Industrialization of Life
Ever heard of a CAFO? It’s short for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I’ll save some of the specifics of what happens within the confines of a CAFO for later in the article, but for now let’s simply summarize a CAFO as a hybrid of a factory and a farm where most of this country’s livestock is destined to spend some time on their eventual journey to your plate. Even though science has finally jumped on the common sense bandwagon by signing a declaration acknowledging every mammal’s inherent conscious awareness, the treatment of livestock in CAFOs is anything but humane1. Currently in the industrialized livestock agriculture sector, even the most progressive welfare policies lag behind, are ignorant of, or arbitrarily disregard the science on sentience and cognition that many people believe to be common sense2.
At the root of every CAFO is a concept known as industrialization, a process of creating systems geared towards production efficiency. A consequence, however, of this strict focus on maximum productivity, aka $$$, is that livestock is transformed from a being respected and revered for its contribution to human life to nothing more than a line item on an income statement. Profits, losses, and economics replace values, animal husbandry, and ethics. The sad reality is that this very same process is quickly consuming many aspects of life, not just the livestock industry. Industrialization introduces a thought process and philosophy that can alter—and I argue that it has completely transformed—society’s perception and attitude towards the natural world and what constitutes a fulfilling and meaningful existence. Economic efficiency and effectiveness have become the sole focus and the qualitative factors that create intrinsic value and worthwhile experience have fallen by the wayside. Case in point: the United States Public Education system.
One sector significantly impacted by industrialization is education. Rather than being taught how to think, students are taught what to think. Public education now closely resembles a factory in which a student taken through set curricula and standardized tests. What is neglected in this process is a student’s individuality, factors that include creativity, personal interest, culture, skill set, life goals, and type of intelligence.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
In his thought-provoking and entertaining presentation available for viewing below, Sir Ken Robinson, one of the leading advocates for reforming public education, discusses these issues and how the current static nature of our industrialized educational systems cannot keep up with the rapidly changing environment. Without educational reform, Robinson argues that America’s public education system will remain ranking as one of the worst in the world.
The result is more and more young adults questioning the necessity of public education and choosing to follow the path of self-education, some in lieu of and others in addition to, their path towards a BA or beyond. Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires, discusses how students are not taught how to survive and thrive in the real world because academic institutions do not cultivate the ‘street smarts’ necessary for navigating through the dynamic nature of the real world. Instead of teaching valuable lessons such as finding meaningful and passionate work, finding great mentors, creating and making a vision a reality, marketing and branding yourself, and money management, school teaches bottled courses that after 2nd grade, are rarely applicable to daily life.
The duty of public education should be preparing individuals for the demands of the real world, not for success on tests based on theory, which are often times static and out of date due to the incredibly slow pace at which academic information can change or evolve. Instead, students across the country are now graduating with student loans the size of mortgages with nothing to show for it except a minimum wage job… if they’re lucky. Both Ken Robinson and Michael Ellsberg agree that the traditional model public education do a really good job of one thing: training more college professors. Those that succeed are most often those with street smarts, not book smarts. Practical know-how trumps bottled and industrialized academic theory. Just ask folks like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren, or Bill Gates.
CAFO Life vs. Human Life
Industrialization has transformed the way human beings live. It is not surprising to see animal activists picket and speak out against CAFOs since the industrialization of this sector has led to inexcusably inhumane practices. Interesting, however, is that the industrialized lives of human beings—predominantly those living in urban areas—mirror that of livestock living in CAFOs. Sound absurd? Let’s look at some comparisons:
1) As a result of living in unnatural environments, industrial livestock must be over-medicated for the majority of their lives, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones just so that they can survive. Like the animals, humans are becoming sicker at earlier ages and requiring lifelong medication as they become obese and diabetic in adolescence3. Maybe our living conditions have become just as unnatural as a CAFO? Why do more and more people need medication throughout their entire lives?
2) Life in CAFOs subjects livestock to extreme amounts of fear and stress, leading to abnormal behaviors that include cannibalism, violence, and even producing permanent genetic changes4. The last few weeks of this year have brought some of America’s worst tragedies ever seen. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School will never be forgotten. The firefighters gunned down in Rochester, New York on Christmas Eve will remain heroes for eternity. Both of these events are some of the most heinous acts ever witnessed in modern times. The public outcry has been immediate, significant, and warranted. The public demands more treatment for mentally ill individuals. Where is all the support for these mentally ill individuals? I argue that a better line of reasoning would be to question why the prevalence of mental illness seems to be on the steadily on the rise. Why are incidences ADD, ADHD, Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome becoming more common5?
3) A funny thing happens when you feed livestock food that is not part of their natural diet: The animals get fat, chronically diseased, or die. Or all of the above. A funny thing happens when you feed humans heavily-processed, chemical-ridden, and engineered edible products: The humans get fat, chronically diseased, or die6. Or all of the above.
