** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me. All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject (some articles are linked. I also recommend the documentaries ‘Food, Inc.’ and ‘Vegucated’). **
I’ve never been a vegetarian before. My parents raised me on hearty dinners of hamburger helper, shake-and-bake pork chops, and meaty spaghetti. I never really thought about the ethicality of my consumption or just where my meat was coming from. Cows lived on farms; meat came wrapped in plastic from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. End of story. Once I left home, my meat consumption declined drastically. This was more for budgetary and space reasons than any ethical stance; meat is expensive, and freezer/fridge space is currently scarce because I have four roommates (six, if you count the cat and rabbit). Also, since then, I’ve been learning more about the meat and dairy industry in the US, and the information I’ve been exposed to doesn’t exactly whet my appetite.
On January 3rd, I realized I hadn’t eaten any meat yet in the new year. I figured I might as well keep going. It’s now March 10th, and I think I’m officially ready to call myself a vegetarian. Here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to do this:
One: Environmental. Those of you who aren’t from agricultural communities may not be familiar with the sweet smell of industrial meat farms. And by “sweet,” I mean noxious. As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I’ve experienced the intense, fecal, gaseous smells of poultry and hog farms. You could always smell them before you saw them, and there were certain spots of highway where you knew you had to roll up your windows or you’d be forced to smell shit for miles.
The minutes driving through them were bad enough – you can only hold your breath for so long, after all – that I can’t imagine the torture of having to actually live close to one. ‘Pig Poop Fouls North Carolina Streams,’ published in Scientific American, describes the plight of an elderly couple that lived in the vicinity of a hog farm. The wife described how you couldn’t do laundry if the wind was blowing, because the smell of the hog farms would get into the fabric and you’d just have to wash them all again to get the smell out. Her grandchildren wouldn’t visit her. Her life was worse because of her proximity to the hog farms.
Bacteria from these hog farms often make its way into the water system via improperly disposed of hog waste. Most large farms have hundreds if not thousands of animals, all producing a vast amount of urine and feces. This urine and feces are stored in “lagoons,” and are sprayed onto crops via sprinkler systems. This waste is not supposed to leave the property of the hog farm. However, a study done by UNC suggested that these large hog farm operations have allowed waste bacteria to pollute North Carolina streams and rivers . Researchers took water samples from water sources situated near hog farms and found “DNA from bacteria that live in the digestive systems of hogs and that are not known to live in any other animals or people.” The water quality has been compromised. A criticism of this study is that the mere existence of this bacterial DNA cannot prove that hog farms are disposing of their waste inappropriately; however, it seems to give pretty damn good evidence that waste mismanagement is, in fact, happening.
I don’t want the state I consider my home to smell like hog shit. I don’t want my parents, who currently live in rural North Carolina, to wake up and be forced to stay inside their home because their backyard smells like hog shit. I don’t want anyone in my family (or, you know, any human in general) to be forced to drink water contaminated with hog shit.
Two: Humane Treatment of Animals. Most animals raised for meat in the United States live on CAFOs (Concentrated Organized Feeding Operations). Many of them spend their days standing around and covered in their own shit. CAFOs can include both open lots without grass and closed buildings without windows. They exist for animals to be stored until they are the proper size for butchering.
Pregnant hogs are often kept in conditions so cramped they are forced to stand. Their waste falls through a slotted floor and is kept below them, and the hogs are “exposed to high levels of ammonia, which causes respiratory problems.” These hogs also develop ulcers and wounds caused by the pressure of being crammed so close together.
The egg industry also employs questionable methods. Male chicks born into egg operations often get exterminated on day 1. Because they’re male, they’re not going to lay eggs, and because they’re bred from a type of chicken geared toward making eggs and not meat, they aren’t seen as being viable as a meat source. It’s more economical just to kill them and be done with it.
Every time I think about eating meat now, I think about these animals. I think about the documentary Vegucated showing bags full of still-living male chicks being thrown out like garbage. Every bite feels like support of cruelty, and that’s something I’m not comfortable with.
Three: Health/Beauty/Vanity. In high school, my skin was fairly clear. However, since about 23, my face has virtually exploded with adult acne. After trying almost every product I could get my hands on (scrubs, goos, washes, “treatments,” etc), my face was still a mess. I read a few articles that suggested dairy products like milk and cheese could cause skin problems. I severely limited my intake of these products, and my skin has definitely improved. Is it a decrease in dairy products or merely an increase in produce consumption that have caused this change? I’m not sure, but I’m going to keep with it because my results are good.
Since December, I have not eaten any meat products (eggs, however, continue to be consumed, although at a greatly reduced rate, and milk and cheese have been cut out almost entirely). Overall, I feel healthier and less sluggish, and I’m paying more attention to the type of things I consume and how they will affect not only my body, but my community and my sense of integrity.
** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me. All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject. **