you’ve learned clearly and calmly, with examples. You can be passionate about making changes to help animals, but you will be most effective if you show understanding and kindness to others instead of jumping up and down and screaming your message.
4. Write letters. Tell your political representatives that you want laws offering protection to all farm animals, like the one passed recently in California. Ask your local newspaper and tv stations to feature stories about the mistreatment of farm animals and the humane options available.
Related links and articles:
Check out these books and others at your local library:
The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food by Gene Bauer
So You Love Animals by Zoe Weil
A Teen’s Guide to Going Vegetarian by Judy Krizmanic
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully
“Charlotte’s Web” 2006
“Fast Food Nation” 2006
“The Meatrix” 2003
“Death on a Factory Farm” 2009