Thanksgiving is a holiday where families reunite to enjoy a wonderful feast together and express their gratitude for the good things in their lives. This year, however, my family and I will not be celebrating this holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, my parents will instead be in the Duke Hospital, where my dad will have just had his large and small intestines reattached.
My dad was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer in May. Since then, he has gone through six weeks of radiation, multiple chemotherapies, terrible side effects and a surgery to have his tumor removed. Interestingly, the likely main culprit of his cancer is a diet of too much meat.
After getting over my initial blind grief, I took my dad’s illness as a wake up call to reevaluate the way I eat. I did some research on meat and its production in factory farms. What I found was horrifying. One of the most shocking things about factory farms, for me, was the way in which their animals are kept in torturous confinement.
Throughout their entire lives, factory farmed animals like pigs and chickens are unable to fully extend their limbs or even turn around in their cages. Cages are often stacked, so the feces of the animals above fall onto those below. Animals living in these conditions must be fed huge quantities of antibiotics to survive. Additionally, these animals are given hormones that cause them to grow until their bones can barely support their weight. It goes without saying that these animals live miserable lives, worse than that of any cancer patient.
Despite the horrid living conditions of its animals, factory farming arguably benefits society. Factory farming leads to the mass production of animal protein, so meat becomes widely available at a low price. Unfortunately, this perceived benefit comes with a catch.
Eating too much meat has negative health effects, and it’s easy to eat too much meat when it’s so cheap. It has become a part of nearly every meal. Yet many studies have linked meat consumption, and especially red meat consumption, with heart disease and different kinds of cancer, including colon cancer, the type my dad has. Factory farmed meat comes packed with strange substances, like antibiotics, excessive hormones, and fecal matter, which lead to further health risks. Eating factory-farmed meat at every meal is nothing short of dangerous.
Factory farming poses even broader health concerns. The overuse of antibiotics and the presence of many animals in a small space allow for pathogens to develop antibiotic resistance. Once this happens, these pathogens may then spread to people, who would have no defense against infection. This is not just a hypothetical risk. Several illnesses, including the bird flu and the H1N1 virus, likely originated in this way. Pathogen strains like these will continue to develop as long as we rely on factory farming for meat production.
In consuming the products of factory farms, we unknowingly accomplish the following: we cause excessive animal suffering, we put ourselves at risk for health problems like cancer and heart disease, and we open the door for pathogens to evolve drug resistance. Factory farming is harmful for the general welfare, so we should discourage it and transition away from it. We can start by trying to wean ourselves off factory-farmed animal protein. For some, this could mean giving up meat one day each week. For others, this could mean only eating meat that was raised in a clean and humane manner. For others still, this could mean going vegan. Any change is significant and meaningful.
Watching my dad suffer through the worst experience of his life has been a nightmare. I’m changing the way I eat now because I don’t want to find myself in his shoes down the road. Although my family and I aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving this year, I will celebrate it quietly by counting my blessings. I’m thankful for this early wake up call and for the opportunity to be able to feed myself a plant-based diet. I’m thankful for Dr. Czito, Dr. Mantyh, and Dr. Tsu, the doctors who are taking wonderful care of my dad. Lastly, and most importantly, I’m thankful that I was born as a healthy human being with a loving family rather than as an animal in a factory farm.
Anne Johnson is a Trinity senior.