You might wonder why I haven’t posted any factory farming videos from YouTube on my site yet. Truthfully, it’s because I can barely stomach them. I saw enough in the movie “Food, Inc.” to give me a clear picture for the rest of my life. Because I haven’t actually watched these videos, I can’t really say I endorse them. But you may be interested in them if you haven’t seen or read much about factory farming. I’d love to hear your comments on them.
I did watch this turkey breeding video, though, which shows how turkeys are packed in pens too small for their natural state–just a glimpse into the horrors of factory farming I’ve come across so far. (To learn more, Farm Sanctuary–which works to end cruelty to farm animals and promotes compassionate living through rescue, education, and advocacy–has lots of research on their website.)
During the last few months I’ve been haunted by visuals of factory farming–from “Food, Inc.” to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to what I’m currently reading, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
And I’ve pondered the ethics and morals of carnivorism and vegetarianism (see Stirring the Pot Before Thanksgiving), trying to get a grip on what it is that really bothers me about factory farming and the way our food system works in this country.
What it all comes down to is suffering.
I love animals. I’m the type of person who gets upset when I see a dead animal in the road because, more than likely, it died a senseless and probably slow death.
Last year, I had the horrible experience of putting my cat to sleep because she had kidney disease and her digestive system started to shut down. If I hadn’t chosen to euthanize her, she would have been poisoned from the inside by the waste in her bowels. While I’d rather not play god, I didn’t want to see her suffer either. She had been my best pal for 20 years and I had the choice to put her out of misery.
This week I was reading Chapter 4 of Eating Animals, which is about the author’s clandestine nighttime visit to a turkey farm with an animal activist named “C”. Although Jonathan Safran Foer requested visits to factory farms by writing numerous letters to companies such as Tyson, none has taken him up on his interest in seeing how their farms operate so he can make an informed decision about what to feed his son. (Imagine that.)
When Safran Foer sneaks into the shed where turkey chicks are being raised, this is how he describes the scene: “Because there are so many animals, it takes me several minutes before I take in just how many dead ones there are. Some are blood matted; some are covered in sores. Some seem to have been pecked at; others are as desiccated and loosely gathered as small piles of dead leaves. Some are deformed. The dead are the exceptions but there are few places to look without seeing at least one.”
Then “C” sees a chick “trembling on its side, legs splayed, eyes crusted over. Scabs protrude from bald patches. Its beak is slightly open, and its head is shaking back and forth.” But “C” knows what to do. She slices its neck.
In “Food, Inc” there’s a scene where chickens are slaughtered on Joel Salatin’s farm, using a cone-like contraption such as Tom Carey used at Lubbers Farm this past fall. With a quick slice to the neck, the chicken’s life is over.
While the idea of death doesn’t appeal to anyone, I do think humans and animals are all part of a natural cycle in life that includes predators and prey, which is why hunting for food in the wild makes sense to me.
And one of the key differences between factory farming and hunting for wild game or killing domesticated animals that were raised naturally in pastures is suffering. I think an animal that lives happily the way is was intended, such as the chickens at Lubbers Farm, and dies quickly at the hand of someone who is knowledgeable about slaughter has a better life than any animal raised in a factory farm.
What has happened to our respect for nature? We’re all part of this complex web. But I don’t think the web was meant to include genetically-engineered animals that are abused and destined to live in unnatural conditions.
If only this understanding could be made at the grocery store where people buy turkey breasts in a package with no connection to the suffering the poor bird endured in its factory upbringing.