Meet the meat industry: An article for the curious but unacquainted

Isabella Hunter, Columnist

TW: Graphic descriptions, link containing graphic content

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been vaguely aware of the scope of animal cruelty within the meat industry for the majority of your life. Perhaps you’ve just been putting off digging into the meat of it (I couldn’t help it), because you suspect you already know what you’ll find, and maybe you’ve done a little research, but most of the time you try not to think about it. Most of the time I tried not to think about it, but justified my continued ignorance by eating “mostly vegetarian” anyways. However, in the production of this article, I dove into the PETA rabbit hole and am writing to inform you about what I saw there. 

As a disclaimer: one can hardly write on the morality of animal consumption without addressing the controversial aspects of the topic. First and foremost, this article will not be addressing ethical eating; although I do believe that while there is no true “ethical consumption under capitalism,” we can and should mitigate the harm we do unto others, animals and the climate wherever possible. 

It will also not address the disparate impact the meat industry has on marginalized communities, the health benefits of any particular diet or lifestyle change, or animal cruelty in experimentation and entertainment, but I strongly encourage you to look into all of the above. 

That being said, I realize that this article is an incredibly incomplete account of its title, but hopefully it can, at the very least, shed a little light on the living (and dying) conditions of the three most consumed animals in the world—chickens, pigs and cows. 

In my research, I learned that legal practices such as debeaking, tail docking, dehorning and castration are typical of factories, and are done without anesthetics or pain relief. Furthermore, the wounds are left to bleed and become infected in the overcrowded, feces-ridden environment, where dead animals and fetuses are left to rot in place. As one can imagine, diseases spread like wildfires in such conditions, but the sick either drop dead or go completely untreated. 

It is worth noting here that you are almost always eating “sick” animals, as all three species are overfed and exposed to hormones in order to promote growth. Oftentimes, these animals will crumple under their own weight, and won’t be able to walk just a few weeks or months after birth. 

Furthermore, cows and pigs are forcibly kept pregnant to provide milk, while hens are starved of food and water to force them to produce more eggs. The male calves born of these mothers are immediately separated and grow in veal crates that restrict movement to keep the muscles tender. They are force-fed and once their muscles have “wasted,” they are slaughtered. Many pigs and chickens suffer from open wounds caused by similar crates, where the wire or bars are too tight, inevitably producing cuts. 

All three species are abused during transportation where they are beaten, kicked and dragged from their crates to the slaughterhouse or truck. Chickens are hung upside down and dipped in electrified water before their heads are sliced off and they are thrown into a boiling vat to de-feather them. Pigs are stunned by an electric gun before having their throats slit, and cows are shot in the head with a stun gun before being chopped up. Many animals are still conscious and still feel pain after the attempts at electrocution. 

I’m writing this article so that some of us can at least understand a little more about the decision we are making when we buy these meat and dairy products. Obviously, not everyone has the luxury of avoiding them in a capitalist system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be conscious and aware of the meaning of our actions. 

We are so far removed from this process that we think almost nothing of it when we buy three-dollar eggs over seven-dollar eggs. Of course there are many people who can’t afford to pay seven dollars for eggs, let alone make any significant changes to their lifestyle, but the crucial part is that many of us—even when we can afford to make a lifestyle change—think almost nothing of it. 

This is perhaps the “call to action” in this article: there are products we consume on a daily basis that come from violence and abuse equal to—if not worse than—this, and yet many of us fail to consider what that means. We are constantly pretending like we don’t have an inkling about what’s going on to spare our comfortable conscience, but this in itself is a problem. 

The very least we can do is educate ourselves, acknowledge the abuse, consider our consumption habits and most importantly, allow ourselves to be reminded of the many costs of capitalism.  

I’m not saying we all need to have a guilty conscience or that you should ignore your mental health–just that “feeling bad” about what’s going on, allowing ourselves to grieve even—is something we could all practice from time to time.