I suspect you’ve heard it before and maybe even thought it yourself; factory farm workers are evil, sub-humans that enjoy torturing animals. They choose to get up every morning to beat, kick, abuse, terrorize and slaughter other defenseless sentient beings.
Really? Do you think that this is really what motivates them to get out of bed every morning?
Before you get all preachy, let me tell you a story about an undercover investigator who worked in factory farms in the USA as well as in the dog meat industry, dog fighting rings and exotic wildlife black market trade in South Korea.
Day in and day out, from several months to a year, I worked side by side with factory farm workers in fourteen to sixteen hours shifts 6 days a week. I witnessed firsthand the immense suffering animals go through, but I also witnessed the exploitation of the factory farms workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants and worked those jobs because they have to provide for their families.
The conditions are horrible. Fourteen to sixteen hour days with only one day off, unsanitary and dangerous conditions, discouraged from taking breaks while encouraged to eat lunch in the shortest time possible. At one particular slaughterhouse, the workers on the kill floor had to wear diapers because bathroom breaks were frowned upon. Not only that, the job is physically and mentally taxing. Imaging having to stand on the kill floor, slitting the throats of animals, day and in day out; do you really think they enjoy it? Far from it.
Every single factory farm worker I met told me they hated their job but couldn’t find another. The pay isn’t great, the conditions are horrible, and many of them actually said they didn’t like hurting animals. One of the thoughts that went through my mind every day working in factory farms was “No one is here by choice; this job sucks big time.” So why do it? Why continue working in a dangerous filthy place for low pay with the smell of death all around you? A lot of us in the animal rights and vegan advocacy movement tend to forget that what may seem like a choice to many of us is no choice at all for a lot of people.
Privilege is something I talk about a lot on my podcast; it is something that is forgotten many times when we demonize or judge people because they aren’t vegan, or make choices we don’t approve of. I always give the example of a single parent working two or three jobs to make ends meet. If money is tight and you have to put food on the table, what do you do? You will go for the cheapest and most convenient source of food. Convenient being the keyword, because this single parent may live in a neighborhood where the closest supermarket is 10 miles away, and right next door there is a Seven Eleven or a McDonalds with a one dollar menu. How can we expect people to try a vegan diet—or any kind of healthier diet—when they might not have access to simple things like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their neighborhood?
It all comes down to social and food justice. We must stop demonizing individuals and focus our energy and resources on the corporations. They are, in the way that they are currently constituted and the self-interest that they encourage, responsible for the issues mentioned above. Greed is a significant driving factor in modern capitalist societies and channeled appropriately, can be harnessed to bring about ethical social change, especially where such change can be shown to benefit the corporations, and more importantly, their investors in both financial and public goodwill terms. Channeled inappropriately, it creates a social disparity with those at the bottom of the social ladder—low-income families, marginalized minorities, and undocumented immigrants—paying the highest prices. Those at the bottom, even if they want to find another job or try a vegan, vegetarian, or more healthy diet, simply can’t because, for them, it’s about survival—putting food on the table, paying bills, and making ends meet—not choice. We do them a great injustice when we forget this and imagine that everyone has the same privileges, opportunities, and breathing space that we do.
We must focus on encouraging the animal agriculture industry to phase animals out of their production and embrace the shift to plant-based and cell-culture-based meat or other plant-based alternatives. We must also let our governments know that the lack of support for disadvantaged and marginalized communities to have access to food programs that provide healthy low-cost plant-based or plant-focused food choices at affordable prices is unacceptable and will affect their political ‘profitability’ if they choose to ignore the wishes of their constituents.
Featured image by Remo Cassella