A Meat-Eater’s Guide to the Galaxy

We’re told as children that quality always beats quantity. But it appears that our spoiled, rotten meat industry’s inability to learn this lesson is being paid for at the expense of consumers.

We’ve all seen the videos. You do recall the slow motion shots capturing hundreds of chickens crammed into a two cubic feet box the size of a dorm mini-refrigerator? I apologize for getting ahead of myself if this is all news to you. I even bet that if you have indeed seen the pictures, you’ve probably repressed those memories so deeply that you can continue to enjoy those Wendy’s chicken nuggets, guilt-free. I can’t blame you, considering they too were once an invaluable staple of my college life.

Let me start over. THERE’S A LIVESTOCK CRISIS IN THIS COUNTRY.

And you’re one of many contributors! But as a broke college student living on whatever edible scraps you can find in the mess hall, it might not be your fault.

I’m not going to argue that it’s in our nature to eat meat. Because even though chimpanzees, which are our closest living relatives, are proud omnivores, chimpanzees also don’t drive cars or skydive (some do; you can find anything on YouTube). So because we’re the biggest and “baddest” rule breakers of the animal kingdom, it’s not easy to predict what we should and shouldn’t be doing based on an evolutionary understanding of our natures. But I will say that we do have the digestive enzymes and mastication capabilities to eat meat.

But regardless of if we can do it, given how big capitalist farmers and their sadistic ways have monopolized the meat industry, would we even want to eat the meat they sell these days?

I acknowledge that we have a swelling population crisis of people that need their protein. But this demand is not enough to warrant mass-producing animals down an assembly line as if they were inanimate objects without basic nutritional and emotional needs. Before what I call the “Meat-Industrial Complex,” meat was actually a luxury for most people.

Moreover, we actually appreciated the sacrifices animals made to appear on our dinner plates. I really could care less if you’re dismissing me from your pedestal as an animal rights activist right now. As a student of the biological sciences and an inquisitor into the natural world, I’ve learned that we as humans are only one piece of a complex ecosystem that keeps our world in balance. Animals are not our slaves. And this arrogant and self-righteous superiority complex that we champion is not only reckless to the other living beings that we share this world with but to ourselves.

If you genuinely think the heartaches endured by the cattle you eat are not reflected in the quality of the meat we’re sold, then you need to watch some Bill Nye. Emotional distress is more than just an abstract feeling; it’s a state that has distinct biological signatures that can be observed within individual cells. Changes in gene expression and the secretion of stress hormones are only two of the ever-growing list of known physiological responses to stress. So if you refuse to see the faults of the meat industry for how it’s disrespecting animals, at least see it for how it’s poisoning you by altering the physical properties of the meat you’re eating.

But even if we do decide to abstain from meat, herbivorous diets followed anywhere in the animal kingdom are just plain tough. Consider the shear mass amounts of vegetation that herbivorous land mammals like cattle and horses have to graze on in order to do a couple of laps around the barn. Humans who choose such lifestyles face, more or less, the same difficulties.

My mother once turned into a Veggie Lover and her doctor had her check-marking a laundry list of supplements and recording daily caloric intakes. It was a lifestyle that wasn’t quite feasible for a working mother to maintain in good faith. All too many vegetarians think that simply ordering their burger without meat can satiate both a nutritional need and a moral conscious. But I think you’d have to grow up accustomed to eating high quantities of legumes, dairy products, and nuts if you’d like to live a physician-approved vegetarian diet.

So what are we as disillusioned college aged meat-eaters supposed to do? I think we need to find some middle ground and not simply go cold turkey on meat all together. Being that college students eat out a majority of the time, we should try to buy organic meat on the rare occasions that we do cook.

Furthermore, we need to venture out of our comfort zones of eating beef, chicken and pork. When it comes to diversifying our meat diets, there are plenty of fish in the sea! And though much of the fish available at grocery stores is farm-raised, you can’t deny that fish don’t need much attention beyond a tank full of water and a few flakes of fish food. Simple choices like these may allow us to get our meat-fix while still preserving our civility towards other animals and our own bodies.

 

Faisal Chaabani is a fifth-year neurobiology major. He can be reached at fchaaban@uci.edu.