Hot Dog Horrors
Why do we eat meat? This question was once evolutionarily obvious. We needed it. Millennia later, general attitude towards this question has not changed. Many still feel as though they need it. Once a necessity turned long-sought luxury, meat is now a basic commodity. Much like a daily cup of coffee, it would be odd and undesirable for many Americans to go a day without a piece of meat. In this progressive age, though, it might be worth reexamining our habits.
So what do we love so much about a juicy cheeseburger? It feels almost superfluous to write about. It tastes good. Scratch that. It tastes amazing. When cooked properly, meat gives the consumer an experience other foods simply cannot. There are other reasons we consume meat so regularly though, such as convenience, nutritional benefits, cost effectiveness, tradition, and culture. While many Americans eat meat because it is the cheapest way to achieve certain essential nutrients, a large portion does not live under such financial strains. For this group, taste and nutritional convenience, as in you can feel full efficiently, are the greatest reasons individuals choose to eat meat.
Factory farming kills a beef cow every tenth of a second, accounting for over 300 million cows each year.1 1.25 billion pigs are slaughtered at clip of one per every 40th of a second, and 50,000,000,000 chickens die annually for their meat.1 Consuming such vast quantities of meat comes at a price to our individual health, the environment, and to our moral code. This column will focus on the moral repercussions of such praised massacres.
Many words could be used to describe the experience of an animal on a factory farm from their birth until their slaughter, but they would all beat to the same tenor. Awful. Disheartening. Painful. Largely unnecessary. Wrong. A common argument to support meat-eating practices lies in the fulfillment of our interests. Meat helps us to flourish; it helps us achieve a good life. We have every reason to act in ways that will promote the goodness of our lives, but it is worth asking if the benefits we receive from meat-eating are worth the horrific burden so many animals must bear. Separation of mothers from their young is immediate, leaving cattle without proper nutritional or behavioral development.2 Chickens are painfully debeaked to prevent cannibalism that occurs when chicken are held in such tight quarters.2 The average space for an egg-laying hen to move throughout their life is smaller than a standard size piece of computer paper.2 These living conditions not only affect the birds but also the quality and safety of the meat as diseases run rampant. Pigs, who exhibit complex mental states, go insane in individual pens too small for any rotation.2 Their muscles, mind, and will to live diminish day by day in their solidarity. Take note, this, and the countless other forms of suffering that occur for these factory animals, is all prior to their actual slaughter.
A long debate has ensued as to whether animals of certain mental capacities are capable of experiencing pain. The rationale is if an animal cannot experience pain, then what we do to it has no ethical bearings. For Peter Singer, a hardened supporter of animal welfare, the ability to experience pain or pleasure means that a being has interests in avoiding pain and achieving pleasure and that these interests should be considered in the moral equation.3 The trick is in measuring pain. Pain is a subjective, sensational experience, and determining whether an animal has this phenomenological experience is difficult because we lack the ability to communicate with them. With this in mind, though, it would seem odd for pain capacities to only develop in humans. By assessing neurophysical and behavioral similarities in response to noxious stimuli, it appears that many animals probably experience pain.4 To what degree animals of varying cognitive capacities experience pain is yet to be seen; however, most evidence indicates many animals of interest hold this faculty. One might argue that, although animals experience pain, it is not to the same degree as that experienced in humans. This distinction, however, is ultimately unimportant. Comparing the level of pain is not critical to this argument because human suffering is not in question here. This is a conflict of human pleasure versus animal pain. If one can then accept that an animal can be harmed, we assume duties regarding, and potentially duties towards, the prevention of animal suffering.
Understanding that the animals in question, cows and pigs almost certainly, experience pain exacerbates their merciless slaughter. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reports obscene abuse of animals. They describe cows left conscious minutes after their throats have been cut, writhing in a pool of their own blood.5 Cows that do not bleed at speeds acceptable to the workers have their open wounds gauged by thick metal hooks to speed up the process.5 While supposed to have been knocked unconscious long before, some pigs have their skin burned off while still very much awake.5 The atrocities go on endlessly. Slaughterhouses are the living hell no one wants to see. If we admit that animals experience pain, then it is hard to imagine remaining content with these practices. Our interests in taste and nutritional convenience may not hold even enough moral weight to allow for far more painless practices. There is no way that these secondary interests can possibly excuse this kind of mass killing.
This is where we must ask again, why do we eat meat? We can reformat this question, though, to say instead, why do we eat meat like this? Here, the answer lies in convenient ignorance. Our lives, our goods lives, are made easier by ignoring this gruesome killing machine. While it is far easier to live in a realm of blissful ignorance, I believe, those who eat meat for taste and nutritional convenience, are morally culpable for this group ignorance. It is time to pop the bubble. We cannot outrun the truth any longer, and it is our moral duty to leave the shadows of comfort. No one should enjoy a mouth-watering cheeseburger without first understanding the atrociousness of the meat-producing process.
The logical follow-up question asks what we are to do from here. As a long-time meat-eater who has tried going vegetarian multiple times, I know cutting meat out of one’s diet can be difficult. While I no longer eat beef and pork, chicken is still a staple of my college student diet. I am not demanding that we stop all meat-consumption, that no turkeys are bought on Thanksgiving, or that we should all start eating a seaweed-based diet. Rather, I hope that we will look into serious alternatives. Vegetables can be delicious, and with the rise of vegan body builders, clearly most people can lead healthy lives without meat.6 We just do not need it, especially at the outrageous consumption levels of modern day. I am hopeful that we will also take a stand against factory farms. If we want meat, buy from local, smaller farms. Decreased accessibility and elevated costs are the sacrifices one must make if meat substitutes will not appease them. While one’s boycott might seem insignificant, it could end up paying huge dividends.2 Until government subsidies for factory farms decrease or policy changes in favor of animal welfare are made, it is very difficult to support the philosophy of factory farming. We are a progressive nation in a progressive time. Amidst our strides in equality and freedom, let us not allow our appetites to be the one holding us back.
“Equal Consideration of Moral Interests.” 2016. Accessed December 24. http://www.animalethics.org.uk/equal-consideration.html.
Posted by Spencer Lo on November 4, 2012 at 13:59 in Academic Papers and Journal Articles, and View Discussions. “Vegetarianism by Stuart Rachels.” Accessed January 2, 2017. http://arzone.ning.com/forum/topics/vegetarianism-by-stuart-rachels.
“Equality for Animals?, by Peter Singer.” 2016. Accessed December 24. http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1979----.htm.
Harrison, Peter. "Do Animals Feel Pain?" Philosophy 66, no. 255 (1991): 25-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3751139.
“PETA Reveals Extreme Cruelty at Kosher Slaughterhouses.” 2016. PETA. Accessed December 24. http://www.peta.org/features/agriprocessors/.
“Great Vegan Athletes | The World’s Best.” Great Vegan Athletes. Accessed January 2, 2017. http://www.greatveganathletes.com/node.