Removing the veil: Awareness necessitates a vegetarian diet Photo by Tom Chang
Fortunately, we don’t often have to think much about the products we consume. If something tastes good or works well, that’s what we want to buy.
But our vast system of consumption creates a huge disconnect between a product coming into existence and us finding it on store shelves. It’s easy, and beneficial, to be willfully ignorant of how products end up in our hands and in our homes. If we have to be ignorant of the effects of our choices in order to deal with them, however, there’s something wrong with the choices we’re making.
This ignorance predominantly manifests itself in our diet. Long past hunting and gathering and “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyles, the average American plays little to no role in the production of food. We simply buy it at the store or at a restaurant, ready for consumption aside from maybe a little cooking. Where our food was grown, processed, packaged, and shipped from is of little concern. In terms of meat, dairy, and eggs, where our food was raised, fed, killed, and slaughtered slips past our consciousness.
But the greater food system, especially the production of animal products, is something we should be aware of and actively think about. Food is something we have to interact with every single day, and those interactions aren’t just about our tastes. Our purchases are supporting a greater system that has a variety of impacts.
The production of animal products in this country operates on the factory farming or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) model. This system treats animals like materials and resources to be manipulated to serve production purposes, but they’re living, breathing, feeling creatures. As anyone who has ever had a pet dog or cat knows, animals express pain and pleasure, have desires and needs. They’re not pawns at our disposal. Yet, when eating meat, that’s exactly how we’re treating them.
Ground beef doesn’t magically appear perfectly packaged in the grocery store. A long process led that meat there. Factory farms and CAFOs raise these animals with hardly any space, feed them grains their digestive systems can’t handle to fatten them up, and pump them with hormones to keep them from getting sick in the grimy conditions. Then they’re killed, bled out, slaughtered, and butchered — a task that’s extremely dangerous for slaughterhouse workers — before eventually reaching the deli counter and our plates.
Once there, the whole process the animals went through to become dinner is easily ignored. Even the language we use makes it easy to forget what it is we’re eating. Cow meat is beef, steak, or hamburger; pigs are pork and ham. Even chicken, due to the way we tend to interact with it only on our plates, is difficult to connect to the classic barn-animal bird. We avoid thinking about eggs as part of reproduction, and the use of milk is so widespread that thinking of it like our own mammalian breast milk is almost disturbing.
Choosing to objectify and dispose of other beings for our pleasure should present some sort of ethical dilemma, but we don’t often realize this is what we’re doing. These decisions not only impact nonhuman animal lives, but are detrimental to our own lives and the world around us too.
There are a myriad of health concerns about eating meat and dairy, but according to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians are at lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and certain types of cancer. Eliminating animal products eliminates the amount of fat, the culprit behind many of these ailments, in one’s diet and doesn’t present a risk to other nutritional requirements, if properly accounted for.
Additionally, factory farms greatly impact the environment. Thirty percent of the planet’s land mass is devoted to animal agriculture, animals raised for livestock produce 89,000 pounds of excrement per second and are the largest producers of methane, and nearly half of all the water in the United States goes to animals being raised for food. We tend to target environmental issues in other ways but don’t consider that our food production plays an extremely large role.
Meat-eating simply isn’t efficient. The amount of resources that go into producing meat are far greater than what is actually produced. One pound of meat isn’t very much, yet it takes 16 pounds of grain and 2,400 gallons of water to produce that one pound. Livestock animals need massive amounts of resources to be kept alive and fattened up for humans to eat. Yet those same resources could just be used to feed humans. The 70 percent of cereal and grains grown in the United States being fed to animals could instead feed people much more efficiently.
If the impacts of an animal-product-based diet were more known and actually contemplated when choosing what to eat, maybe we wouldn’t continue choosing to harm animals, ourselves, and the environment. It’s difficult to justify the side effects of eating a bacon cheeseburger for dinner — or it should be.
Rethinking habits may take some work, but Seattle, and the U-District in particular, is a great place to explore vegetarian or vegan alternatives. Araya’s Place, Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, Pizza Pi, and Wayward Vegan Cafe are exclusively vegetarian and vegan, and pretty much every other restaurant on the Ave offers at least some veggie options. Mighty-O donuts, sold around campus, are vegan, as are baked goods from Flying Apron. And Trader Joe’s explicitly marks many of its products as vegetarian or vegan.
Being vegetarian or vegan isn’t about restrictions. It’s about fostering an awareness of the impacts we have and making informed decisions. Adopting a strict diet banishing all animal products may not be for everyone, but everyone should at least think about what they’re eating and how it ended up on their plate. The choices we make do have impacts beyond our taste buds, and we can’t remain ignorant of how we affect the world around us.
Reach Opinion Editor Kali Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kaliswens
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