eI remember the day when I decided to stop eating meat. It wasn’t the day I did stop. That took another 10 years. But it was the day I decided to stop.
I was attending tenth grade at Church Farm School (“CFS”) in Frazier Pennsylvania. The year before I had been enrolled at the George School, a liberal prep school in Bucks County. But I viewed rules as distasteful and refused to follow pretty much any of them. So, despite the fact I did well academically, at the end of the school year, George School requested that I go somewhere else. Anywhere else would be fine. I think my relationship with George School may have been the origin of the saying “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”.
Because she had a similar view of my presence to George School, my mother was desperate to send me to yet another boarding school. She happened upon CFS, an all-boys school with a strong agricultural component. I worked on the farm, specifically the pig barns, half-a-day, every day. Mostly, I changed the pigs’ hay and straw. But twice a year, it was what Charlie, the head farmer called “ball-cuttin’ time”, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Virtually all the male pigs were castrated to prevent them from impregnating the female pigs. My role in this process was to help shuttle the pigs into the appropriate pen. Let’s just say that the farmer did not use any form of anesthesia. It was a truly horrific experience and led me into a period of deep and troubled contemplation about how we as a society treat animals, particularly in the context of agriculture.
In America, 25 million animals are slaughtered for food per day. That’s over 9 billion per year. And millions more animals never even make it as far as the slaughterhouse floor, having died previously from stress and disease. This includes 34 million cows, which are not mindless burger trees, but incredibly docile and loving animals. If you want proof, just go watch some of the hundreds of Youtube videos of cows whaling when separated from their calves, or nuzzling with humans who have been kind to them.
This total also includes 120 million pigs, like the ones I led to their castration at CFS. I’ve observed first-hand how intelligent, engaging and interactive pigs are. I’ve also met people with pet pigs who are every bit as connected to their pets as any dog owner. It boggles my mind how anyone who has ever interacted with an animal can think this unceasing mass slaughter is OK. It is true that America has a seemingly insatiable desire for meat. But fortunately, we are approaching a future where the slaughter of animals is no longer necessary to fulfill that desire.
When I finally gave up meat on Labor Day of 1986, there were certainly challenges. The meat substitutes were not nearly as available or palatable as they are now. There were no Impossible Burgers or Morningstar Farms Chick’n patties. There were some very rudimentary veggie burgers. But they were, judging by the taste, made up of gluten globuels and kitty litter. I also remember someone giving me vegetarian hot dogs that came in a can, floating in some sort of brine. They looked like corpse-fingers, which may have actually been the brand name,
Now, we have burgers, dogs, and sausages that are molecularly engineered (which admittedly doesn’t sound as appetizing as “sauteed”) to feel and taste the same as the real thing. The articles I’ve been reading on the topic say that in 5 to 10 years you will be able to order filet mignon, grilled salmon and even (dare we dream?), Slim Jims that are entirely plant-based and indistinguishable from real meat-based products.
Even more interesting is the work being done on growing real meat in the lab without it being part of an actual animal. In other words, you would use stem-cells to grow authentic cow or pig muscle without the benefit of a living, breathing cow or pig. Some people apparently find this a bit creepy, but I don’t know how one would find it creepier than taking innocent animals and slitting their throats, or shooting them in the head.
Within a decade, we will be able to buy non-animal-based meat products that are literally identical in every way to meat that comes from a living animal. These products will look, smell, taste and clog your arteries the same as flesh that comes from ol’ Bessie. Except, the source won’t have a name, unless you choose to give a name to the vat of disembodied pig sinew in the lab, which probably speaks to deeper issues you should really explore further.
Once that happens, it will become very difficult for the animal-slaughter industry to justify it’s existence. I’m no marketing expert, but it’s hard to see slogans like “All the taste, but with the extra killin’!”, or “Now, terror tenderized!” catching on.
This will truly be a win-win. We get our spam, scrapple and McNuggets, and we can get rid of our gruesome slaughterhouses and factory farms. And the best part…our animals get a chance to live full lives, like all sentient beings should. Bon appétit!