Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Then again, maybe I'll pass ...

I used to be vegan. This was back in grad school, when I was living out in Santa Barbara. I'd flirted with vegetarianism before, but I just enjoyed meet too much to ever make it permanent. Then, in SB, I fell under the sway of a close friend who was a pretty militant vegan. He wasn't of the "meat eaters are evil" variety, but he kept pestering me with literature and websites, and honestly, I'd already known that if I ever really seriously considered it I'd have to go veg. Morally speaking, there are lots and lots of reasons not to eat meat, and almost no reasons TO eat it, so meatless I went. And from there, it wasn't such a big step to go totally animal free - no more leather shoes, no more honey, no more jello, soymilk and tofutti cuties instead of skim and ice-cream sandwiches. In Cali, it's beyond easy to go veg. Wonderful fresh fruits and veggies are in season all year round, nearly every restaurant at every price tier has vegan options on the menu, and veggie substitutes abound at the grocery store. I have to say, I felt healthier as a vegan than I ever have before or since. But, after I moved back to the Midwest I slowly started sliding. First I started eating dairy and eggs again, then fish, and now I'm completely off the veg wagon. I'm not proud of it, because I still think it's far better to be veggie than not, but what can I say? I love the taste of meat, my husband isn't vegetarian, and I'm just lazy about it. While we were trying to conceive, I could excuse it a little because I needed more protein, and ditto for the pregnancy (it's hard to get enough protein when you have gestational diabetes without meat). But now that the baby is 9 month old, and things have settled down a little, I'm trying to more systematically cut back on my intake of animal products, and model a healthier way of eating for my daughter. Recently, BoingBoing linked to a Rolling Stone article on industrial pork farming that reminded me of why I went veggie in the first place. I DARE you to read it and not have second thoughts about eating bacon or ham or spareribs. At the very least, I'm certainly going to be looking for organic/small farm pork products the next time I buy any. I mean, this is beyond disgusting:

Smithfield's holding ponds -- the company calls them lagoons -- cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.

Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the shit out of them and spray the waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as "overapplication." This can turn hundreds of acres -- thousands of football fields -- into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.

Some pig-farm lagoons have polyethylene liners, which can be punctured by rocks in the ground, allowing shit to seep beneath the liners and spread and ferment. Gases from the fermentation can inflate the liner like a hot-air balloon and rise in an expanding, accelerating bubble, forcing thousands of tons of feces out of the lagoon in all directions.

The lagoons themselves are so viscous and venomous that if someone falls in it is foolish to try to save him. A few years ago, a truck driver in Oklahoma was transferring pig shit to a lagoon when he and his truck went over the side. It took almost three weeks to recover his body. In 1992, when a worker making repairs to a lagoon in Minnesota began to choke to death on the fumes, another worker dived in after him, and they died the same death. In another instance, a worker who was repairing a lagoon in Michigan was overcome by the fumes and fell in. His fifteen-year-old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker's cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker's older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker's father dived in. They all died in pig shit.