The Scandinavian company, Ikea, is the latest company found to be part of the horse meat scandal that began in Europe in January. Last Monday it was reported that horse DNA had been found in the store’s meatballs, and that it had been shipped to 12 European countries.
For now, it appears that U.S. Ikea stores have been spared from the scandal.
Every time I saw this story last week I wondered—why are we so upset by the idea eating horse meat, but not other animal meat—like cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and fish?
One of the arguments I’ve heard against eating horse meat is that the drugs horses are given can be ingested by humans and are potentially harmful.
That makes sense. But the same argument holds regarding the meat here in the U.S. Our meat supply is full of hormones, pesticides and antibiotics.
So the real question is, what’s up with our food supply?
Have you ever looked into what (insert animal here) had to go through to get to your plate?
I know a lot of us have. We’re well aware of the problems with factory farming and the horrors that are found there.
When I first learned of the abuses committed against animals in our food supply I quit eating them immediately. That was seven years ago. I’ve never looked back.
The first book I ever read on the subject of factory farming was The Food Revolution, by John Robbins. As I read the stories of mistreatment and abuse I found my stomach turning, my face reddening.
I physically felt pain.
To this day I still do, whether it’s a story about a cow in a slaughterhouse, or a beagle in a testing lab, the pain starts in my chest and radiates out to the rest of my body. And then I cry.
I do not believe that we are superior to other animals, or that we are separate from them, or from each other. I believe that I am them, and that they are me. And so when I see and hear their suffering, I suffer too.
Like in Tonglen practice, I breathe in their pain, and send out my love.
Their suffering will probably always be the tender spot in my heart.
I’ll take those feelings, because someone has to. Someone has to bear witness to their existence and to their suffering. And I hope that in some small way, by taking in their pain, I can somehow lessen it.
But I’m feeling lost these days.
Stories like the one about horse meat or this one about Walmart (and Starbucks and Nestle and Taco Bell…) discourage me. People are distraught about the idea of eating horses, but don’t think twice about what else we might be eating or how the animals are treated on their way to us.
Somehow we view horses as different from cows and pigs—one is less worthy of a peaceful life than the others. Yet I’m not sure why.
We don’t eat our dogs, cats, horses. We have an affinity for them. We relate to them and love them. We spend large sums of money on them every year.
What if we did eat dogs?
Would we give them a really shitty year or two, and then hang them upside down, fully conscious, and run a knife down the length of their body?
If we did eat dogs, most likely we’d let them have happy lives. And then, when it was time, we’d humanely put them down.
So why don’t we do the same for the others? Why do we turn a blind eye to the horrors of factory farming?
This is what Frank Reese, a farmer profiled in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals said in the book:
“People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay… It’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong. They don’t have to be convinced. They just have to act differently. I’m not better than anyone and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.”
We all have to come to our own conclusions about what’s right and wrong. I do not believe my vegetarianism makes me a better person than anyone. And I hope that’s not how this sounds.
But I do beg you to really look at what’s happening.
Read the books, watch the videos, get informed. And then ask yourself if you’re really okay with your hamburgers, omelets and pork chops.
Go inside and really sit with yourself and ask yourself if what we’re doing on those farms is okay with you.
If it is, then fine, you can stop reading now. Thanks for listening.
But if it’s not, if there’s even a twinge of discomfort, please do not turn away from it.
I’m not asking you to become vegetarian or vegan. It’s not my place to tell anyone what to put into their bodies.
I’m just asking you to get the facts, to know yourself well enough to know what your standards are and to live them. And if necessary, act differently.
I know that it is against my value system to eat animals, whether they are treated humanely or not. This informs countless decisions every day.
But I know that my refusal to buy and eat meat isn’t going to change anything.
The only thing that will change the industry is if we collectively gather until it no longer becomes profitable to sustain factory farming. And that will only happen if large numbers of us wake up and demand better.
Though we may act like it, we do not own this place.
If we want to take another life for our own purposes, then we have an obligation to show that animal some respect.
We need to honor it and thank it for offering its life to us. We need to let it live it’s life peacefully and as happily as possible. And ideally, we wouldn’t take its life. Rather, we’d take its meat only when it died naturally.
I know people love their meat. And I don’t think they have to give it up altogether. In fact, some people’s bodies need it.
But there is a better way to do it—a more kind, compassionate, mindful way of bringing food to our tables.
In Eating Animals Frank Reese also said this:
“If consumers don’t want to pay the farmer to do it right, they shouldn’t eat meat.”
I agree. If we’re not willing to spend more to make sure our animals are treated right, then we have no business taking their lives for our own pleasure.
If we treat animals humanely, if we feed them what they are supposed to eat, give them peaceful homes and stop pumping them full of chemicals, we won’t have to worry about horse meat scandals, or e coli outbreaks or whatever the next crisis will be.
If we make compassionate and mindful choices, we can begin to change the system.
“All animals are our little brothers. They fear violence. They look to us for protection.”
The animals need us. Will you act differently?
Originally published on elephant journal.