Understanding the Truth About Factory Farms

There's a reason everyone seems to be in a better mood whenever there's a young child in the vicinity. Sure, they're cute and giggly and really, really, really hilarious. (As Bill Cosby proved, children have better comedic chops than professionals, even him.) But there's also that sense of purity that's so rare to get, especially today.

Children are a clean slate, not yet damaged by the continuing barrage of rough moments that are simply par for the course in this thing called life. They're like those brand new computers, just out of the box, that run like a dream because they're not yet bogged down with all sorts of memory-sucking programs. They're new. They're fresh. They're innocent.

Because, unlike the rest of us, they don't know anything yet.

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Knowledge can be a troubling thing. If you're able to somehow manage to close your eyes and block your ears to avoid knowing about the scary infinite diseases and dangers that stalk you every day, there's no doubt you'll live a much happier life. (Albeit, probably for a much shorter amount of time.) So it's not surprising that when it comes learning about the how their food is made, a lot of people try to know as little as possible.

I can't tell you how many conversations I've been in that, when the subject of food creation came up, the other person immediately said, "Oh, I don't want to know about that," before quickly changing the subject. The problem with this type of mentality is that collective willful ignorance is not harmless. In fact, quite the opposite. Not knowing what goes on at factory farms because it's "too hard to hear" allows huge, multi-billion dollar corporations to get away with some of the most heinous and disgusting acts you can imagine.

Which is why, even if you're not in the mood to, you need to look at Rolling Stone's massive investigative piece about factory farms. In it, author Paul Solotaroff pulls no punches; even the title ("Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat") is direct. Here's a very short list of stat-based highlights and eye-opening info included:

- Numbers of factory-farmed meat slaughtered each year: 9 billion broiler chickens, 113 million pigs, 33 million cows, 250 million turkeys.
- Generally speaking, USDA inspectors only see animals right before they're slaughtered, not at all during the rest of their lives.
- Among "garbage" being fed to livestock: glass from light bulbs, used syringes, crushed testicles of young animals.
- Factory farm generated animal waste a year: 500 million tons.
- Amount of Earth's total land mass used for animal grazing: 26%.
- Age at which humans are as intelligent as pigs: 3.

But where things really take a turn for the Upton Sinclair is when Solotaroff describes just how life is like for animals in the factory farms. For instance, his description of how a "downer cow" lives:

Brittle bones aren't the only reason cows become nonambulatory. A "downer" cow is an animal unable to stand on its own due to injury or illness; downers are deemed unfit by the federal government for human consumption. They are three times likelier to harbor a potentially deadly strain of E. coli, and at higher risk of carrying salmonella bacteria and transmitting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, as it's quaintly known. But before you're classified as a downer, Big Meat will use every trick up its wizard's sleeve to keep you on your feet. Workers hit you in the eyes with a cattle prod, or in the groin, if you like that better; stick a fire hose down your throat to get you to stand, a ploy inspired by those who brought you Abu Ghraib; and, if all else fails, they hoist you with a forklift and load you onto a flatbed bound for slaughter.

With passages like this scattered throughout, it makes sense why people would want to avoid reading it. It's gross stuff, and certainly not for the faint of heart. But while it's ugly, it's vitally necessary information.

Knowing where your food comes from is not only important in terms of personal health, but also in terms of one's own morality. Turning on blinders when the truth of the world gets a bit ugly is cowardice. Saying that reading about factory farms "is not your thing," right before heading over to whatever fast food chain's across the street for a double-whatever is the act of someone who's living in a fantasy land. Willfully ignoring information because it might make you queasy for the next few minutes is for the weak.

Frankly, it's acting like a toddler. Which, if that's how you want to live your life, go right ahead. But then it's only reasonable then to ask that you go the distance with the concept and start walking around in diapers.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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