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The only humane path to take when choosing food

Vegetarianism is the only humane path to take when choosing food

Home News Tribune Online 08/21/06

I am a vegetarian in a world of bacon and cheeseburgers.

People constantly ask me why. They want to know how it is I woke up one day and went from fried chicken to faux chicken without ever looking back.

That's a big decision for a notoriously indecisive person like me, who gets stressed out, for example, trying to choose the best banana at the grocery store.

But this time, there was no list of pros and cons. There were no lingering doubts, no second-guessing.

Like most people, I grew up thinking meat came from animals raised on farms. I pictured cows grazing on rolling pastures, oblivious to the swift but not ignoble fate that would one day come to pass.

But the truth is nothing like that. The meat industry is a business. Efficiency is prized; the dollar trumps all.

What is cheaper than farming the idyllic way is to keep animals crammed tight in tiny metal cages inside factory warehouses from the moment of birth. Hens, which have a 32-inch wingspan, are kept five to a wire enclosure no bigger than a file drawer. Their beaks are sliced off with a hot blade -- without anesthetic: painkillers cost money -- to keep them from pecking at each other. When it comes time for defeathering, they are dipped into drums of scalding hot water while still alive and still conscious.

Animals raised for food do not frolic in the mud on warm summer days. There is no fresh air, and there is certainly is no pasture to graze upon. What there is, instead, is the foul stench of urine and refuse rising from the concrete floor; food pumped full with hormones, steroids and other chemicals so corrosive their innards rupture (this happens 32 percent of the time to cattle, according to the Journal of Animal Science); and deaths of a painful and gruesome nature. Conditions are so ghastly that one quickly realizes the price of efficiency.

There are no federal anti-cruelty laws. Humane slaughter laws cover cattle and pigs, with many loopholes, but leave out the remaining 99 percent of the animals in the meat industry. Additionally, enforcement is severely lacking -- inspectors have said they are frequently denied access to sites.

I have heard people say the situation is acceptable because these are animals as opposed to people. The implication is that animals do not deserve freedom from cruelty or pain because they are not as intelligent, or don't "know" better, or simply because they failed to be born human. This, ironically, is the same flawed logic plantation owners once used to justify the horrific abomination that was slavery. It's bunk. All that matters is the answer to a simple but powerful question: Do they suffer?

Those of us who share our homes and hearts with dogs and cats, or other pets, already know the answer.

To me, it was clear: I wanted no part in the meat industry. I wasn't giving it a penny.

I made that decision eight years ago this month, when humane alternatives were not as readily available as they are today. Nowadays one can buy free-range organic meat, eggs and dairy products, which arguably make it possible to be an ethical consumer.

I'll pass. I've grown fond of soy milk. And my palate is partial to the flavors of Pad Ped Puk (Thai), hummus (Middle Eastern), and samosas (Indian).

Besides, when given a choice, compassion is always the best path.

Rebecca E. Lerner has a B.A. in philosophy. She can be reached at

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