In his sophomore year of college, our son was encouraged by a friend to see several documentaries about what happens to the animals we eat as they grow and are processed. He had already moved to a vegetarian diet for environmental reasons, but this aspect moved him to a vegan diet. He was deeply affected, and when he came home his passion moved us to a vegan diet as well. Below is what he shared at our family presentation.
This is the part everybody hates to talk about: what is actually happening to the animals we are eating. What I am going to ask is that we try to have compassion, a words whose Latin roots translate to “suffer with” hearing about some of the ways animals are treated is uncomfortable, painful, and ugly, and it is not something fun to think about. But I am asking that we have a small amount of compassion towards them and be willing to listen to a little of what it is that they go through despite the discomfort it may out us through.
With that said, I will just talk about a little bit of what happens to the average chicken that we eat here in the U.S. I am focusing on chickens because we kill more of them than of any other animal. Americans currently consume as much chicken in a single day as they did in an entire year in 1930, when production increased to 34 million birds per year (prior to that, chicken was a luxury Sunday only dish for the rich). Now, close to my state of Maryland on the Delvarma coast, about 12 million chickens are processed in a single week.
While some of the things chickens go through differ from what cows, pigs, and other animals go through, all food animals suffer in many ways. Unfortunately the laws that are in place to protect animals, like the ones that make things like dog fighting illegal or abandoning cats, do not apply to agriculture. Most industrial farms can and will choose increased efficiency and profit over any amount of care for the interests of the animals. Not only are there no laws to protect animals, there are also laws that protect agri-business, making it hard to know what is really going on. “Ag-gag” is a term used for a variety of anti-whistleblower laws in the United States of America. In some state, the recording of undercover videos showing animal cruelty in farming practices is now illegal.
Chickens in the wild form groups with a distinctive social order, but in overcrowded factories, anywhere between 60-90,000 birds are kept in a single building. This is only possible because the chickens are debeaked to stop pecking and cannibalism. Baby birds have their beaks cut off with a hot blade without any pain killers. The speed at which this is done, typically about 15 birds per minute means that the cutting is often sloppy, leading to serious injury to the birds.
The confined, crowded, and unsanitary conditions found on large farms, cause chickens to be stressed and prone to sickness so are routinely given add low doses of antibiotics to animal feed. In addition to preventing widespread disease, the use of antibiotics benefits factory farms by artificially boosting animals’ growth rates leading to animals so large they cannot stand.
These birds spend the entirety of their short lives in overcrowded buildings, rarely if ever seeing sunlight. By the time they are about 45-60 days old, they are ready for slaughter. The typical method of slaughter is to dangle a bird upside down and slit its throat leaving it to bleed to death.
One of the documentaries he watched was “Earthlings“, which can be found online at http://www.nationearth.com/. Though my son has encouraged me to watch it, I confess I have not as yet. But I was impacted on this subject by the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, where he examines the process for all of the animals raised for food in detail.