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Art Beat

Reality Check: Appetite or Ethics?

I studied away in Philadelphia in the fall of my junior year, loved it, and plan to move there after I graduate next year. Over winter break, I stayed in Philly for a few weeks to job peruse. I’d like to share a story about a girl I met and her impactful work with the Humane League – a national farm animal protection nonprofit.

Three pink slips have been issued and class-wide detention has been threated twice. Maria Pandolfi’s class is riled up. At LINC high school in North Philadelphia, Rachel Atcheson waits patiently amongst the chaos to talk to the students about factory farming.

Rachel works for the Humane League, a national organization committed to improving animal welfare. In addition to tirelessly fulfilling a slew of nonprofit duties, Rachel travels to high schools and colleges in the area to discuss the reality of U.S. meat production.

“Excuse me,” she said, stepping up in front of the class. “Excuse me.” She launched into her presentation over the chatter.

“How many of you have a cat or dog at home?” Hands went up. “And you love your pet, right?” Nods. “And of course you’d never hurt your animal.” Of course not.

“Imagine spending your whole life standing on this,” she said, holding up an 8X11 sheet of paper. That’s the space a chicken is confined to in a battery cage on a typical factory farm.

Rachel explained the process of artificially impregnating pigs.

“You mean they stick that thing in them?” a student asked. Rachel nodded. “That’s like raping in jail!” someone shouted from the back.

“How many hens do you think live in a typical egg laying facility?” Rachel asked. “Ten?” “More.” “30?” “More.” “One hundred?” “More.” “…a thousand?”

“500,000.” Rachel finally revealed. There were gasps.

After Rachel’s warning, six heads dropped onto desks and stayed buried in elbows through the entire graphic, a ‘behind the scenes’ video on industrial meat production. The rest of the students watched piglets’ tails being ripped off with pliers, male baby chicks being plucked from conveyor belts and tossed into grinders (they’re of no use at an egg farm), and cows being castrated. Students winced, groaned, and shouted – appalled that the violence they were watching actually happens everyday.

Rachel talked with the students about the heath, environmental, and ethical benefits of eating less meat. One slide showed Tofurky, Veggie Burgers, and other meat substitutes. “Doesn’t that stuff cost more?” one student asked quietly. She said that, yes, processed meat substitute products can be expensive, as can traditional meat products. The average price difference is $0.25-$0.50 per package, meat substitutes being more expensive. (Tofurky Deli Slices actually cost $.04 less per ounce than Hillshire Farms Lunchmeat currently at Meijer). Regardless, Rachel shops on a non-profit salary and recommends buying beans and grains in bulk as an inexpensive way to eat less meat.

“Even if people stop eating chicken, they’re still going to keep killing them for a profit,” a boy in front proclaimed. In fact, in the last five years the number of animals raised and killed in the U.S. has dropped from ten billion to nine billion, due to a decrease in consumer demand for meat.

Rachel Atcheson is exposing hundreds of high school and college students to the harsh reality of factory farming. But she’s also helping them see that they don’t have to be complicit in such a devastating system; we can be aware, educate others, and modify our eating habits to lessen our dependence on this disastrous method of food production.

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Reality Check: Appetite or Ethics?