The Philosophy of Food
Our society has entered a new age of food. Recently, Americans have begun to seriously examine animal farming, and many of us are disgusted with what we have found. First there was the wave of realization; chickens, cows and pigs are all raised in crowded pens, fed terrible things to fatten them up, and then
by giant death machines. Then we entered a period of backlash; it has become rather fashionable to avoid eating these sort of mass produced livestock. The well-to-do have begun shopping at Whole Foods and eating meats that reflect the 5-Step Animal Welfare Standards.
First of all, I want to point out the level of animal abuse present in many farms by looking to the Whole Foods list. Many "great and humane" meats that are supplied by the elitist Whole Foods come in at Step 1 on this list. "Animals live their lives with space to move around and stretch their legs." Sounds pretty great to me. Just think about how the animals not
enough to make it to Whole Foods must be treated.
What is Animal Welfare?
The deeper issue at hand is the consideration of what exactly constitutes the fair treatment of animals. If Whole Foods clientele are so kind as to eat only Step 5+ certified meats, are they really doing a service to animals? If we compare animal centered farms to mechanized slaughterhouses, it appears that we are doing right by our animals. But there are two issues with this. The first is that our economy could
support feeding everyone Step 5+ meats; we could not meet the supply for meat if we raised all animals in this way. The second issue is that we are comparing killing animals on "happy animal farms" to killing animals in slaughterhouses.
It seems to me that the concept of animal welfare really is defined by cultural attitudes towards specific animals. For cows, good animal welfare is considered to be a Whole Foods Step 5+ life, but for dogs it means living in homes alongside humans and being pampered with organic foods. But upon closer examination, both dogs and cows are high-functioning emotionally complex animals. It just so happens that in America, we like the taste of cows.
A Corrupt Paradigm
The real issue is that our society creates standards of morality regarding animal welfare that happen to feel convenient. In our minds it is somehow fair to eat hamburgers, but the thought of eating a dog or a horse is enough to make stomachs turn. Whether we raise our pigs on organic farms or in slaughterhouses, we still cut their lives short by about 75% in order to sell them as bacon. The "lucky" pigs just happen to get sold at Whole Foods instead of Walmart. What an honor.
Creating a cultural appreciation of farm animals would be challenging because so many of us, myself included, are accustomed to eating and enjoying meat. But the fact is, no matter where we shop for our meat, it still comes from an animal that has been killed so that we can eat it.
I'm not asking anyone to switch to vegan diets per say, but I am asking that you ponder what's on your plate and consider how it got there.