Chickens crammed into rows of wire cages so small that the creatures often go insane; a young "veal calf" torn away from its mother immediately after birth; pigs crowded together so tightly that they often gnash at each other's tails and rears, sometimes even killing one another...image upon image met my horrified eyes as I flipped through Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. At nine years of age, I was getting my first glimpse into a world of barbaric cruelty.
In his book, Robbins graphically illustrates the horrifying torture of animals that is routinely occurring in slaughterhouses across the country. I first came across the book when my mom was interested in "health food" and nutrition and was looking into vegetarianism as a healthier style of eating. Although it is certainly true that a meat-free diet can add years to one's life, my attention was not first caught by the unhealthiness of meat consumption; rather, I was impressed with the cruelty of meat production.
Growing up, I had been a frequent patron of McDonald's, and veal had been one of my favorite foods. Not once had I considered where the food on my plate was coming from; even though I must have known that hamburgers didn't grow on trees, I never thought about the alternative. Therefore, when I first saw photos of real slaughterhouses and began to make the connection between those gruesome images and my own diet, I was stunned. It was impossible for me to understand how any person could treat innocent animals so thoughtlessly and with such deliberate cruelty. How could a slaughterhouse worker sit in his living room with his dog's head lying in his lap--the soft brown eyes looking loyally and trustfully into his--and the next minute string up skinned, beheaded chickens by their legs, as if they were merchandise instead of living, feeling creatures? The very idea was, at first, incomprehensible.
Before long, I was unable to eat a hamburger without envisioning the large, mild eyes of the gentle cow whose life had been cruelly ended for the sake of the food on my plate. With the rest of my family, I decided to see if I could eat a healthy diet without including meat on the daily menu. To our initial surprise and delight, we found that a vegetarian diet is not only healthy and cruelty-free, but also mouth-watering and scrumptious! In addition to the traditional vegetables and beans associated with vegetarianism, new foods made with texturized vegetable protein (TVP), including "chick" patties, corn dogs, and veggie burgers, taste so much like the "real things" that I have never once missed the taste of meat. Having been a vegetarian for the past eight years, I am thankful that I made the decision to lead a healthier and kinder lifestyle.
However, I do not label those who choose to eat meat as callous or cruel-hearted individuals. Rather, I believe that the majority of meat-eaters are simply unaware of the cruelty behind meat production, as I was for the first nine years of my life. If the true story were spread, I believe that many more of us would "go veggie."
So the next time that you sit down to a steak, a hot dog, or a hamburger, perhaps you will think of the tortured animals who have been sacrificed for your meal; if you do, you just might reconsider taking that first bite.