You only need to have lunch with me once to discover that I’m a complete pain in the ass. I’m that girl, you know – the one who orders the perfectly good grilled chicken salad but takes off the chicken and Parmesan cheese and subs tofu and avocado.
I’m a vegan. And trust me – I hate it more than you do.
When I was 9 years old I became a vegetarian – after years of loving hot dogs, lamb chops, and (yes) tongue sandwiches. Because once I knew where my favorite foods came from, I couldn't unknow it.
“I love animals,” I thought. “How can I eat them?”
Giving up meat and fish was pretty easy for me, but I really didn't understand vegans like my hippie Aunt Carol. Their lifestyle of “no animal products” – milk, cheese, honey, eggs – just seemed unnecessarily extreme to me.
I always pictured, as most people probably still do, the “Little House on the Prairie” collection of cows, chickens, and sheep happily coexisting on a family farm. With humane owners who cared about the heath and well being of their animals (cue that pastoral Bugs Bunny music). I assumed that the animals on these idyllic farms lived lives of leisure, with farmers who lovingly milked and gathered eggs from them.
“It doesn't hurt cows to milk them,” I used to say. Or hurt chickens to lay eggs.
Except that today, it really does.
I know – you don’t want to know. Most people don’t, I get it. For one, it’s inconvenient.
Knowing means no longer being able to grab dinner for the kids at Chick-fil-a, or an egg sandwich at any local deli. I’m with you, sometimes I really wish I didn’t know either. Especially when I’m starving and there’s pizza at my next meeting. Man, I miss pizza…
But not knowing doesn’t change the reality. And if you care about animals, or what you’re putting in your children’s bodies at all, it helps to know your options.
I begrudgingly gave up pizza and ice cream and SO many other favorite foods a couple years ago, when I learned that that 99 percent (yes, nearly ALL) of all U.S. farm animals that produce the bulk of our dairy and egg products are raised inhumanely on factory farms. And again, as much as I'd like to unknow what that means, I cannot.
What it means is that millions of innocent pigs, cows, and chickens are living their entire lives as tortured prisoners. Male baby chicks are considered so “useless to the egg industry,” that they are thrown alive into grinders. I still can’t believe it myself, but it’s sadly true. Google it.
So I have no choice – if I don't give up the foods I love, I am enabling these horrible practices.
Today’s farm animals are treated like furniture. Actually worse. Companies take great care to ensure that your new dining room table arrives unscathed.
Factory farms however, "pack animals into spaces so tight that most can barely move." To prevent fighting in such crammed quarters, chickens are often debeaked, dairy cows are routinely dehorned and have their tails amputated without painkillers.
Imagine living on the 6 train at rush hour. Forever.
But the part that really kills me is how they are treated as mothers.
"Usually just within hours of birth, calves are taken away from their mothers. Calves can become so distressed from separation that they become sick, lose weight from not eating, and cry so much that their throats become raw."
I don’t need a cappuccino that badly.
There was a Criminal Minds episode about a psychotic couple that kidnapped women and did the exact same thing to them: locked them in a cage, impregnated them, and took their babies away minutes after birth. The FBI hunted them down and locked them up for being the monsters that they were.
I believe most people are in the dark about how rampant animal neglect and abuse is in this country. I certainly was. We assume that there must be laws protecting these innocent creatures. That in a country as great and fair as the United States, we would NEVER allow animals to suffer.
Except we do. Daily.
"There are no federal animal welfare laws regulating the treatment of the billions of food animals while they're on the (factory) farm. Further, while all 50 states have cruelty statutes, most explicitly exempt common farming practices, no matter how abusive."
Let me be clear: I’m not against people eating meat. I’m against animals being abused and tortured while they’re still alive.
I agree with Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote in The Guardian, “Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history.” And that “what makes the existence of domesticated farm animals particularly cruel is not just the way in which they die but above all how they live.“
I believe that animals feel everything – yes EVERYTHING – that we do. And science now backs me up. It’s been scientifically proven that all animals feel pain, fear and suffering. I realize that’s not a convenient statement, but it’s time we all find the courage to think about it.
“It is safe to say that other animals want to live in peace and safety and absent of fear, pain, and suffering, just as we do,” wrote Marc Beckoff Ph.D. in his 2013 Psychology Today article on animal emotions.
But the chickens, pigs and cows (even bees) we get the bulk of our eggs, pork, milk and honey from are not living that way. Not even close. So now I’ve become one of those annoying people who analyzes every meal I eat. Not just because I care about the animals whose lives are directly affected, but because I care about what I put into MY body.
“How an animal is cared for from birth to slaughter truly, madly, deeply affects your body,” says Kris Carr, New York Times best-selling author and wellness activist. “Unhealthy animals create unhealthy food. The unsanitary and inhumane practices of factory farms threaten our food supply... We eat everything that the critter below us ate and below them ate and so on.”
She’s right. Which is why, even if you don’t love animals the way I do, you still might want to consider spending a little extra for local and family-farmed products. And support delicious plant-based foods from companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek. Their Just Mayo is better than the “real” thing.
I don’t believe we all have to become vegans as a solution. We shouldn’t have to. But until Americans find the courage to ask where their food comes from, this dreadful situation – for us and billions of animals – won’t change. It starts with knowledge, and people speaking up. Read up on the facts, sign a few petitions, and let others know. Social media has made sharing what you learn easier than ever.
Our health, and the health and well-being of all innocent animals are depending on it.
Susan Rosenzweig is an advertising creative director and personal essay writer, Latin ballroom & two-step dancer, and single mother of two rescued and grateful cats — Pumpkin Monkey and Luna Bella Blue. She recently escaped from New York City and is happily living and working in Austin, TX.