ColumnIf we are going to be enraged about the killing of one lion, then we need to start being enraged about factory farming.
In the last week we have seen the rage that has ensued over the killing of Zimbabwe’s famous lion Cecil. When someone is able to spend almost double the average American salary for the chance to kill an animal, there are many questions to be asked, and “why?” is just the beginning.
Many people have expressed disgust in the treatment of an animal in this way. #CatLivesMatter comes to mind. In fact the Internet has banded together, in scary proportions, to speak out against the dentist Walter J. Palmer, the man charged with the killing of Cecil. He has even received death threats.
This begs the question: citizens can be fueled with outrage over the killing of one lion, even causing them to physically protest, and yet everyday most of us go about taking part in an industrial meat processing system that’s inherently flawed, both in terms of the health of the animals involved and our own.
As Vox put it, “eating chicken is morally worse than killing Cecil the lion.” Certainly, there are differences between the big game hunt of a lion and the food we put on the table. Cecil the Lion was killed for the sake of fun, while in our modern day food industry, chickens, pigs and cows are killed so that people can put them on the plate in front of them. But, it is still worth raising the question: what makes one animal’s life more valuable than another?
I had a friend who worked in nonprofit development who once told me about a workshop she had gone to. Someone had presented on what makes for successful fundraising. The example given was a starving child. If you tell potential donors that an entire country is starving, and show them a photo of that town, a few of them might give a little money to help the cause. If you tell them that a village is starving, and show them a photo of that village, a few more will give money. But if you show them a photo of one individual who is starving, there are so many more who are likely to give. The point emphasizes how much an individual connection means in changing our mindset.
The killing of Cecil the lion is easy to protest and be angry about because it is one animal. Cecil has a face. But factory farms? There are too many animals for our brains to even begin to comprehend. They’re not animals; they’re just numbers. And if it’s just numbers, and our chicken comes to us on a styrofoam platter wrapped in plastic, barely even looking like an actual animal, maybe it’s not so surprising that most of us fail to question the system in place.
This is not to say that the killing of Cecil isn’t important. It’s extremely important. Illegal poaching is a serious issue. For example, in South Africa, between 2007 and 2013, illegal rhino poaching has increased by 7,700 percent. But caring about one issue shouldn’t turn us away from another. It’s all about balance, and while we are up in arms about Cecil, we should also be up in arms about what’s happening here at home, an issue on which we can have a daily impact.
Around 11 billion animals are killed for meat in the United States. Around 8.5 billion of those are chickens. Nearly all of these animals are mistreated, living in cramped quarters with little to no quality of life. But factory farming isn’t just a question of animal rights, it’s also a question of health, and for anyone that isn’t moved by the animal welfare argument, make it personal: the meat system is making you sick. Not only is the industrial meat system’s overuse of antibiotics (80 percent of antibacterial drugs sold every year in the U.S. go to livestock) leading to a very scary situation of antibiotic resistance, factory farms are big contributors to pollution and the environmental degradation of the community around them.
The response to the killing of Cecil the lion is a reminder that people do in fact care. But the question is if we are caring and concentrating on the right things. Our everyday actions have an impact, and we need to start challenging the status quo and taking some responsibility for the food that’s on the plate in front of us.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Farm Sanctuary