BY JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER
Published on November 2, 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
This should make you feel uncomfortable…
On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
If we were to one day encounter a form of life more powerful and intelligent than our own, and it regarded us as we regard fish, what would be our argument against being eaten?
For every ten tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left.
Something having been done just about everywhere just about always is no kind of justification for doing it now.
Not responding is a response – we are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle.
Isn’t it strange how upset people get about a few dozen baseball players taking growth hormones, when we’re doing what were doing to our food animals and feeding them to our children?
You can call your turkey organic and torture it daily.
Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?
Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.
If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.
We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, what did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?
Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded. To do nothing is to do something.
It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don’t need the option of buying children’s toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don’t need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.
In the past fifty years, as factory farming spread from poultry to beef, dairy, and pork producers, the average cost of a new house increased nearly 1,500 percent; new cars climbed more than 1,400 percent; but the price of milk is only up 350 percent, and eggs and chicken meat haven’t even doubled. Taking inflation into account, animal protein costs less today than at any time in history.
If you don’t want that responsibility, don’t become a farmer. Because that’s what it takes to do it right. And if you can’t do it right, don’t do it. It’s that simple. And I’ll tell you another thing: if consumers don’t want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn’t eat meat.