The Real Cost of a Burger

When I was about 11, I had a great idea for a restaurant…but I’m not sure I ought to reveal it to you in case you try to steal my idea.

Oh, all right then. You know those places where you choose your live lobster? Well, how about a place where you’re greeted by the waiter, seated at a nice table, and then they let you choose your animal to enjoy during your meal? The seats would be situated around a pen, with an aisle leading to it from the back-lot. I had it all figured out, you see…

If you chose, say, beef, a farmer would bring along a cow; “Now this here’s Daisy, just look at her eyelashes fluttering at ya.” The farmer, as usual, then uses the captive bolt pistol, fired into her forehead. Don’t worry about her kicking after being stunned, though, because the pithing rod goes through her brain and down the spinal column. A shackle is then attached to her hind leg, and she is hauled up. Her throat is then cut and she bleeds to death before your very eyes! What a treat! What a feast! What a concept: bringing the abattoir to your table! Bon appetit!

My idea was dismissed when I was a kid, but I was never told why. I was left to wonder. And then I realized that unlike with fruit or vegetables – which even look pretty attractive – generally people prefer to be kept far away from the origins of their meat. I figured that it seems pretty unnatural for us to keep hidden the processes of the meat industry. And then, when I read up on it, I learned that it actually was unnatural! Whereas other animals kill and eat one another, humans can’t kill animals with their bare hands or nails or teeth, and don’t usually even eat the meat without first cooking it; we can’t even really eat it raw! I then discovered that this is because humans are actually herbivorous by nature, like gorillas, elephants and rhinos, not omnivorous like pigs or dogs; it was only climatic changes centuries ago that made fruit and vegetables difficult to find and therefore we tried to eat meat to survive.

If evolution is your thing, then you’ll see the similarities between humans and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, with whom we share 98% of our genes. And if you believe we’ve forced ourselves to “evolve” to eat meat, then take a look at your cat: if you tried to force “evolution” on Fluffy by feeding her nothing but a vegetarian diet, she’d become very sick and probably even die, because cats do not naturally build up the amino acids like we do, and therefore have to eat meat to live. Poor things, eh?

Yeah, we really love our cats and dogs, and hate to think of those mean ol’ Chinese people eating them. Eating cows and sheep and pigs is okay to us, but other animals, like fluffy Persian cats, are given the comfort of our hearth. Hmm. Do we choose our friends based on whether or not we dislike the taste of their flesh? Nope, just our pets! Unless, that is, you’re Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal who killed and ate his partner’s penis. Gross? Well, there’s penises, pigs’ brains and cows’ udders in our everyday sausage. Mmm! To paraphrase Silent Bob’s partner Jay, “Ew, you eat the cock?!” And I’m not talking rooster, here, people.

So, I got to thinking: with all this technology at our disposal, not to mention all the vegetation, why the heck are we still eating meat? And we’re supposed to be the custodians of the planet! I remember reading about Jeremy Bentham after finding the word “Benthamism” in the dictionary one day as a kid, and finding its definition intriguing. Bentham was apparently one of the first philosophers to apply equal consideration of interests to animals. The controversial philosopher Peter Singer put it beautifully, saying “our practice of rearing and killing animals in order to eat them is a clear instance of the sacrifice of the most important interests of other beings (y’know, like, say, being alive) in order to satisfy the trivial interests of our own (our tastes).”

Millions upon millions of animals are factory farmed every day, living short miserable lives before being killed so we can eat something we want, but don’t even need – the same principles of consumerism driving the meat industry on a greater scale than any other. What a waste. All thanks to advertising telling us to eat our meat and drink our milk because it’s good for us – in actual fact, a complete and utter lie.

I stopped eating meat at the age of 11, and haven’t looked back since. It seemed to me that nearly every meal was already a vegetarian meal – just with meat added to it! So, I simply cut out the bit of meat, all the while eating my favourites like pasta and pizza and, of course, chocolate! Where did I get my protein? The same place meat-eaters did – except instead of eating the herbivorous animals that procured protein from vegetarian diets, I simply cut out the middle-man! And the meat I’d loved the taste of (pretty much all of them) were just replaced with meat substitutes made from soy and stuff, tasting exactly the same and often better – every meat-eater I’ve known has said they’ve preferred the taste of vegetarian hot dogs, completely without that mysterious white ball you always find in regular hot dog sausages! What is that thing, anyway?

I grew up knowing that the meat industry stinks far more than a vegetarian’s fart. Though it was sometimes difficult being a vegetarian in the late 20th century, I still knew I had a lot to be thankful for. In Thailand, child prostitution had increased due to poverty caused by failing water supplies or loss of land after the West’s meat production leveled off and we stopped buying their tapioca. In Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, children starved as alfalfa there was instead used to fatten up cattle sent back to the West. And in South America, Amazon rain forests were being destroyed to make more room for fields of fodder destined for the West’s growing livestock population, belching and farting methane into the Ozone. The same kind of thing is happening to this day. It takes approximately 4lbs of grain to produce just 1lb of meat, meaning that meat is also a terrible use of the world’s resources.

The ramifications are immense: the meat industry through its stages of production is one of the largest contributors to climate change, doing more harm than all transport combined, and the planet can feed less than half its present population using a meat-based diet, whilst on a vegetarian diet nobody would have to starve at all.

