Animal Emotions

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Going "Cold Tofu" to End Factory Farming

It's easy to change who winds up in our now 7 billion mouths.

During the past six months I've been fortunate to go to a number of wonderful, inspirational, and highly educational meetings on topics ranging from animals in religion, to animal protection in Asia, the importance of play for children, great ape conservation, and most recently ending factory farming. A common theme to all of these gatherings and my main role is to talk about animal emotions and animal sentience. Animal emotions and sentience figure largely into who, not what, we choose to put in our mouth. The lives of factory farmed animals are filled with unrelenting terror, pain, and suffering.

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Food is central to our existence and our choices in food influence the quality of ecosystems, human health, and the lives of billions of animals who needlessly suffer because of our eating habits. Farm Sanctuary's recent meeting dealing with ending factory farming brought together numerous people from many different walks of life who want to end the torture and slaughter of animals on the heartless assembly lines of factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs; see also and please be aware that the pictures of ecological devastation and animal suffering might make you ill, just as eating animals can cause major diseases). Some think it's necessary to eat animals and animal products to be healthy, but it's not. 

There are many views on why we should stop consuming animal and animal products especially those from factory farms.

River of blood from a slaughterhouse

Some are concerned about the environmental effects of slaughterhouses, whose waste literally decimates ecosystems and pollutes water and air. For example, "the quantity of waste produced by farm animals in the U.S. is more than 130 times greater than that produced by humans. Agricultural runoff has killed millions of fish, and is the main reason why 60% of America's rivers and streams are 'impaired'. In states with concentrated animal agriculture, the waterways have become rife with pfiesteria bacteria. In addition to killing fish, pfiesteria causes open sores, nausea, memory loss, fatigue and disorientation in humans. Even groundwater, which takes thousands of years to restore, is being contaminated. For example, the aquifer under the San Bernadino Dairy Preserve in southern California contains more nitrates and other pollutants than water coming from sewage treatment plants." For more details see. The facts are there and it's not hype or sensationalism to claim that factory farms decimate ecosystems worldwide and on the local level decrease property values. The stench alone from factory farms would make a house near one of these facilities a poor choice. The list goes on and on and an excellent summary of the wide-ranging detrimental effects of factory farming can be found in Gene Baur's excellent book Farm Sanctuary. Simply put, if you're an environmentalist you shouldn't be eating factory farmed meat. 

In addition to environmental destruction, it's clear that eating factory farmed animals and animal products is incredibly unhealthy compared with a more plant-based diet. More information based on the research of Dr. Michael Greger and others can be found here (see also his book, Bird Flu). As with concerns about the ecological effects of factory farms, being concerned about the wide-ranging and serious negative health aspects of eating factory farmed animals isn't mere vegan-hype but rather supported by detailed scientific research.

In addition to these concerns, supporting carnivorous diets by eating factory farmed animals involves the unrelenting torture of sentient beings for unneeded meals (see also and)

Skinned pigs in a slaughterhouse

There is no reason at all ever to eat factory farmed animals. Even if one wants to eat animals and animal products there are numerous alternatives available in communities around the world. Some would like to see the world become vegan, a wonderful goal to which to aspire and just about as equally unrealistic at least for now. But this doesn't mean we can't make significant inroads into reducing ecological devastation, food-related diseases, and animal suffering, and it's simple to do.

It's really easy to cut down on, and perhaps eventually cut out, animals from one's diet. There's no reason to do it rapidly, by going cold-turkey, if that doesn't work for you. But it's simple to do by more slowly going "cold tofu" as I like to call it. One can gradually eliminate animals and animal products so that the transition to a healthier diet that reduces environmental devastation, illness, and animal suffering becomes an easy habit to follow.

So, I ask you to try a number of different things. Simply refuse to eat factory farmed animals or animal products. When ordering an animal meal at a restaurant or buying food at a store ask where the meat came from and don't ever buy factory farmed products. If you eat, for example, 5 cheeseburgers a week, make a pact with yourself to cut back slowly and replace them with a vegetarian or vegan alternative. Each person will choose different meal plans and a slow transition will likely result in more permanent changes than a rapid one, at least for some people.

Clearly, there are many reasons why it's not okay to kill animals for food. Each of us can make a positive difference in the quality of ecosystems, our own health, and the lives of billions of other animals by changing who we choose eat. There are also many economical incentives. We're at a pivotal moment in world history and there's no doubt that the earth can no longer sustain the increase in human population and our over-consuming and destructive ways. As I write this the 7 billionth human has just been born. And in the future there will be many more mouths to feed.

Each of us can add more compassion to the world by not eating factory farmed animals and ending factory farming. This is an indisputable fact so please, let's begin today. Your choice of your next meal can make a difference. And after you stop eating factory farmed animals being a "conscientious carnivore" means entirely phasing out animals and animal products from your diet, and that is also simple to do.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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