WARNING: This post is fairly long and it is NOT for people with weak stomachs. However, it is worth the read because it just might make a difference in a world that is begging for change.
Last week we watched a documentary called Food, Inc. and I can’t even begin to express how appalled and sickened I was by the picture it painted of the food industry in North America. It wasn’t just the horrible and completely inhumane treatment of “factory farm” animals (chickens, pigs, cows) that got me all worked up, but also the treatment of many of the farmers and ranchers who provide us with much needed meats, grains and vegetables.
Usually when I watch a documentary (such as As Inconvenient Truth or Sicko), I tend not to put too much stock in what I’m seeing and hearing, but rather use it as a basis to gather more knowledge before I form an opinion. Food, Inc. was an entirely different story. We had to pause the movie at least five times so I could stop crying and refortify my senses for another onslaught of animal suffering and the inhumanity of people who couldn’t seem to make the connection between animal=living being=compassionate treatment. When it was over, I felt physically sick and completely depressed that things have come to this. I honestly felt like grabbing a gun and blazing some of those assholes who work at these meat “factories”, putting money over and above the welfare of another living creature. I just can’t fathom how society has sunk so low.
The gist of the documentary is that most of the food industry in the States is controlled by four food companies (Monsanto, Smithfield, Tyson and Perdue) and the production of food has basically changed farms into “meat factories” geared toward producing meat that is bigger, better, faster and cheaper. You can only imagine where that leaves the animals in the whole equation.
The movie demonstrates how McDonald’s cattle “factories” pack corn-fed cows into paddocks where they can barely move around and they stand in and sleep in their own feces and urine from the time they are born until they are slaughtered en masse. Whereupon, they are hung up, their fur literally riddled with crap, and then fed along an assembly line where they are ground up for hamburger meat “filler”, which is then treated with Ammonia and shipped off to your friendly neighbourhood fast food restaurant. Yum Yum!
At one point, a scientist, who has his hand inside a cow’s stomach, explains that corn fed cows breed the deadliest form of e.coli bacteria, OH157.
Perhaps the most disturbing scene of the entire movie involves a guy trying to move an injured cow with a forklift, but he can’t get the poor animal on it, so he just rolls the cow along, poking it with the steel pronged forks, while the cow screams in pain. Not for weak stomachs, let me tell you.
Chickens and pigs fare no better than cows.
Chicks are put onto conveyer belts, their little beaks clipped off to prevent them from hurting each other “because they get so stressed being packed so closely with other chicks” and then they are kept in the dark for nearly their entire, short and miserable lives (if they survive that long). They are packed into these houses so tightly that their muscles don’t develop and they can only take a few steps at a time before their huge, overly developed breasts weigh them down and they collapse. We are told that 50 years ago, it took approximately 70 days to raise a chicken. Today, in a chicken farm, it takes only 48.
One chicken farmer who decided she’d had enough of the evil chicken-raising ways decided to break the vow of silence imposed on all farmers who work for Purdue and she allowed the film producers to install a hidden camera in one of her chicken houses. Workers went in at night when the chickens were sleeping and they literally picked them up, two at a time by their feet, and threw them into crates, packing them in so they couldn’t even turn around or move. I balled like a baby at this part and had to stop the movie and calm myself down. The anger and helplessness I felt for these animals was so overpowering that I ended up having nightmares that night. I’m not a bleeding heart, I just believe in compassion for all living things – especially helpless ones. The lady took film crews through a chicken barn, picking up dozens of dead chickens as she spoke and tossing them onto her bobcat so she could drive them out and bury them. She stopped every few feet and picked up five or six – they die for many reasons, disease or the ammonia in the air is too much for their lungs or they are crushed by the bodies of other chickens because they are packed in so tightly. It was enough to make me vomit (although I am perfectly okay with free range, antibiotic free poultry, so I’m not that anti-chicken).
I also have a bit of an affinity for pigs, so I had to leave the room for a few parts of the movie and have Greg tell me about them later. Pigs are smarter than dogs. Research has shown that they are intelligent enough to learn how to play basic level video games and they show reasoning abilities akin to three year old children. They are highly social animals and, if allowed to live into their teens, they will form huge family bonds with generations of their siblings. And the food industry ignores this and performs absolutely atrocious acts of barbarism on them.
