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This American Porkchop

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

cute-black-piglet

I’ve been vegan for two years now. Not a long time, considering I’m 27. I had dabbled with vegetarianism in high school, gave it up, but still didn’t eat a lot of red meat or pork. I had preferred rice milk over regular milk for years (now I prefer almond and oat milk). I had always loved cheese, but that’s not a problem anymore. Once I woke up to the realities of the animal-based food world, going vegan was a snap, and my veggie-lite history made the transition easier.

I say “veggie-lite” because I was never a real vegetarian. When I was in high school, my parents got hip to some of the nasty inner workings of the meat industry through some audio tapes my dad came across. He played a bit for us in the car one day, I heard about chickens eating sawdust and chicken poo and blood and all that, and it was enough for me. OK dad, I’m with you. I was vegetarian for maybe a year and a half before the fast food peer pressure of lunchtime with my friends made all those horrible things dissipate into nonexistence again. I just wanted some roast beef, or a cheap Taco Bell taco late at night. It just tasted so good, right? And even a teenager can afford a big meal at Taco Bell.

Ok, so I wasn’t really into it. Not completely. What 16-year-old would be? When I was that age I cared about soccer, video games, girls, and snowboarding. My brain could not wrap itself around things like politics, corporations, or animal rights. But that feeling stuck with me; that vague idea that there was probably something wrong with eating meat, so I kept it on the shelf.

As I got older I became more conscious of how a lot of corporations were making our world worse. It started with how all the music on the radio sucked, and figuring out why. Then I learned about Wal-Mart, and noticed Starbucks popping up everywhere while little indie shops struggled to stay open. By the time I finished college, I guess the floodgates opened. I try to look into every dollar I spend now, voting financially for companies I believe in. Whether it was spending money I didn’t have on obsolete CDs at the indie record store, or finally, eating organic and vegan, this is what I came to believe in.

My point in writing all this is that I think there is a big part of the population that is where I was at between high school and now… in a veggie-lite stage. The facts that organics have become so big, and people are talking about humanely raised chickens and cows, are signs  that awareness is growing. But all those cage-free egg buyers are still kinda kidding themselves, right? They  recognize that there are problems, and they might spend a little more for pesticide-free food, but they still don’t want to go any further. They choose to hope that buying grass-fed beef is solving the problem (and it certainly helps), but they just won’t give up those cheeseburgers or omelettes. Even vegetarians seem like fakers to me.

The turning point for me, the thing that switched me to vegan cold-turkey, was getting the info. We all have a hunch when something is wrong. But we don’t do anything about it until the proof is in front of our faces. Whether we seek it out ourselves, or somebody forces us to see the truth, we tend to turn a blind eye if it involves a part of life that we enjoy. This idea of getting exactly what we want at a low price has become some sort of distorted American right; we pass off responsibility for what we buy to the companies that sell it to us. We assume everything must be ok with a product if the government allows it to be sold on the shelf at Safeway.

So that info I got that turned me into a vegan… It didn’t take much. Yes, it was PETA literature, but mostly it was realizing that these horrible things must be happening. I didn’t have to watch the gruesome animal-torture videos online, or see photos of fuzzy bunnies being turned into fur coats. I just had to really think about it. Food companies are in the business of making money- not making us healthy or taking care of the soil or oceans. They exist to find ways to get us to buy things, and to find ways to create those things more cheaply. When you just take those simple facts of corporate nature and apply them to the food industry, you just know that those chickens are stacked 50 feet high in chicken-sized crates, and you know that cows are probably hooked to milking robots as much as biologically possible, and you just know that there must be so many more horrific things going that you can’t even imagine.

So, you decide to take that responsibility yourself. You decide what you will eat, and who you will buy it from. It takes a little research and maybe some more money, but goddamn it feels good to stick it to the Man.

I felt compelled to get this diatribe into digital record because I saw a cool episode of This American Life on Netflix instant-watch today. It was Season 1, Episode 6, entitled Pandora’s Box.

It wasn’t gruesome or disgusting. It was just a glimpse into a typical bio-engineered pig farm. The animals weren’t being tortured (well, there were no screaming pigs anyway); you just see a bit of how the operation works. And you see… how unnatural and wrong it seems. In fact, the TAL crew became an unplanned part of the episode because they didn’t even really know what they were getting themselves into. You see the looks on the producer’s face when he is smelling the the pigshit-lagoon below the grated floor where the pigs “live.” You see the confusion on the camera guy who has to shower and put on an entirely sterile suit before going into the pig quarters (because bioengineered pigs are very sensitive to viruses and a little germ can wipe out half an operation). And you see the seasoned sound-man take the rest of the day off and give up eating meat after being nauseated by the typical goings-on at a factory farm.

It was one of those eye-openers for the TAL crew. They were suddenly faced with the realities of industrial food, and they knew it was weird and really kind of messed up. They didn’t all go veg afterwards. But I bet they all think about food more.