I’m currently reading a book titled The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jeffrey Masson. If you’re new to the animal rights world, Peter Singer is the author behind the ever popular book, Animal Liberation. Most people will say hands down that Peter Singer is the most influential philosopher in the world today. His book, Animal Liberation, played a vital role in shaping the contemporary animal rights movement. Jeffrey Masson is the best-selling author of numerous books including one of my favorites, The Face on Your Plate – The Truth About Food.
I’m only a quarter into The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, but I can tell you already that it’s definitely worth the money. In this book, the authors examine three families’ grocery-buying habits and the motivations behind those choices. They describe in precise detail how applying industrial processing principles to animal husbandry has led to cheap foods whose cost occur at the expense of the animals who are raised for profit and product.
The first family we meet, a family of four from Kansas, explain how they do all their shopping at Wal-Mart because it’s cheap and convenient. The parents, a man named Lee and his wife, Jake, admit that they don’t know much about animal agriculture or how much the animals suffer. One comment that was made by Jake that I found interesting was: “To be perfectly honest about it, I do think there’s a hierarchy of animals. I believe I would favor mammals over birds. I think I probably feel sorrier for a cow than I would for a chicken.” To this, her husband replies, “Honestly, I don’t think about it that much. I guess I’m pretty absorbed in my life and my family most of the time and I don’t think very much about the welfare of the meat I’m eating.”
After I read those two statements, I wondered first how many people would agree with Jake. Do people think larger animals, like cows and pigs, are more adept than fish and chickens? If so, why? Because they’re bigger? Last summer I had the opportunity to volunteer at Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s most popular farm animal sanctuary. Before arriving at the farm, I spent many hours wondering what each animal would be like. I imagined the cows to be calm and docile, the pigs to be playful, and the birds to be, well, a bit annoying. Ironically, it was the chickens and turkeys I enjoyed the most. One of my jobs was to feed the birds and each time I would open the door to their sheds, they’d immediately run over to see who I was. It took me a few days to feel comfortable with them, but before long I was picking them up and sitting among them, letting them hop on my lap. There was one baby turkey, Daphne, who I adored so much. Every time I would be near her she would jump to the closest surface so she could see what I was doing. Sometimes when I was getting feed out of a giant barrel she would jump into the barrel and start eating. I would gently pick her up and place her on the ground and within a few seconds she would be back in the barrel. I wish all people had the pleasure of spending a few hours with chickens and turkeys. They would be able to see them for what they really are; sentient beings with their own distinct personalities.
The second comment made by the husband, Lee, is probably common among most of society. Between work, raising families, and trying to have some sort of life, who has time to think about anything else – especially where our food comes from? I understand people are overworked, busy, and tired. Trust me, I get it. However, I don’t think that’s a fair excuse. I think the real reason is that most people don’t want to learn about where their food comes from. Thinking about factory farming and animal suffering brings discomfort, and no one wants that. People just want to go to the grocery store and buy their cheap food without having to worry about the ethics or consequences behind it.
Learning the truth about the agriculture industry is upsetting and difficult to absorb. I still have a hard time reading about how animals are treated each minute of every day in factory farms across the world. The news breaks my heart and often times I’m left crying and wondering how people can be so cruel. But you know what would hurt more? Unknowingly supporting the agribusiness by buying their products. By eliminating meat and dairy products from my life, I know that I am in no way contributing my hard-earned money to an industry that treats animals like commodities instead of living beings. And that, to me, is worth the discomfort the truth brings.
A beautiful cow at Farm Sanctuary