First of all, I want to emphasize the fact that I don’t have a problem with eating milk and eggs when they come from an extremely responsible, kind, animal-conscious farm. The truth is that humans and animals have co-evolved over thousands of years, and the domestication of livestock is a genetic change that we cannot undo. In fact, my eventual goal might include owning chickens of my own, provided I have enough land.
However, farms like these are incredibly rare. Before reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I was under the mistaken impression that “cage-free” and “free-range” labels indicated that the products had come from those idyllic farms that still exist here and there in the western states. I volunteered at one once, and always enjoyed seeing the chickens (more of family pets than farm animals) scratching around in the dirt. The family always had to hunt around for eggs, because the chickens laid them wherever they wanted.
But farms like these only account for a tiny percentage of free-range and cage-free operations.
What does the truth look like? It’s not pretty.
Chickens and Eggs
As I was horrified to learn, chickens raised for egg production are probably the most abused animals in the whole factory farm industry. They’re stuffed into wire cages, five to ten in a space about the size of a filing cabinet; some countries in the UK have banned these “battery cages,” but the US is woefully behind on factory farm regulation.
Hens kept in such cramped conditions are sickly and often develop psychoses. To prevent behaviors such as pecking and cannibalism, the hens’ beaks are chopped off without the use of anesthesia. The pain of a missing beak can become chronic and plague the hens for the rest of their miserable lives. Even “cage-free” and “free-range” hens are often de-beaked and crammed into dark, overcrowded sheds.
Even more distressing for a vegetarian to learn, the egg industry kills just as many animals as the meat industry, except in this situation the meat is completely wasted. When chicks are hatched for egg-laying, half of them are inevitably male. The chickens bred for meat and for egg-laying are completely different, so the male egg-layers are “useless.” Most of them are killed right after their sex is determined. How do you dispose of useless chicks? Suffocate them or throw them into a high-speed grinder. It’s a heartbreaking image.
Cows and Milk
While it’s true that cows have evolved over hundreds of years to produce more milk than necessary to feed their offspring, factory farms exploit that overproduction to the detriment of the cows.
In order for a cow to be constantly producing as much milk as possible, that cow needs to give birth frequently. Cows are artificially inseminated and give birth once a year until they are too worn out to remain profitable, at which point they’re sent to the slaughterhouse.
Of course, the greedy dairy industry doesn’t want to waste milk on feeding the calves. The babies are taken immediately from their mothers, and many are killed right away. The ones that survive are locked in cruel crates to keep their flesh white for veal. And once again, the dairy industry is responsible for countless deaths that are dismissed as “byproducts.”
I felt immensely guilty after learning the truth of the egg and dairy industries. Without knowing it, I’ve been paying for sweet, fluffy little chicks to be thrown in grinders and calves to be tortured.
But that’s how factory farming works—it keeps consumers in the dark. People don’t want to know the truth, because they know it’s disturbing. And farms use that excuse to keep torturing the animals they sell en masse.
That, in short, is why I want to become vegan.