Would you eat a burger with a little bit of human in it?
Most of us recoil at the prospect of cannibalism not because of an allergy or an aversion to the taste, but because we are disgusted at the prospect of another human dying for our dinner. For the same reason you wouldn’t wear a wig made from someone who was scalped, you wouldn’t eat a burger made from someone’s thigh. If human life is worth anything, it is worth more than a couple of minutes of palette pleasure.
If you live in the United States, human beings are dying for your burgers, your chicken fingers, and your bacon sandwiches, just as surely as if you were a cannibal. There are now over 20,400 coronavirus cases linked to meat processing and at least 74 people have died in connection to meatpacking outbreaks. At many of the plants where testing has been implemented, the rate of infection makes New York look sterile by comparison. Even the meat inspectors who are supposedly there to keep meat safe for consumption are contracting Covid-19 at the plants and dying. While these figures are sobering as they stand, the meat industry’s body count is likely orders of magnitude higher given that the average American coronavirus victim usually infects at least one other person.
Some workers have alleged that they aren’t allowed regular opportunities to wash their hands, and others have reported that there isn’t even soap for them to do so.
A slaughterer’s 9-to-5 passes in ideal conditions for coronavirus transmission. They work indoors, in factories where they are packed tightly together, on chaotic lines where they kill living creatures and dismember their corpses — social distancing here is as realistic as doing so at a rave. Some workers have alleged that they aren’t allowed regular opportunities to wash their hands, and others have reported that there isn’t even soap for them to do so. Poor and exploited, these hourly laborers have been discouraged from taking sick leave, and if they fall ill, they are often only allowed their meager pay if they show up and risk their lives.
Crystal Rodriguez, a worker for one of America’s largest meat processors, said that she “doesn’t understand why everybody’s lives are being put at risk just to make the product.” After all, burgers, sausages, and bacon strips are hardly essential items. According to the United Nations, these items are carcinogens — Americans need meat like they need cigarettes. Given that we sacrificed services as vital to our health and well-being as doctor’s appointments and elective surgeries, it’s remarkable that we drew the line at rotisserie chicken.
Trump — whose obsession with fast food verges on neurotic — views slitting the throats of animals as an essential service. He has ordered that the lines keep running, virus be damned. The President signed an executive order that designated these factory farms as critical US infrastructure, forcing them to run regardless of the risks. In other words, our government has decided to permit the deaths of impoverished workers so we can enjoy the frivolous pleasure of a ham sandwich. It’s hard to imagine America sacrificing this much for any other food item. One wonders: If 12 out of the 25 coronavirus hotspots were caused by sweet potatoes, would they still be in stores?
To quote Billy Williams, an employee of Tyson Foods: ‘I’d rather have somebody go without their bacon and have my coworkers alive.’
But while much of the media has attempted to place the blame for this moral catastrophe squarely at Trump’s feet, the bulk of the responsibility rests instead on the shoulders of the American consumer. Trump is not forcing anyone to fund this industry — he is merely allowing us to. We, the consumer, can close the abattoirs whenever we like merely by ceasing to support them — but we choose to pay, and the government allows us to. We buy the meat and order humans to the slaughter.
If one cares about the fight against coronavirus, one must boycott the flesh of animals. When you eat meat, you are funding half of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots. You are voting with your dollar, and casting your vote for COVID-19. It’s time to instead vote for the health of this nation and the lives of others. To quote Billy Williams, an employee of Tyson Foods: “I’d rather have somebody go without their bacon and have my coworkers alive.”
Though coronavirus may have made their plight more newsworthy, even in the best of times, slaughterhouse workers live exploited lives. Workers breathe air laced with ammonia. They expose themselves to feces, urine, and blood containing diseases that make coronavirus look desirable by comparison. They spend all day listening to the ear-piercing screams of dying animals. They wield weapons designed to kill against creatures who are often far larger than themselves. They end these animals’ lives at a staggering pace, sometimes killing multiple creatures per second. The hellish nature of the job often drives the turnover rate over 100% annually.
Researchers have compared the psychological profile of slaughterhouse workers to that of combat veterans, executioners, and participants in genocide.
This work takes a physical toll. Inhaling the fumes of hazardous chemicals and animal waste is rough on the lungs, and the screaming of pigs from the CO₂ chamber can harm one’s long-term hearing. Stabbing writhing animals on floors already slick with blood makes it easy to slip and cut oneself. Cramped conditions make it more likely that one might slice open a coworker. High speeds and long hours almost guarantee mistakes. The result of this confluence of factors is that one out of every four meatpacking employees is ill or injured every year. Many of these injuries are debilitating; some are fatal.
The mind pays even more dearly. Researchers have compared the psychological profile of slaughterhouse workers to that of combat veterans, executioners, and participants in genocide. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: One struggles to imagine the psychologically stable individual who could remain so while chopping up hundreds of animals a day. To quote a former kill-floor manager, “Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later, I had to kill them — beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.” The suicides that stem from these harrowing experiences are yet more casualties of the meat industry.
Just as one cannot hope to contain coronavirus outbreaks within the slaughterhouse walls, one cannot expect the violence of this industry to remain enclosed. The trauma and numbness to killing that comes with stabbing innumerable animals for eight hours a day, five days a week, make slaughterhouse workers far more likely to lash out at other humans. It’s no coincidence that one out of every four violent criminals has a history of violence towards animals; attacking other species is a gateway drug to attacking other people. The mere arrival of a slaughterhouse in a town increases the crime rate by 22%. Violence goes viral, and case zero is in the meatpacking plant.
A former kill-floor manager: ‘Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later, I had to kill them — beat them to death with a pipe.’
Our steak is extra bloody. Whether by virus, by accident, by suicide, or by crime, innumerable human casualties are traceable back to the slaughterhouse. The meat industry profits off the deaths of animals and then sacrifices humans at the altar of those profits. In what way are we better than cannibals, if we continue to eat these items even knowing that humans died for them? America should close its slaughterhouses, and Americans should tell them to stay closed.