Should People Eat Animals?
People eat animals. Americans ate twenty-seven billion pounds of beef last year from thirty-five million cows; twenty-three billion pounds of pork from one hundred fifty million pigs; and thirty-eight billion pounds of poultry from nine billion birds. Five billion pounds of fish were consumed in the United States as well.
The dietary habits of Americans have markedly changed over time. Beef was supplanted by chicken as the number one source of meat in the mid-1980s. In the past thirty years the consumption of beef is down thirty percent, whereas the consumption of pork has dropped twenty percent. On the other hand, fish consumption is up thirty-three percent; and the number of chickens eaten per year has doubled. In the last fifty years, the amount of cheese consumed annually by Americans has quadrupled, while the drinking of milk has declined by thirty-eight percent.
There are many people who are vegetarians. Some still eat fish; some still consume dairy products and eggs. Then there are Vegans, who consume (nor use) no animal products whatsoever. Evidence exists that a meatless diet is healthier for people.
Some people have no objections to eating meat per se, but they do object to the industrial meat production process itself. They point to the twenty-eight million pounds of antibiotics that are fed to livestock each year, and the barbaric conditions in which animals are kept and then slaughtered. These animals wallow in their own excrement, and their unsanitary confinement is responsible the contamination of some thirty-five thousand miles of American waterways. The solution this crowd proposes is grass-fed cattle and organic, free-range chickens. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as there are not enough organic chickens produced per year to feed Staten Island, let alone the entire United States.
Human beings were historically much closer to their food until recently. Many raised and slaughtered their own animals—a horrific notion to most today. Others had a favorite butcher. Now we see rows of packaged meat slices in the supermarket. Even more preferable for the majority is to eat meat in restaurants, or pre-cooked prepared meals including meat at home, removed from the concept that there are animals involved at all. We have become detached from nature.
Another side of this discussion is the enormous amount of cheap food necessary to feed hundreds of millions of Americans, within their budgets.
Animal rights activists focus on the fact that animals feel pain. We do, after all, have laws against animal cruelty. They seem to forget that all animals die. Lions feed on live animals in the wild. Aging animals suffer from blindness, arthritis, and cancer.
Besides eating them, Americans also love animals. Forty-six million families in the United States own at least one dog; thirty-eight million families keep at least one cat; thirteen million have one hundred seventy million fish that are kept as pets in aquariums. More than half of all cat and dog owners bought their pet some sort of gift last year. Americans spend forty billion dollars per year on their pets, including seventeen billion for food, and twenty billion on veterinary costs. Pets are a part of the American family. It is unthinkable to propose eating the family pet.
This article was inspired by a book review in the New Yorker magazine 11-09-09 by Elizabeth Kolbert of the book by Jonathan Safran Foer Eating Animals.
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