In the past three weeks, I attended three separate Thanksgiving dinners: one with my roommates, one with friends and one real Thanksgiving with my family.
At each of these events, the center of the dinner table was filled with bountiful amounts of delicious Thanksgiving foods, including, of course, a large cooked bird.
Around each of these separate tables was also a collection of individuals gathered in the spirit of friendship, love and all of those other warm feelings that bring people together.
Thanksgiving rightfully evokes pleasant images of culture and tradition. It’s an enjoyable event, it involves the preparing and eating of tasty foods, and we celebrate it with the ones we care about.
That being said, here’s something less enjoyable to think about. The turkey you ate at Thanksgiving was probably raised on a factory farm (as over 97 percent of turkeys are), which means it was caged, starved, confined and kept far from daylight. It lacked the basic ability to sexually reproduce.
Since the turkey is more susceptible to illness than most animals raised for food, it was pumped full of antibiotics you’ve never heard of and would never under any circumstances willingly put in your body (although you unwittingly did when you ate its meat).
It thus led a short and sickly existence just long enough to miraculously make it to the slaughterhouse, where it was chopped up and turned into the base of your dinner.
Much of what consumers are provided in terms of meat can barely be classified as food, let alone as part of an animal. If Noah had tried to bring two factory farm turkeys to the Arc, God would have denied him entry and told him to bring back real animals.
In October, a chilling article in the New York Times detailed the likely permanent paralysis sustained by a healthy woman who ate a hamburger with E-Coli. Far from an anomaly, the article reported on the commonplace practice for slaughterhouses to cut deals with grinders that don’t test shipments so that they can skimp on costs by piecing together low-grade, feces-riddled trimmings of beef (from cows already maltreated on factory farms).
Even Anthony Bourdain, extreme lover of bacon, recently said on Larry King, “We may be designed to eat meat. We are not designed to eat fecal choliform bacteria. I think the standard practices of outfits like Cargill and some of the larger meat processors and grinders in this country are unconscionable and border on the criminal…It would probably not be a bad thing if we ate less meat.”
This isn’t an article about vegetarianism. I’m guilty of shoveling mouthfuls of antibiotics into my mouth on Thanksgiving, too. But when men like Bourdain and Roger Scruton, a philosopher who unironically wrote that “duty requires us” to eat meat, are pushing for change, it’s clear that something is amiss.
Investigations documenting the horrors of the meat industry have increased radically in recent years, from books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent “Eating Animals” to film documentaries like “Food Inc.”
As awareness grows, responsibility to change the practices of the barbaric meat industry inevitably shifts to the public. More states will need to follow the lead of California, whose voters approved factory farm regulations last November.
But even more, people will need to adapt to lifestyles that involve eating, as Bourdain suggests, less meat. The current system of production thrives because it’s cheap, and people are willing to allow it to satiate their short term desires at the cost of long-term health and environmental problems. (As a not-so-small afterthought, factory farming – which accounts for 99 percent of overall meat – is also the number one cause of climate change.)
As a society, we need to stop compartmentalizing our social values: we cannot be environmentalists while supporting factory farming; we cannot be concerned about animal welfare while supporting their torture for food; and we cannot be health conscious if we’re putting stuff into our bellies that isn’t even food.
Along with the necessary political and structural change, accepting a little less meat in our diets is the best personal solution we can take to changing the food system.
It might even lead to future Thanksgivings where we can again share food and memories instead of antibiotics and sickness.
Jonas Kane is a senior English and political
science major from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]