A personal essay about the worst atrocity in the history of the world.
I have one question. It’s hounded me for years.
How can all my amazing super-smart well-adjusted good-hearted friends and family be able to rationalize torturing animals every day?
It’s an annoyingly absurd question, I know.
But for 20 years I feel like I’ve been living in a perpetual episode of the Twilight Zone wrestling with variations of this same question. How and why would the people I love and respect the most allow themselves to be culpable in the worst atrocity in human history?
I don’t mean ‘worst’ in a hyperbolic subjective way. I also don’t mean to cause any offense. I only mean it in a clinically empirical objective way to describe the worst atrocity in terms of scope, scale and duration of torture that’s ever been committed in all of recorded history (data below).
I can hear the collective eye-rolls so just a quick point of reference. About 1 billion humans have been killed in all wars combined since ancient Mesopotamia. At least that many animals were tortured and slaughtered just this week. The sheer level of systematic brutality is not even in the same stratosphere.
“Ok so what?! We are human and they are animals.”
I agree, that’s a decent point. But I can’t state the following any more clearly…
This is not a philosophical debate about our right as humans to kill animals for food. We are way past that. This is about the actual real-life brutal and sadistic torture of tens of billions of defenseless animals that feel horrific pain and suffering every single day at the hands of all of us, from the most woke Liberal environmentalist to the staunchest personal-responsibility pro-life Conservative.
As a somewhat slow-witted forgetful lazy person that just wants to take naps and watch hockey all day who defines himself as an ultra Right Wing Tea Party Communist, you can see that I’m obviously very confused and not smart enough to take such a definitive stance or speak from a place of authority on anything.
So I ask with complete sincerity, what am I missing?
I’ve been trying to disprove what all the evidence so clearly suggests for years so I could feel okay about eating pizza. I love pizza as much as anyone in the whole wide world. But it got harder and harder to ignore the facts for the sake of my taste buds. It wasn’t a grandiose moral choice or some deep ethical stance. It was more like, “oh, I’ve been paying someone to torture animals for me? Oh, okay, then no thank you, I’ll just eat something else.” Simple, right? I guess not.
Maybe it’s cultural conditioning? Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance? Maybe you just don’t know how bad the situation is?
Or maybe I’m wrong and I’ve succumbed to militant plant-based extremist propaganda? Maybe I’ve spent too long confined in a pro-vegan echo-chamber radicalized by their fanatical non-torture agenda?
Maybe. But the facts don’t seem to support that either.
Behavioral psychologists often point to the difficulty of changing behavior by appealing to one’s morality, so I’m going to try a multilayered approach based on the most reliable well-researched facts that I personally checked against multiple sources.
Is there such a thing as fact-shaming? Sorry in advance. But don’t worry, it’s been condensed with easy to follow bullet points and “fun” videos to make the situation we’ve created as clear as possible.
This kid gets it.
For those ready to stare truth in the face, this is the best/most comprehensive documentary out there. Try and get through at least 10 minutes. This will be eye opening for most of you.
Former Vice-President of Citibank and former General Manager at Citicorp, Philip Wollen gives one of the most beautiful and compelling speeches I’ve ever heard on the subject.
A DEBATE WORTH HAVING:
For those of you that are 100% positive that all your food comes from happy frolicking animals on sustainable organic farms that were instantly killed without fear and trauma or you have a specific health issue or you live in a geographic region that relies on animal agriculture, these are all different debates and all debates worth having. But this is not the reason most of us eat animals. I humbly suggest that we collectively focus on the direct real-world consequences of our actions first. Then we can deal with the abstract subjective debates or the specific case by case issues.
*If anyone has clear evidence that the majority of the meat and dairy we eat does NOT come from tortured animals and I am grossly misinformed, please send that information my way. I would LOVE to be proved wrong.
- 50 to 90 Billion farm animals are slaughtered every year worldwide. Numbers vary depending on source. But it’s at least 50 Billion.
- That’s 150 Million every day. 4.5 Billion a month. 50 Billion a year. (This is not including the 1–2 Trillion fish we kill annually).
- 50% of that 50 Billion come from “Factory Farms” or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The exact data is difficult to obtain but most sources indicate it’s considerably higher than 50% and all sources indicate the number is steadily increasing.
