This past week, a couple of announcements stood out to me. One was that scientists were having a taste test of their “test tube” burger…meat that was grown from stem cells. Two was the announcement that the world is pretty much “maxed out” when it comes to meat and dairy production.
These announcements happened to coincide with a party I attended in which we were served beef that had a name. The host had grown the steer from a calf; feeding it and caring for it as part of the family.
All of this caused me to reflect on how far we have come with regard to food production since I left the family farm.
When I left the farm in the 1960’s, most farm animals had not yet become a commodity. Cattle were still allowed to graze in pastures. Milk was a by-product of breeding cattle to replace and enlarge the herd. Hogs were given room to roam. Sheep became self-propelled lawnmowers that also provided wool once a year. And poultry were allowed to roam the homestead before being locked up each night to protect them from predators.
How things have changed!
Today, calves are scarcely weaned from their mothers before being crammed into a feedlot with feed troughs fed by automated augers. Dairy cattle are confined in enormous barns and bred for one thing – milk production. They are given hormones to increase production. Their calves are now a by-product of milk to be confined and sold as veal. Hogs are born into confinement and live out their short lives with little room to even turn around. Chickens destined to produce eggs are crammed into tiny cages stacked as much as eight high to more efficiently use available space. They have no room to stand up, let alone turn around and those on the bottom are covered in the feces from those above. And chickens raised for meat are crammed into large rooms with thousands of others.
All of this is the result of animals being raised by corporations rather than people. And as awful as these conditions seem, they’re actually pleasant when compared to their conveyor-style slaughter.
Our treatment of animals should be disturbing to any person with a half a heart and respect for the beings with which we share this planet. We may never all become vegetarians or vegans, but that doesn’t mean we have to treat animals as a commodity…an unfeeling slab of meat.
Native Americans and other indigenous cultures ate meat, but they treated the victims of their hunts with respect. We would be wise to do the same. Failure to do so should weigh heavily on our minds and souls. The simple act of reducing our intake of meat and dairy each week would have a large impact on the sustainability of our planet. It would improve our overall health. And if enough people purchased locally-grown, organic foods, it would have an impact on factory farms.
But don’t count on the food industry to improve conditions on its own. Very few corporations have a conscience.