For example. Piglets are taken away from their mothers at as little as ten days old. The males are castrated without anaesthetic (because some people have complained that an intact male causes a tainted taste to the meat it provides), their tails are chopped off (because some pigs become cannibalistic from boredom and eat others’ tails) and the bottom of their teeth are broken off with pliers to prevent biting injuries. When pigs get larger (between 250 and 270 lbs) they are considered hogs and they are shipped off to slaughterhouses. Packed into trucks so tightly that their guts often pop out of their butts. Workers also use electric prods to get the pigs to go up steep ramps into the trucks because the pigs see what is happening and try to resist being sardined into the truck. Their lives are so stressful that millions of pigs squeal almost 24/7 in distress.
The Smithfield Hog Processing Plant in North Carolina slaughters 32,000 hogs per day. The workers stun the hogs with stun guns and then slit their throats, but the stunning and slitting often doesn’t work qucikly and the hogs are still alive when they reach the scalding hot water baths used to soften their skin and remove their hair. I could go on about this for weeks, but haven’t I told you enough to make you think twice about eating pig products already? Or, at the very least, giving up pork products that don’t come from free range, humanely raised pigs?
The movie also outlined how farmers in the States are paid to mass produce corn, which then goes into a bazillion different food and consumer products, such as diapers, Coke, Motrin, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and many other things we wouldn’t normally expect corn to be in. It also touches on the Monsanto Company, which owns the patent on soy beans and sues any farmers who try to sew their own soy seeds. Instead, soy farmers are required to purchase genetically modified soy seeds from Monstanto. What the United States government was thinking when it decided to pass a bill allowing living things to be patented is beyond me – all it’s done is take the full nutritional value out of the soy beans and put thousands of farmers (some fourth or fifth generation) out of business because they can’t afford to stand against Monsanto’s deep pockets and they all eventually give up the fight.
And then there’s the human side of it all. Home video footage of two year old Kevin Kowalcyk hanging out with his parents on vacation at a lake. He died a couple of weeks later after eating fast food tainted with e.coli OH157 during that vacation. His mother, in response to the tragedy, started a campaign for “Kevin’s Law”, which would boost the US Department of Agriculture’s power to enforce sanitation and safety standards on food production. However, when asked about how her own eating habits have changed since her son’s death, she won’t comment for fear of being sued, just as Oprah was when she spoke against the beef industry on her show. Incidentally, Oprah won that lawsuit (it pays to be a billionaire!!).
And yes, Food, Inc. was entirely one sided, but not for lack of trying on the part of the movie makers – officials at Tyson, Monsanto, Smithfield, and Perdue all declined to be interviewed. Their silence, in and of itself, says something very profound.
Do I eat meat? Hell yeah! But I swore off commercial meat awhile ago and this movie has just solidified my aversion to it, while simultaneously fueling my hunger for change.
And change begins with one little idea. My idea is that if everybody decided that they would only eat free-range, antibiotic free, humanely raised animals, the food industry would have no choice but to change its evil ways and adapt to a consumer-driven, humane farming process. It’s a simple idea, but simple is often the best way to go.
For the first time in perhaps my entire life, I am oh-so-grateful that I grew up in a household of hunters and that I married a man who is able to provide us with all of the meat we could ever need because he hunts and fishes. If not for this, I would become a die-hard vegetarian and, just maybe, a sniper of people who have lost their humanity somewhere between greed and ignorance.
One small idea can change the world. I hope my suggestion of swearing off factory meat will ring true in your ears and that you’ll pass it on to everyone you know so we can begin to return to “old school” ways of farming and ranching.
Here are a few other ideas that could also change the way our food is raised:
- Only buy meat and produce from local ranchers and farmers and only if it’s free range (TRULY free range, not raised like a conventional meat factory animal and then put out to pasture for the last three months of its life, so it can be labeled as “free range”…this happens quite often and people need to be aware of it) and organic. This serves two important functions – it keeps local animals and produce from being shipped to other places (which boosts your local economy) and it makes a dent in the food big wigs pocket book (no matter how small, it still makes a difference – especially if everybody does it).
- Don’t eat fast food. Period.
- Eat less meat. Eat more fish (which is meat, just a different kind than the usual).
- Or just eat less meat. People survive all the time on vegetarian diets and you can find bazillions of delicious recipes!
- Be aware of what’s happening in the food industry and do your part to change it. Don’t turn a blind eye and pretend these atrocities aren’t happening. That’s not good for your Karma or the animals who are suffering.
- Talk about the situation with people you know. Get them involved. Try to make a difference.
And, in keeping with my “hunting is actually a good thing” theme, here are a few shots (no pun intended) of Juno checking out the Doe Greg got this morning.