- Standard legal practices on “small” or “family” farms even in developed nations including America still allow for conditions that can be described as torture by any definition of the word. Dairy farms are arguably worse than meat production operations.
- Conclusion: At minimum, there are tens of billions of animals at any given time that are being systematically tortured in conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. This is happening every day all day around the world from America to China to Australia.
- Information provided by governments and industry are often focused on metrics like the weight of meat produced/consumed. Getting specific numbers on the individual lives that were slaughtered or tortured is difficult to compile for various reasons including deliberate obfuscation by various stakeholders.
- Numbers from sympathetic sources can also be misleading and then re-quoted. For example a random HuffPo article said that 99% of our animal products come from Factory Farms which was then cited by others as fact. This statistic isn’t correct. The are lots of small farms across America that account for about 90% of all farms in the U.S. However, the remaining 5–10% of Factory Farms account for at least 50% of the animal products we eat. The numbers are higher depending on the animal. So any stat needs to be cross-referenced and fact checked, which is what I spend most of my free time doing. Below are some reliable sources for those who want to journey into the disturbing abyss.
- The vast majority of the animals we eat are chickens and fish. Since they are considered smaller (and dumber/less significant by many) they arguably get treated the worst (except female pigs in my opinion). But I urge you to remember that these are complex beings that feel pain and suffer immensely.
- For reference to my human being comparison: There are 108 Billion humans who have ever lived, 1 Billion of which died in all wars combined. This number is an estimate used by various sources, that’s why I like to multiply it by at least 5x just in case, which is still less than the amount of animals that are tortured and slaughtered every couple months. What has happened over the last century is in another stratosphere of suffering that just can’t be compared to anything else.
*Additional sources below. For anyone who wants more info about anything discussed in this article or beyond, I can point you to the most reliable sources.
My next article will focus on animal agriculture’s impact on the environment. Spoiler alert: If you say you care about the environment but eat meat and dairy every day, you should stop saying you care about the environment.
LAND USE STATISTICS
- There is 19 million square miles of agriculture lands (all animal and plant land use)
- 12 million square miles are used for farming crops:
- 50% or 6 million square miles for Human Crops
- 35% or 4 million square miles for Animal Crops
- Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories
CROP TO ANIMAL INEFFICIENCIES:
- It takes 3x (minimum) the resources to get the equivalent output per calorie or gram of protein from animals vs. plants. Typically it is upwards of 8x or even more depending on what resource (land, water, energy, type of animal etc.) and the context of that resource (Country/location and various other factors).
- For example, it takes about 100 calories of grain to produce just 12 calories of chicken or 3 calories worth of beef.
TOP RATIONALIZATIONS DEBUNKED
Here is a rebuttal to the top excuses you’ve heard or used yourself.
Ed Winters’ Tedx: Every Argument Against Veganism
JORDAN’S BIG PICTURE CONCLUSIONS
As world gets richer and more populated, meat/dairy consumption is going up. If we continue at this pace it will be big trouble by 2050 as we approach 10 billion.
80% of Agricultural land is used for Livestock.
35% of farmable (arable) land worldwide is used to grow crops for Animal feed.
However, 67% of crops grown in America is dedicated to animal feed. (meaning much more than global average) This seems to be based on large government subsidies in order to lower grain/feed prices (this seems to be a big piece of puzzle linked the increase in factory farming, all of which needs to be investigated/unpacked)
Animal protein is very inefficient. By any unit of measure the conversion of energy and resources to nutritional needs is only 1/3 of that from plants.
Moreover, many Americans (and people in developed countries) are eating 2x their requirement for protein.
Cows, pigs, chickens are decreasing slightly in numbers, but they are producing more meat per animal.
50% of animals worldwide come from industrial operations, causing issues with animal health, waste, and compounding the already widespread torture of these animals. (70% of antibiotics worldwide are made for animals).
The main thing spurring the rise in vegan/vegetarians, up 300% but still only 3–5% of population, is not the fact that we are getting wealthier but that we are finally getting exposure to the facts.
ADDITIONAL DATA SOURCES
Protein Info (debunking myths)