Industrialization transformed life on Earth. It brought with it unprecedented innovations, technological advancements, and economic progress. Times have changed. Maximally producing anything for the sake of production is not the answer. The Dust Bowl, America’s major ecological and agricultural disaster in the 30′s, was was caused by poor agricultural practices that focused on overproduction and ignored the principles of sustainable agriculture7. The short-term objective of maximum production is never the right answer for the long-term viability of any product, industry, or aspect of life. Industrialization strips the authenticity, genuineness, and intent of an experience, thus transforming it into a superficial economic transaction focused intently on profit.
There is more to animal husbandry than maximizing profit per pound of cattle. There is more to education than an SAT score or GPA. There is much more to life than economics and productivity. As new problems arise and life-centered values reemerge at the forefront of public awareness, new solutions must replace the archaic and static industrial systems of the past. Yes, money and economics are important, but they cannot trump values, ethics, and the social bonds that define humanity. When they do… well… you see what can happen.
The industrialized world has disconnected us from the game of life by taking our focus away from the process of living and placing it instead on the final score at the end of the game. Whoever came up with the quote ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’ missed the point. He missed the whole map by a long shot. In a CAFO, animals are disconnected from their natural environment. The combination of closed quarters, highly stressed living, and poor diet leads to diseased animals that require mega doses of medication to simply continue breathing. Is it so difficult to see our own systems have created the same fate for humans? We live in closed quarters, within four walls, and completely disconnected from one another and from nature. The most connected we feel to the natural world is when we watch the National Geographic Channel.
It is time to reconnect with the world around us. To value something beyond mere economic profit and the almighty dollar. No, I am not saying money is evil. It is what it is. Money can be used as at tool for both good and evil. But valuing it above all else creates the problems currently plaguing our country and world. Life is more about the process than the end goal. Reconnect with moments that define life. Don’t rush to the finish line and realize you missed the ride. Reconnect with nature by spending time outdoors. Take off your shoes and walk on the beach, or a park, or a hike. Reconnect with your food by eating actual food. Grow it or buy it from a local farmer. Converse about it. Prepare the meal yourself. Turn off your television and sincerely reconnect with your friends, family and loved ones. Most importantly, reconnect with yourself. Movement is the language of the body. Listen to it through meditation.
[End Note: This article is not an argument for veganism. The process of industrializing wheat and soy production destroys the environment in equal, if not worse, ways in the form of monocropping and deforestation8. In order to make room for vegan-friendly crops, massive quantities of land must be utilized for cultivation. The process of producing wheat and other grains requires clear-felling native vegetation, which alone results in the deaths of thousands of plants and animals per hectare. Some analyses reveal that producing monocrops like wheat kills 25 times more sentient beings per kilogram of useable protein and creates more environmental damage in the process9. Either way you look at it, whether you are a meat-eater or vegan, there is blood on your hands10. Humans kill fungus, plants, bacteria, plants, animals, EVERYTHING that gets in the way of human food production. There is no escaping the reality that vita manducat vita… life eats life. The more important commonality between monocropping and industrial livestock agriculture, however, is that the process of industrialization is at the heart of the issue. It is not what we eat, but rather how that food was raised, cultivated, treated, and prepared that matters.]
1) Dvorsky, George. Prominent Scientists Sign Declaration that Animals have Conscious Awareness, Just Like Us. I09. Aug 2012. http://io9.com/5937356/prominent-scientists-sign-declaration-that-animals-have-conscious-awareness-just-like-us
2) Jones, Robert. Science, Sentience, and Animal Welfare. Biology & Philosophy. Nov 2012. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10539-012-9351-1?LI=true
3) Pittman, David. People Living Longer but Not Healthier Lives. Medpage Today. Dec 2012. http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/PreventiveCare/36409
4) PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Jul 2008. http://www.ncifap.org/_images/212-7_PCIFAP_AmlWlBng_FINAL_REVISED_7-14-08.pdf
5) Norris, Barry. Autism Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet. Autism-help.org. http://www.autism-help.org/autism-incidence-increase.htm
6) Poulter, Sean. Cancer Row Over GM Foods as Study Says it did THIS to Rats. Science and Tech. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2205509/Cancer-row-GM-foods-French-study-claims-did-THIS-rats–cause-organ-damage-early-death-humans.html
7) Trimarchi, Maria. What Caused the Dust Bowl? How Stuff Works. http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/dust-bowl-cause.htm
8) Agribusiness in the Rainforest. Rainforest Action Network. http://ran.org/agribusiness-rainforest
9) Archer, Mike. Ordering a Vegetarian Meal? There’s More Blood on Your Hands. The Conversation. http://theconversation.edu.au/ordering-the-vegetarian-meal-theres-more-animal-blood-on-your-hands-4659
10) Herring, Peg. OSU Scientists Questions the Moral Basis of a Vegan Diet. OSU University Extension. Mar 2002. http://web.archive.org/web/20041107084521/http://eesc.orst.edu/agcomwebfile/news/food/vegan.html