“Another bacon burger, anyone?”
By Jason Miller
“If my competitor were drowning, I’d stick a hose in his mouth and turn on the water.”
“….a funny, jowly, canny, barbarous guy who lives in a multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht. At sixty-seven, he is unrepentant in the face of criticism. He describes himself as a “tough man in a tough business”…..”The animal-rights people,” he once said, “want to impose a vegetarian’s society on the U.S. Most vegetarians I know are neurotic.””
–Jeff Tietz’s description of meat processing magnate, Joseph Luter III (from his Rolling Stone article, “Boss Hog”)
Despite the obvious signs that our nation is declining rapidly and despite the increasing global animosity against us for our greed, excesses, hypocrisy, and belligerence, we US Americans are defiantly “staying the course”. Neither harsh reality nor the ire of the world community has shaken our foundations. Mouthing hollow platitudes about freedom and liberty while supporting a war machine perpetrating genocide in Iraq, we mindlessly buttress a socioeconomic system some of history’s most notable fascists would envy.
While many of us mollify ourselves with the belief that the malevolence of the Bush administration is merely an anomaly in American government, the reality is that the current administration has simply become emboldened enough to dispose of the false mask of benevolence worn tightly by its predecessors.
Let’s face it. We are obsessed with American Capitalism, a system so rotten that it actually encourages, enables, legalizes, and richly rewards pathological degrees of narcissism, greed, competitiveness, and ruthlessness. While millions suffer and die because of us, we cocoon ourselves in impenetrable bubbles of denial and continue feeding our pathetic addictions to fast food, gas guzzling automobiles, American Idol, military domination, video games, the NFL, “righteous” Christianity, and the acquisition of material possessions. Yet we actually expect human beings who are not mentally incapacitated to believe that the
United States is a beacon of hope for humanity on a noble quest to spread “freedom and democracy”?
How could one maintain a straight face while asserting that a Constitutional
Republic (alleged to be premised on Enlightened principles) could co-exist with such a deeply depraved socioeconomic system?
We’re talking about the system that made the “successes” of men like Ray Kroc and Joseph Luter III possible. Those eager to assuage their guilt or avoid the mental exercise of critical thinking can simply embrace the inane mythology that those who rise to the top of the economic hierarchy in the United States are harmlessly enjoying the fruits of their labor they so richly deserve. Yet for truth seekers, this conclusion reeks with a stench that rivals the pungent stink of Boss Hog’s factory farms.
Since the meat industrial complex represents such a rich example of the abject inhumanity of American Capitalism, corporations like Smithfield Foods and McDonald’s were so instrumental in the growth of this complex, and men like Kroc and Luter profited so handsomely from such a massive entity’s existence, let’s scrutinize the devastation this abominable entity is wreaking upon our fur, feather and scale-bearing cousins, the Earth, and humanity.
According to muck-raking journalist Eric Schlosser, US Americans spent over $110 billion on fast food in the year 2000, more than they did on higher education. Aside from being a tragic indicator of our grossly misplaced priorities, this shocking statistic is an indictment of McDonald’s and its ilk. Ubiquity, affordability, convenience, laboratory-developed great taste, and a capacity to manipulate public opinion that puts Bernays to shame enable fast food giants to spread like noxious weeds, annihilating hapless “mom and pop” competitors like so much “collateral damage” in a US imperialistic invasion.
And what red-blooded American would leave the drive-thru without a Big Mac, chicken nuggets, sausage biscuit, bacon burger, fish sandwich, or some other delightful victual containing meat?
To keep up with the sky-rocketing demand for meat caused by the mass-production and mass consumption of fast food, men like Luter jumped to the fore to pioneer factory farming and “vertical integration” of the industry.
Thanks to corporate behemoths, livestock producing family farms are all but extinct. In the United States, 54% of cattle are raised by 5% of the nation’s farms and corporate entities produce a staggering 98% of our poultry.
