Okay, I know we all gotta eat and if you’re anything like me you probably don’t care all that much about how the food gets from where it was raised to the grocery store and to your plate for dinner. I say “don’t care” but maybe that’s incorrect. Maybe it’s more of a “I don’t want to know” kinda deal.
But, with the decline in family farms happening all across the country I thought it might be interesting to take a look at certain types of foods we find in our local grocery stores and how it got there. Why don’t we start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast?
The Incredible Edible Egg
According to the fine folks at http://www.factoryfarming.com/eggs.htm there are about 300 million hens scattered across the country living on egg farms. Each one of those hens produces approximately 250 eggs per year. You can do the math for yourself but that’s a whole lotta eggs!
Egg farms don’t seem to be a very hen friendly place. In order to conserve space, they are normally jammed into cages that measure sixteen inches wide four at a time. You can imagine the cramped quarters and the stress it brings to birds when they can’t move or are being pressed against the metal cages.
Just like humans who are forced to live in large numbers in confined spaces, disagreements are bound to occur. Since chickens rarely practice the art of diplomacy, they tend take their aggressions out on each other by pecking. This “excessive pecking” can cause injury and even death. In order to control the situation, the birds often have their beaks removed. The procedure is known in the industry as “debeaking” and involves cutting through bone and cartilage.
Once a hen has laid her last egg she is classified as “spent”. She’s removed from her cage and sent off to slaughter. You'll never find these birds in the meat case. Since their bodies are spent and undernourished, what meat they do provide is usually shredded and turns up in little chunks in canned soups and frozen chicken pot pies.
I won’t even get into the hygiene or lack thereof that goes on inside the plant but I do have a personal anecdote that might provide some insight.
A couple years back on a hot summer’s day me and a couple of my buddies went on a road trip to play a little golf. On the way we passed something then known as the “Buckeye Egg Farm”. The smell that exuded from the place crept through the air conditioning in the car and we all just about gagged. The flies the farm attracted crashed into the windshield so often that the wipers seemed almost useless. After we finished playing, we decided to take another route home just to avoid the having to pass the place again.
Its since been shut down.
A Pig in a Poke…
Again, according to the fine folks I cited earlier, there are about 100 million pigs raised and slaughtered here in America in any given year. When they are mere piglets, their tails are cut off without the aid of anesthesia to prevent them from biting each other on the ass once they are penned together.
By the time they are two or three weeks old, about fifteen percent of them will have died. I don’t know what happens to their piglet carcasses and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they are used for something. They’re probably the lucky ones.
The ones that do survive can look forward to being crammed into buildings and thrown into pens. They are destined to live the rest of their lives behind bars and for most, the next time they will see the light off day will be when they are taken off to slaughter. This usually happens when they reach the ripe old age of six months or when they hit 250 pounds, whichever comes first.
Oh yeah, here's some feedback from fellow user skow who says "re Factory farming: About the pigs, the male ones are castrated (also without anasthesia). Testosterone apparently does something to the flavour.
All I can say is OUCH!
Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk
There are your average everyday cows that stare back at us with that nonplussed look as they graze in the fields as we drive by and then there is what is known as dairy cows. Dairy cows are the ones who provide us with the milk we pour over our cereals. In order to produce said milk, they must have given birth first. Just like us humans, cows have a nine month gestation period and they are usually impregnated again three months after giving birth.
With a little help from modern science, your average dairy cow can spill out about 100 pounds of milk on any given day. That’s about ten times more than they normally would produce if they were left to the forces of nature. Talk about your sore nipples!
The calves that are born to dairy cows are another story. If they’re lucky enough to be female they might fall into their mother’s footsteps and when they get old enough follow her on the milking line. The males will be raised and eventually slaughtered for meat. Many of them become veal. If you read that previous link, enough said.
Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner
Ever read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair or Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser? Sinclair’s documents the conditions of the meatpacking plants in and around Chicago in the early 1900’s. You’d think that even though most of the independent meat packers were consolidated and merged in the early 80’s and now that the meat industry is controlled by only four major players, conditions might have improved. Schlosser’s book clearly indicates this is not the case.
Approximately 35 million head of cattle or slaughtered annually here in the states. Your run of the mill slaughterhouse kills about 250 animals every hour. With that kinda production quota to meet, there are bound to be mistakes made along the way. All you have to do is pick up the news to read about the latest outbreak of e-coli or other food borne disease and you can see the inadequacies of the current system.
A Chicken in Every Pot
And a car in every garage. That was the promise that Herbert Hoover made to America before being elected President and subsequently plunging the country in to The Great Depression.
Today, Mr. Hoover might seem true to his word. About ten BILLION chickens are hatched each year here in the States. They are normally confined to chicken factories were they are given less than half of a square foot to roam around. Just like their egg laying sisters, they are “debeaked” shortly after birth to avoid injuring other birds. For more grisly details on the life of a chicken on a chicken farm, I suggest you read anthropod’s fine w/u under the same name.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and in order to put food on our plates about a half a billion turkeys are hatched annually here in America. Most of them are destined to meet the same fate as their cousins the chicken but they also suffer the indignity of having the ends of their toes loped off to prevent them from scratching themselves. Since your average turkey dwarves your average chicken in terms of size, they’re also given a few more square feet to roam around in and stretch their feathers.
Through genetic mutation, farm raised turkeys cannot reproduce naturally. They must be artificially inseminated. Now, I don’t know exactly whose job it might be to go around and collect turkey sperm and I really don’t want to know their methods on how they go about their business but all I can say is sorry about your luck.
Dinner is Served
In closing, I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done about the practice of factory farming. The world’s gotten too big to rely on traditional family farms to provide us with what we need to survive and somehow I don’t see us turning back the hands of time. That being said, if that old saying “you are what you eat" holds true, I’m in a shitload of trouble.