A recent study conducted by Viva!, a vegan nonprofit based in the UK, reveals something alarming about our relationship with food: few of us really know anything about our food system, particularly when it comes to factory farming and common animal agriculture practices.
True story: a few years ago, my (now ex) boyfriend’s brother—a doctor at a well-respected New York City hospital—offered me some chicken wings. It wasn’t in a make-fun-of-the-vegan kind of way, “everyone knows they’re not made with ‘real’ chicken,” he said to my amazement, blurring the line between processed food stuffs and once-sentient animals.
These weren’t faux meat chicken wings (of which there are many delicious varieties)—these had come from a fast food pizza place. But before they were delivered in 30-minutes or less, they came from real live birds who had suffered incredulous cruelty, crammed in tiny cages, separated at birth from their mothers, raised on an unnatural diet in a windowless “farm” that reeked of manure so strongly that it would burn your eyes and throat were you to step inside without proper protection for even a second.
The misconception about food my boyfriend’s brother had was so shocking. After all, he’s a well-educated doctor who should know these things. If someone like him doesn’t know the difference, what does that say for the rest of the country?
The grim answer is, not much, according to the Viva! study.
It’s not surprising, considering the clandestine nature of factory farming and efforts like Ag-Gag bills aimed at preventing undercover operations that expose cruelty and illegal activity in farms and slaughterhouses.
According to the research, while more than eighty-three percent of the participants said they had a good understanding of the food system, more than sixty percent did not realize that female cows must be continuously impregnated to produce milk. This slight detail is the reason we have a veal industry that won’t go away—there’s not much else to do with male calves (cows raised for beef are different breeds than dairy cows). Or that the costs to raise bulls for inseminating all these milk-producers are staggering, or the suffering that constantly impregnated dairy cows endure, which includes having their newborn calves taken away from them as soon as their born.
More than two-thirds of people polled were also unaware that killing newborn male chicks (just a day or two old) on egg farms is another standard industry practice. (There's undercover footage of male chicks being dumped--while fully conscious--into a meat grinder, if you're interested.) Yet when they learned about it, nearly 70 percent said the practice should be illegal.
A whopping eighty-eight percent of people were unaware that most pigs are killed at just six months old, despite having a natural life expectancy of around 15 years. Pigs are as intelligent and loving as dogs.
“Other common agricultural practices which respondents thought were illegal were the use of farrowing crates to hold breeding sows almost immobile; the tail amputation of piglets and the removal of teeth," reports the Herald, the latter two common practices are typically done without any type of anesthesia.
Most notably, the researchers found that when presented with the facts, nearly half of the people polled said they would reduce their meat, eggs, and dairy consumption, while 16 percent said they’re considering giving them up entirely, now.
"Most people are so far removed from the reality of industrialised animal farming that they have no idea how food gets from farm to plate,” said Juliet Gellatley, founder and director of Viva!
"Increasing numbers of people are rejecting animal products entirely," she said. “The public is no longer buying it."
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