By Maria-Veronica Rojas
“Um, b-bu-but I’m not vegetarian!” mumbled a guilty-looking Haverford student as she reluctantly took my information pamphlet on helping animals.
“It’s ok, you don’t have to be vegetarian to help animals,” I told her.
I get an embarrassed reaction like this a lot from Fords — usually when they find out about my vegan diet. I hear things along the lines of, “Um, wow, I tried to be a vegetarian once” or “Oh cool you’re vegan…yah I’m not sure I could do that, but I want to.” Haverford students tend to be more ethically mindful than the average college student, and so it’s easy to see why mentioning my diet can cause others to feel guilty or defensive, and try to justify what many know is just wrong.
Because from my experience, many, if not most, Haverford students do know there’s something wrong with eating meat. The problem is that they often don’t know, or want to know, exactly why — and they’re scared they’ll have to become weird vegans if they find out.
So what’s wrong with factory farmed animals again?
And what do we actually have to do about it?
First, one must truly understand that at heart, factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are businesses. They do not exist to care for animals. They exist to make money. Consequently, animals have become objects for making profit, and not breathing, emotional, and valuable living beings. This is why the standard size of a chicken’s cage is the size of a piece of letter paper (1). It’s cheaper to cram as many animals as possible into a plot of land. It’s why it’s standard to breed baby chicks so fast, that if a newborn human baby grew at the same rate, it would weigh 660 lbs in 2 months (2) — profit booms when consumers buy fatter, faster-growing chickens.
But the bodies of animals aren’t the only thing a humans can exploit. If an animal’s body is an object for profit, so are its products: milk, eggs, and fur. Mother cows will ache with raw throats after crying for hours because their babies are forced from them shortly after birth. The babies are removed and slaughtered for veal, because otherwise the babies would drink the milk intended to make profit for humans. Similarly, male baby chicks are useless for producing eggs. So 50% of chicks are “culled,” as the industry calls it — either gassed, grounded to death in a high-tech blender, buried alive, or otherwise slaughtered in mass (3). By the way, 99% of the animals you consume were raised on one of these standard CAFOs (4). Yes, the Dining Center may sometimes have “local meat.” But a local CAFO is still just that. A CAFO. And just as cruel.
Not only are modern CAFOS morally repugnant, but they are also one of the leading causes of environmental degradation. Cows are the number one contributor to climate change, not just because they release methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, but because forests are clear-cut in order to make room for their pastures. Raising cattle is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. More than half of erosion in the US is due to animal agriculture (5).
It is also extraordinarily inefficient to eat calories from meat. You may have only eaten a piece of meat, but it was part of a living animal once, and it had to eat food. Acres and acres of land, and literal tons of water and gas and fertilizer from all over the planet are dedicated to feeding the animals that humans ultimately feed on — local meat or not. Since 90% of energy is lost for each level of the food chain, meat is far more wasteful. A pound of meat will cost 1,847 gallons of water and 59 kilos of CO2, whereas a pound of potatoes will only take 34 gallons of water and 6 lbs of CO2 (6,7).
The good news is that as an animal activist, the first thing I’d like to let Haverford know is that helping animals, the environment, and your health is not an all-or-nothing situation! Reducing your consumption of animals, even if it isn’t becoming completely vegetarian, is great. Your help to animals by reducing the animals you eat is real.
That’s why Haverford Effective Altruism for Animals and the Dining Center have worked hard to begin campaigning for Meatless Mondays. If you pledge to go Meatless on Mondays, you could save an average of 50 animals every single year (a vegetarian saves 350 animals each year) (8). More than 235 students have already signed up this year — join them. If there’s a vegan version of a meal or dessert, go for it. Everyone knows that the DC vegan chocolate chip cookies are better anyways.
Go Meatless on Mondays. And push yourself to go the next step — cut out eggs, go vegetarian, or go vegan once a week. About 30% of Haverford students are completely vegetarian already! That means many more chickens, cows, pigs, and fish don’t have to suffer through the life in a factory farm. Your environmental footprint will reduce. And you’ll feel good about yourself for taking action against a cruel, oppressive agricultural system.
- “Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks.” United Egg Producers. United Egg Producers, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
- R.F. Wideman, D. D. Rhoads, G. F. Erf, N. B. Anthony; Pulmonary arterial hypertension (ascites syndrome) in broilers: A review. Poult Sci 2013; 92 (1): 64-83. doi: 10.3382/ps.2012-02745.
- AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals. Schaumburg, IL: American Veterinary Medical Association, 2013. 63-67.
- “Ending Factory Farming.” Farm Forward. Farm Foward, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
- Steinfeld, Henning. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006.
- “Product Gallery.” Home. The Water Footprint Network, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
- “Food’s Carbon Footprint.” Green Eatz. Greeneatz, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
- Sethu, Harish. “How Many Animals Does a Vegetarian Save?” Counting Animals. N.p., 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
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