All this, and yet so many so-called political thinkers and activists just dismiss this as an issue! This isn’t just about animal rights; it’s about human rights as well, as you can see. It’s about exploitation. Look at the multinational corporation that is McDonald’s, and their cynical marketing methods targeting kids who aren’t even told what they’re eating. My colleague, Ryan, even stopped eating at McDonald’s now, because he knows someone who claim they got syphilis from the sauce in one of their burgers (maybe there was a rebellion on the production line). But beyond corporate sabotage, the burger is deadly in itself, as Morgan Spurlock suggested recently with his documentary Supersize Me! Eating nothing but McDonald’s almost killed him. What does that tell us? If he ate nothing but stuff from the green grocer’s, he’d get healthier!

You know, we British people are used to getting everything long after the Americans invented it and patented it and sold it and consumed it. Whether it be microwaves or blenders, the 20th Century saw them get everything first, and for some reason it always seemed to take years for us to get it. Well, recently that changed. That’s right; we came up with something first! Heck, it was still the 20th Century when we got it, too, and they only got it two years ago! Ha, ha! Yeah, go us! What was it? Why, Mad Cow Disease™!

Doesn’t it make your chest swell with British pride? Our farmers were so hell-bent on making more profit that they fed ground-up meat to the herbivorous cattle, the cows got BSE, and some of us humans got CJD. But wait a minute! Doesn’t that tell us something? If we’re naturally herbivorous, too, then surely it’s unhealthy for us to be fed meat as well, right? Hmm. Maybe the coal and steel industries in South Yorkshire weren’t really that harmful after all; perhaps it was all that bloody black pudding and tripe and pigs’ trotters! My grandfather ate all that stuff. He was a miner, with black marks from coal cuts all over his body…but it was bowel cancer that killed him.

We in the West alone are the principle consumers of animal flesh, and we have half of all the world’s cancers. Even in the studies that took into consideration smoking and drinking and lack of exercise, still vegetarians were shown to be healthiest. The cancer rate in vegetarians is up to 50% lower than the general population (and don’t even get me started on the supposedly-frail vegans). It even took a hereditary disease to kill off Linda McCartney! Forget alcohol and tobacco products – what about meat? Why the heck aren’t there any government health warnings on animal products? Because clearly there really ought to be. Whilst alcohol and tobacco companies have been prevented from marketing their damaging and addictive products to children, a survey by Sustain in 2001 found more than half the commercials shown during kids’ TV are for food and drink, and 99% of these are junk foods. That industry, comprised primarily of meat-based products, spends over four hundred and fifty billion pounds a year on advertising in Britain, and about three quarters of this is spent marketing directly to children. McDonald’s have been the best at this, with clown Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar – selling one of the primary causes of heart disease and cancer to kids lured in through these images and free toys given away with “Happy Meals.” Makes your stomach turn, huh? What Ralph Nader called “corporate child molesters.”

In 1990, just two protesters – Helen Steel and Dave Morris – distributed leaflets outside a McDonald’s, informing customers and potential customers about the dangers of eating at the “restaurant.” McDonald’s sued the pair for libel, and – with Steel and Morris remarkably representing themselves – the case became the longest in English legal history, lasting the best part of a decade. In 1999, after McDonald’s won the case and Steel and Morris were ordered to pay £40,000 damages to the $40 billion company, the two refused, appealed, and took their case to the European Court, claiming the decision breached the European Convention on Human Rights Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression). The European Court ruled that UK laws had failed to protect the public’s right to criticize massive corporations whose business practices can affect people’s lives, health and the environment. The “McLibel Two” – a pair of ordinary working class people – won a moral victory over McDonald’s in what has been called the worst PR disaster ever for a corporation. I’m lovin’ it!

Meanwhile, Tony Blair was trying to appease those ordinary working class people by banning fox hunting, an upper class “sport” where people get geared-up in fancy dress costumes, ride horses, and chase exhausted foxes across the countryside with dogs which eventually rip the poor little buggers to pieces. Well, the old Tories weren’t going to let this happen, and New Labour were predictably compromising time and again in changes unnoticed by those working classes betrayed by Blair yet again. The Countryside Alliance held several demonstrations, the upper classes using their clout to get themselves to London in their hundreds of thousands and oppose the proposed ban on fox hunting, as well as complain about changes in the economy. But judging from their tweed suits, they haven’t exactly hit hard times. Forget the dreadlocks and dogs on string; polo shirts, pinstripe jackets, shirts and ties are the activist’s uniform here! The cheeky son of Bryan Ferry, Otis, was arrested for trying to get into the Prime Minister’s home. It amazes me how much of a myth it is that decency comes with money. But then what else would you expect from a group of people whose enjoyment is seeing something die a slow, agonizing death, eh?

Hundreds of thousands of the upper classes may well have been protesting in London. But the “lower” classes have them outnumbered statistically. It’s just much more difficult to organise anything and get together when you’re struggling to get time off work and can’t really afford to take any time off anyway. And that’s the real issue here, isn’t it? We work and rush around so much that it’s just much more convenient and cheaper to go to the McDonald’s Drive-Thru. But all it’s doing is accelerating our inevitable demise even more, not just as individuals, not just as a class…but as a race as well.

To quote Albert Einstein, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

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