While many pets in our country receive better care than billions of deeply impoverished humans in developing countries, we consume the flesh, fat, and muscle of sentient beings merely to satiate our carnivorous desires. Compounding this barbarism is the fact that this behavior enriches those who condemn millions of pigs, cattle, fish, and chickens to abbreviated and miserable existences.
Consider what our fellow living beings endure that we might indulge ourselves with burgers, filets, chops and such:
“Unfortunately, this trend of mass production has resulted in incredible pain and suffering for the animals. Animals today raised on factory farms have had their genes manipulated and pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals to encourage high productivity. In the food industry, animals are not considered animals at all; they are food producing machines. They are confined to small cages with metal bars, ammonia-filled air and artificial lighting or no lighting at all. They are subjected to horrible mutilations: beak searing, tail docking, ear cutting and castration. Even the most minimum humane standards proposed are thwarted by the powerful food conglomerates.”
The 9 billion chickens raised each year for their meat are packed into horribly over-crowded, filthy and under-ventilated sheds. Pharmaceuticals and genetic manipulation accelerate their body growth to the extent that their internal organs often fail or they become severely crippled. Denied their natural inclinations to roost, nest, and bathe in the sun, their wretched lives end with a slash of their throats by a mechanical razor.
85 million cattle die each year to put beef on our tables. Four corporate conglomerates account for 80% of this massive slaughter. Ravaged by diseases and metabolic disorders caused by unnatural diets, over-crowding, and cocktails of growth-enhancing hormones and antibiotics, cattle fare little better than their feathered counter-parts. Branding, castration, waddling, and dehorning are often performed without anesthesia. In spite of the Humane Slaughter Act, many cattle are improperly stunned before their throats are slit to bleed them in preparation for the final mutilation of their remains.
“Pigs have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds,” says Dr. Donald Broom, Cambridge University professor and former scientific advisor to the Council of Europe.” Yet each year in the United States we torture and kill 100 million of them. Factory “farmers” keep sows confined in tiny spaces and in perpetual states of impregnation for several years until they are eventually slaughtered. Hogs are “fortunate” in that their sentence to a life of profound misery is a “mere” six months before they “nobly sacrifice themselves” to provide us with ham, sausage, and bacon. As with cattle, pigs are subjected to multiple mutilations without pain-killers, including tail and tooth removal. Cursed by their own intellect, the porcine “farm” experience is perhaps the cruelest. Packing them into claustrophobic enclosures causes them serious mental distress, often leading to cannibalism, self-mutilation, and repetitive, compulsive behaviors.
Commercial fishing has decimated fish populations to the extent that nearly 30% of the seafood we consume now needs to be raised on aquafarms. Aside from driving some varieties of fish to near extinction, commercial fishing techniques cause the deaths of over 100,000 marine mammals each year. Fish raised on aquafarms face many of the same horrors as their terrestrial cousins. Over-crowding, disease, and injury kill approximately 40% of farm-raised fish before they reach market. Aquafarming also has disastrous environmental consequences resulting from the release of “tons of fish feces, antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses.”
What does our overwhelming support for this systematic torment and massacre of millions of our fellow creatures say about our society? Patrice Greanville, board member of Animal People Magazine, editor and publisher of Cyrano’s Journal Online, and renowned Leftist radical, put it like this:
“This moral blindness is inexcusable for those who rightly see themselves as the moral vanguard of humanity. For the bottom line is that speciesism—a surreptitious form of human fascism applied to animals and nature in general—is by far the oldest and most pervasive form of brutal tyrannization encountered in the sorry annals of human history. I don’t use the word “fascism” as hyperbole in this context or for dramatic effect. I wish it were hyperbole. But the fact is that fascism is noted for its unilateral proclamations of superiority by a certain race or breed, endowing said race with the “right” to dominate, exploit, and annihilate at will any group deemed “inferior.” If that pretty much doesn’t describe eloquently our despicable behavior toward non-human animals, I don’t know what does.”
