Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taking Sides.

"Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
~Elie Weisel

The conversation of why I am a vegetarian always seems to come over dinner, naturally. And I generally say things like, "...well you're eating right now, so I won't go into it." I am that feel-good, don't-say-anything-that-makes-others-feel-uncomfortable kind of guy. But when focusing on that quote--reading and re-reading it--I am realizing that I am playing a part in the continued torture of animals. And if you eat meat, you are too.

The meat industry is among the grossest products of the human race. Ten billion animals are raised and killed every year in The United States alone; imagine the number when you include the rest of the world. These 10,000,000,000 animals spend their lives confined to concrete stalls and metal cages, terrified and suffering in disgustingly unnatural conditions. These animals live in fear and pain and you--yes, you reading this--are the cause of it. I am utterly sick of hearing people say, "No, don't tell me, I don't want to know." What willful ignorance! What a blatant grand admission that you like to live with shudders on your eyes! By your eating meat, you are keeping these animals in these putrid conditions. And by eating meat, you are keeping human beings to have to work in these same horrific conditions.

Chicks have their beaks burned off in order for you to have chicken fingers. Cattle and pigs are castrated at birth to make you enjoy the taste more. Cattle are dehorned and branded--of course without any painkillers. Cows spend the majority of their life standing in their own shit. Veal calves and mother pigs spend their entire life in lonely isolation, never seeing the light of day. Millions upons millions of animals are skinned and dismembered while still alive--and no one gives a shit because it all happens behind the scenes. That's the tawdry beauty of capitalism in a huge country like the US: you can reap the benefits and sweap the massive consequences under the radar.

I was a vegetarian for five consecutive years, and then I went on a mission trip where I was forced to eat meat. For three months we stayed in host families' homes, and in order for me to be on this trip I was told I had to eat meat. It would be 'rude' to not eat a meal prepared by our hosts. So I gave it up, and it was one of the worst decisions I have made in my life. It took me another five years to wake up and realize what I was doing--that my fork was a choice, and I was choosing to torture animals. I was choosing to keep humans in filthy work conditions.

It's been nearly a year since returning to being a vegetarian, and I no longer will play the role of neutrality. My beef (ha!) with the meat industry is not the killing and eating of animals. That is a very natural part of the circle of life. My problem with the industry is the methods and procedures that I have already mentioned--confining animals to dark steel crates for their entire lives, stuffing thousands of chickens into a windowless chamber and coming in the middle of the night to kill them, etc. As part of the so-called "greatest nation on Earth", how do we get away with this? It goes back to Americans and their blatant desire to not know the truth. And I will no longer be a part of it. In the interest of comfort I will no longer aid my friends in the role they play in torturing animals and locking human beings into a miserable life.

The answer is not to simply stop eating meat (though that is the option I would say is best). The compromise is for people to start researching what they eat and where it comes from. There are local farms all over the country that treat their animals humanely, and I'll tell you what--the quality will always be better. The purpose of factory farms is to produce the most meat using the leat amount of space/money. Because of these shortcuts, the animals suffer--and so does the quality. However, you as the consumer have the ability to vote with every food purchase you make. I encourage you to carefully consider where your food comes from, and if possible, find a local farmer that treats animals humanely.

Putting the shudders back over your eyes, however, is not an option. That is unless you like blending in with the crowd of ignorant Americans.