I want to start by clarifying that I have nothing against the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. I have heard a wide spectrum of reasons for choosing to live as one of the above, many of which are associated with health benefits. According to the Vegetarian Times, adopting a vegetarian diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, help keep your weight in check and boost your daily energy.
But, among the reasons that benefit personal health and the greater environment, there are motivations behind choosing to be vegan or vegetarian that link directly to ethical concerns regarding the consumption of animal products.
Is the piece of meat on our plates really the cause for outrage, or should we be fighting the means that factory farms use to get it there? I would argue that a change in diet alone is on the passive side of liberating animals from the maltreatment of factory farms. If a difference is truly to be made, it will take something far more aggressive from the consumer side of the fence.
In order to put the “active” in “activism,” it is necessary to understand what exactly a factory farm is. The American Society for Provention and Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers this definition: “A factory farm is a large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Over 99 percent of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, which focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of the animals’ welfare.”
The goals of efficiency and turning a profit are ultimately what compromises the opportunities that the animals exposed to the dismal conditions of factory farms have to live a happy, healthy life before the slaughter. They are also the reasons that those who are personally involved in the maltreatment of these animals (i.e. the factory farm workers) do what they do. Money has a way of blinding people to what is truly important. In this case, factory farm workers and operators put their paychecks before the welfare of living creatures, who have ranges of emotion and can experience pain, much like human beings.
So what can we do to take a significant, proactive stand for all of the animals that are condemned to the turmoil and distress within factory farm settings?
1. Choose sustainable and ethical farming
If money is what drives the factory farm operations, then money has the potential to be their downfall. Instead of giving up meat in the name of animal welfare, start buying it from sustainable farmers who treat their animals with respect by exposing them to conditions that foster their natural growth cycles. A business, no matter how mean and tough they seem, simply cannot run without consumer support.
2. Generate a wave of critical thinking
Take a stand and speak out, whether it be organizing a protest against a factory farm establishment, or publishing your thoughts online and then sharing them through social media. Sending in written responses to this issue in general to magazines or newspapers is also a way to reach bigger audiences. Opinions on highly controversial topics have the ability to travel very far, very fast.
3. Pay attention to relevant political platforms
If an influential political candidate in local or national elections takes a clear stand against the abuse of animals within factory farms, giving them your support gets them one vote closer to being able to make a difference. Those in positions of political power have the ability to take our concerns revolving around this issue and turn them into policies that work to preserve animal welfare and enforce ethical treatment.
In an article posted to The Guardian, author and former vegetarian Jenna Woginrich wrote, “To be vegetarian is to be a pacifist, avoiding the fight against animal cruelty … I don’t think the world needs to convert into a society of vegans or sustainable farmers, but we do need to live in a world where beef doesn’t just mean an ingredient; it means a life loss … Now every meal is seasoned with the gratitude of sacrifice. For me, it took a return to being carnivorous live out the ideals of vegetarianism.”
In summary, giving up eating meat does not accomplish much for generating large-scale change in the way animals are treated before slaughter. There are more active approaches to ending the abuse of animals within factory farms, and they all begin with someone being brave and passionate enough to reach beyond the small personal changes and call on the greater community to get involved. We don’t all have to be vegans and vegetarians. We just have to care enough to make conscious decisions that will benefit those animals in the end.
Collegian Columnist Haleigh McGill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HaleighMcGill