Speciesism is yet another ugly manifestation of the hubristic narcissism that has infected our collective psyche here in the United States. While tormenting and butchering “lesser beings” simply to please our palates is reprehensible behavior, there is a less obvious but equally sinister component to the meat industrial complex. Let’s explore it, shall we?
Consuming meat is a luxury that comes with an extremely high human cost. While dated, agricultural economist Rene Dumont’s observation rings even more true in 2007 than when he made it in 1974:
“The overconsumption of meat by the rich means hunger for the poor. This wasteful agriculture must be changed – by the suppression of feedlots where beef are fattened on grains, and even a massive reduction of beef cattle.”
Dr. Aaron Altshul, author of Proteins: Their Chemistry and Politics, concluded that the foods cultivated to sustain a vegetarian diet provide enough calories per acre to support twenty times more people than the meat produced by raising livestock. Altshul further observed that the Earth could support up to 20 billion people if available agricultural land was devoted to cultivating vegetarian sustenance.
So while we savor our succulent T-bones, relish our tender pork loin, and feast upon our marinated chicken breasts, over 35,000 of our fellow human beings starve to death EACH DAY. 30,000 of them are CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF FIVE.
Consider these disturbing facts (most of which can be found here):
–80% of starving children live in countries where there is actually a grain surplus, but farmers use the grain to feed livestock in order to sell meat to wealthier nations
–Due to its profitability, cattle ranching is rapidly replacing the cultivation of essential crops in Central and South America (where millions of people are malnourished or starving). Deforestation to create cattle pasture is also occurring at an alarming rate.
–Over 70% of the grain that we grow goes to feed livestock. Of the calories animals derive from this grain, only a small percentage yields meat for human consumption.
–In a world in which potable water is becoming increasingly scarce, the
United States devotes 50% of its supply to livestock production.
–Raising crops to feed humans requires far less land than producing meat. Today there is 2/3 of an acre of arable land per person on the Earth. Within 40 years that figure is expected to drop to 1/3 of an acre.
–Typically, 60 gallons of water will yield one pound of wheat. It takes about 2500 gallons to produce a pound of beef. While water is a fairly renewable resource, the meat industrial complex does its best (or more appropriately, worst) to ensure that such renewal is seriously compromised. The EPA has determined that livestock waste, 1.4 billion tons of which were released into our water supply in 1996, is the principal water pollutant in the United States.
–“Vegfam, a British non-profit organization also claims that 10 acres can support 60 people when growing soybeans, 24 when growing wheat, 10 when growing corn, 2 when raising cattle. Also, PETA claims, “because of deforestation for cattle land, each vegetarian saves 1 acre of rainforest a year.””
Pork chops, fried chicken, bacon, and KC strip steaks are delectable in a way that defies description. Yet like so many of the tantalizing offerings dangled before us by our corporate masters, they are contributing to the demise of the human race, our animal brethren, and the Earth itself.
The system we have been conditioned to accept, support, and adore is unsustainable, vile, exploitative, and, frankly, murderous. American Capitalism is little more than an “evolved” form of feudalism in which corporations have replaced lords and the working class has been condemned to economic serfdom. The concomitant symptoms of this global malignancy, including runaway industrialization, imperial conquest, technological advances sans ethical considerations, environmental destruction, fascism, racism, speciesism, neoliberalism, and rampant consumerism, are straining the Earth and its inhabitants beyond reasonable limits.
If we wish to evolve into more civilized human beings and perpetuate life on Earth, we need to put some serious effort into embodying Robertson’s moral imperative:
“The moral imperative of life is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world.”While not easy, shunning the egregiously deleterious meat industrial complex is a simple first step. (To learn more, go to http://www.goveg.com/)
Disclosure Statement: The author of this essay converted to vegetarianism two months ago. As a result, he has experienced spiritual, physical, and mental invigoration. He highly recommends it.
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically, his essays have been widely published, he is an associate editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online, and he volunteers at homeless shelters. He welcomes constructive correspondence at email@example.com or via his blog, Thomas Paine’s Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/