Alt-meat: seeking solutions to unethical factory farming

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Illustration by Marika Van de Kamp

Even hard-core meat lovers can admit the meat industry partakes in cruel practices and the unnecessary torture of animals. Founder and Executive Director of Factory Farming Awareness Coalition Katie Cantrell said that over nine billion animals are killed for food every year in the United States. The conditions these animals live in are less than spectacular, and the meat produced isn’t much better. Animals are pumped with chemicals to make them grow bigger faster and to produce more profit. That’s the meat industry’s motto: find cheaper ways to make more profit at any cost.

Does being vegetarian and vegan help lessen the torture ensued by the meat industry? Of course. Is there a counter argument to this? Of course. Vegetarians take pride in not eating meat while simultaneously not condoning the torture of animals for humans’ sake; however, importing food hinders the environment.

Food has to come from somewhere, and unfortunately, that can cause even more harm to the environment. Tofu and Tofurkey may not be the answers we are looking for, as they require transportation across the country in semi-trucks and harvesting ingredients from a plantation or other large factory farm. Is there, however, a definite solution to the inhumane meat industry problem?

Jess Tyler, graduate teaching assistant in the Portland State Department of Environmental Science and Management, grew up on a small farm in Montana, which changed his perception of the meat industry. Most commercial cow factories feed their cows corn and soy, forms of protein. So why are we feeding cows food humans can eat, when cows should be eating hay and grass, which humans can’t eat? “We took care of our cows in such a traditional way, I think it’s almost a privileged perspective now,” Tyler said. “Hardly anyone knows about this lifestyle.”

Although Tyler was raised on a mid-sized Montana ranch, he still cared deeply about his cows, even though they would eventually be shipped off to slaughter. His ranch was nowhere near the size of an industrial factory, which houses cows in feedlots where they undergo castration and are branded. “I never really bought that eating meat was really bad. I was there [on the farm]. Eating meat was really normal, really ingrained in my experience.” Despite this though, Tyler also became a vegetarian and later a vegan.

The vegetarian and vegan life is up to an individual. The effort to become vegetarian can come from dietary restrictions or simply because people educate themselves about the cruelty of the meat industry.

Another perspective on this issue comes from Cantrell. FFAC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to education about farming, animals, environmental sustainability, all concerned with where our food comes from. Cantrell did a Google talk on April 27, 2017, titled, “Hidden in Plain Bite: The Power of Our Food Choices,” in which she discusses industrial animal agriculture.

“Factory farms are technically known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” Cantrell said. “It’s the practice of keeping thousands…of animals in confinement for their entire lives.” Factory farms do this because keeping animals as close together means they can have more animals, and more animals means more profit.

To bring this issue closer to home, Mark Harris, sustainability coordinator for PSU Eats, and Matt Steele, executive chef, both take pride in their restaurants and the sources of the ingredients they use.

“[We promote] working with student groups, local farmers, local providers, having them talk about their product, having the community see that connection through the food and the farmer,” Harris said. When people know where their food comes from, that helps promote the “buy local” movement.

The food court in Smith Memorial Student Union offers a variety of more conscionable foods now, since contracting with PSU Eats. From 503 Burger, which offers a vegan burger, to Simply Purr which provides primarily grain- and vegetable-based ingredients, it helps that PSU has become more sustainable while offering more vegan options.

“We source responsibly whenever and as often as possible,” Steele said. “I’m really proud of things like the fact that we [PSU Eats] only use cage-free eggs.” Cage-free eggs are when the hens are allowed to roam free and aren’t confined to a cage, only living to produce eggs.

The goal of PSU Eats is to shrink meat portions; within the U.S., kids are taught the food pyramid which recommends meat at 2–3 servings per day, when in reality, this isn’t necessary. Plant-based products and grains can substitute what meat provides. “What we are trying to do…is increase the plant-based aspect of every plate here,” Steele said. “Not only for health, but for sustainability. It’s a win-win.”

As sustainability coordinator, Harris looks for local sources of food. When trying to find local farmers, this helps lessen the ecological footprint most large food companies possess. “It’s not just figuring out what to do with waste, it’s how we order, how we cook, how we portion…how we utilize what we can,” Harris said. “Being supportive of the [PSU Food] Pantry is also very important.”

During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, PSU Eats will screen the documentary Wasted featuring Anthony Bourdain on Nov. 14. This documentary looks at the overall issues of food waste, studies about the waste, and solutions to help end world hunger through the recognition of food waste.

There are no grounded solutions to the environmental and ethical problems of the meat industry, but through education and awareness, people can better understand where their food comes from. With people like Tyler and Cantrell teaching about the sustainability process and with Steele and Harris introducing new vegan concepts to college students, we’re taking steps in the right direction.

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