Most of us consider ourselves to be kind and compassionate, and rightfully so. Humans possess a great capacity for empathy and love; and we rely on support systems of family and friends to not only help us in our times of need, but also to bring us joy and pleasure, love and happiness. For some of us, dogs and cats fit into this discussion; they are as much family members as they are companions. But hidden from our sight are the more than 10 billion animals raised and killed for food every year just in the U.S. Instead, we view cows as burgers or ice cream, pigs as ribs and bacon, chickens as nuggets, wings or eggs.
But if we could see the suffering endured by animals in the name of faster-cheaper-processed foods, we might demand better treatment, or opt out of the system entirely. Can you imagine a world where the harsh treatment of animals happened in the public eye? Could you still stomach a bite of these 7 cruelest foods?
While there is an immense variety of animals consumed around the world, these make up some of the largest animal populations to suffer in the name of the human appetite.
1.Foie Gras: This paté made from goose or duck liver is a French delicacy that has also recently become popular in the U.S. But in order to create this fatty liver spread, birds are forced to live with steel pipes rammed down their throats several times a day with excessive amounts of grain and fat pumped in so their livers bloat. Many of the animals cannot stand because of their swollen liver; they suffer injuries, tear out their own feathers and cannibalize each other from the stress. Opt instead for lentil-walnut paté, hummus or white bean puree.
2. Shark Fins: Regarded as a royal delicacy since the Ming Dynasty, shark fins have become increasingly more popular as more and more Chinese have disposable incomes. The industry has boomed to an estimated 75 million sharks killed each year, threatening the future of several important species. And the act of acquiring the fins is uncommonly cruel: After catching the sharks, their fins are cut off, rendering the great fish incapable of swimming. The mutliated bodies are then tossed back into the ocean where they bleed to death, drown or are eaten by other animals. Besides status, shark fins add little else to soups, so opt instead for a great soup loaded with veggies and herbs.
3. Veal: Because the dairy industry requires cows to be constantly pregnant in order to produce milk, that means there are lots of newborn baby cows taken from their mothers and forced into veal stalls, so tiny they cannot turn around. These intelligent and kind creatures live in darkness while their muscles atrophy from lack of exercise. After as many as five months in these conditions, they endure a traumatic truck ride to slaughter where many are trampled because they're too weak to stand. Opt instead for seitan or tempeh.
4. Eggs: The majority of eggs come from nearly 300 million chickens living in what are called battery cages. Roughly just 18 by 20 inches, these cages will typically hold between 5 to 10 birds. The normal wingspan of the intelligent, curious and playful bird is 32 inches, which means they never experience spreading their wings while in captivity. The stress leads them to episodes of fighting and cannibalism, and they also often endure major injuries and illnesses. Opt instead for organic tofu omelets, use chia or flax seed gel for baking, or secure a super small-scale local source of free-range, organic eggs that you can verify are sourced humanely.
5. Pork: Any dog lover knows that they're intelligent, curious and emotional creatures. Pigs have shown to be even more intelligent than dogs, but because we see them as food, we dismiss their personalities and force them into unimaginable suffering. Mother pigs live in what are called gestation crates, which are so small they cannot even turn around, or in some cases even completely stand. Constantly impregnated until their bodies give out, their newborn piglets are taken away from loving mothers after just the bare minimum of nursing. Without pain relief, tails are docked, male pigs are castrated and sharp teeth are broken off with pliers. Opt instead for plant proteins like beans, lentils and nuts, tempeh bacon and Tofurky sausage.
6. Dairy: We think of milk as the most wholesome food there is; however, the secret behind the dairy industry is anything but. In order to produce milk, mammals must be pregnant, so cows are constantly and forcefully inseminated. Their young babies are taken away and many become veal. The majority of cows are not milked by hand; they're tethered to harsh mechanical machines that often infect their udders and cause great pain. Opt instead for coconut, almond or rice milks, or source from a vetted small-scale local organic dairy producer that treats their cows ethically.
7. Lobster: Considered a staple indulgence for seafood lovers, these intelligent and social creatures can live to be 100 years old if they're not one of the 20 million killed each year for food. A captured lobster forced into a tank can suffer a great deal of stress, and their complex nervous systems are very sensitive to pain. Whether being cut open while alive or dropped into a scalding pot of hot water, lobsters captured for food rarely live out their remaining days free from suffering. Opt instead for fungus—like the lobster mushroom—which is meaty and buttery with a slight hint of seafood.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Tambako the Jaguar