To Meat Or Not To Meet?

The first time I met Natalie Porkman was at the All Alaskan Pig Race at the OC Fair. The name “Porkman,” of course, comes from the fact that Natalie is a tiny pig trained to jump over tiny hurdles. As soon as Natalie hopped the first hurdle, the audience let out cries of “aww” and “how adorable.” Few hearts are cold enough to resist the cuteness of a small pig running laps. However, right after the pig race ended, staff members began hawking pig memorabilia and coupons for free bacon at Ralphs.

I love free stuff as much as any other college student, but the timing of the offer threw me off. Why offer pig meat to people who just saw some adorable little pigs race? It would be like offering venison after seeing Bambi. I thought Ralphs was crazy at first… but judging from the number of people who wanted coupons, it seems like they weren’t.

I realized afterwards that Ralphs was only using its role as sponsor of the pig race as adeptly as it should. The American diet usually includes meat in every meal, and so it should be no surprise that an offer for free meat would be taken up regardless of the situation. After all, America pioneered the idea of cheap, quick meat with the iconic original fast food restaurant: McDonald’s. We increased the portions of meat until half-pound burgers and foot-long hot dogs became affordable for everyone. But the fact that America’s obsession with meat beat out our love for small, adorable animals surprised me.

Typically, most Americans don’t see the actual animals they consume until they’ve been prepared into neat pink packages. This was apparent at the OC Fair when I heard awed whispers from people who had never seen a cow up close. A typical cow that the meat industry raises can weigh up to 1,300 pounds. It’s quite a daunting idea that a small hamburger can come from such a large animal, but given the increasing urbanization of America, it’s not surprising. More and more Americans are growing up without exposure to the farms that feed us.

The saying, “out of sight, out of mind” leads to a gap of knowledge amongst most Americans on the detrimental effects our demand for meat causes. Animals raised for meat are generally pumped full of antibiotics to combat the diseases onset by crowded living conditions, growth hormones to get them as big as possible, and tainted feed that can contain animal by products. While some people may blame the meat industry, I believe they are only following the demands of their customers – namely, us.

We want cheap, safe meat, and if animals are being treated unfairly in facilities that most of us never see, what’s the harm? Being so far removed from our nation’s agricultural roots keeps us from seeing firsthand the fertilizer runoff, pesticide overuse and soil depletion that our crop system creates. Eventually, the amount of pollution indirectly created by our demand for meat will force us to confront our eating habits. But we don’t need to wait for that day.

We have alternatives, and I don’t just mean vegetarianism, which I think is too drastic for most Americans used to eating meat every single day. Rather, we can start by including more vegetables in our food, both at home and outside. A culture in which broccoli can be held as high in esteem as a steak would do us all good, both in terms of our health and environment. However, this culture can’t develop if we don’t see the animals and crops we consume. Just seeing a cow up close can have an impact on how we treat our food once we tie the fact that our hamburger comes from an actual animal that lives and breathes much like us. Seeing Natalie Porkman run laps is one step in the right direction of exposing Americans to their food, and the consequences of their diet.

Irvin Huang is a fourth-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at ibhuang@uci.edu.