Illustration by Matt Boblet

“People turn a blind eye when the clock chimes dinner time.”

There is a silent evil that has gripped, with unkind fingers, the whole of the United States in recent decades, spreading disease, wrecking homes and destroying rivers, land and animal vitality.

You’d think with such a large problem on our hands, we would have heard of more protests or backlashes against factory farming and the way meat is raised and produced in this country. Beyond PETA, we haven’t, or at least I can say that I haven’t.

Strangers on the street smile and wave to me as they bite into a hamburger, beef taco or slice of pepperoni pizza. Their actions contradict each other. One says, “I am a nice, open-hearted person,” and the other, them biting into tortured flesh, screams the opposite and makes their smile sinister in meaning.

Is this the world we live in?

Perhaps people are ignorant. With the way that factory farm corporations cover their tracks, I am not surprised. They do this by keeping photographers and reporters out of their “farms” so the average person can’t see the pain and torture that goes into making a seemingly simple burger. They also control every part of meat production, from an animal’s birth and upbringing to its death and packaging, running small farmers out of business. And they make sure that environmental laws are stymied in local legislatures so that regardless of the environmental damage their facilities inflict on land and rivers, they still get away with it,

Despite the knowledge gap, however, it is apparent to me that, generally speaking, people turn a blind eye when the clock chimes dinner time. For some, it is impossible not to. Who am I to say that everybody is at fault when there are families that live on little to nothing and are forced to eat the cheap meat that is served at their local McDonald’s?

And yes, factory farms prey on those and others, making use of their advantageous cheap prices and widespread system to disregard human and animal health and well-being.

But there are many people for whom finances have nothing to do with it, and when asked, will act in defense of their choice to eat an animal that was tortured. A defense I hear often: “What difference will it make if I don’t eat meat? McDonald’s will still serve those who will.”

The idea that vegetarianism or conscious eating (i.e. knowing where your meat comes from) will not make a dent in the mass production of meat is valid. Even I have a hard time thinking that I am making a change by buying only locally grown, “happy” meat. But when I sit around the table at dinner and my family asks me again why I eat the way I do, I know that in a small way, I make an impact by example.

Animal suffering aside, I’m surprised that people haven’t been outraged by factory farms’ influence on human health. Outbreaks of salmonella, swine flu and other related food poisoning epidemics seen on the news do nothing to stir human emotion for more than a short period of time. When I have children, I know that I will not be feeding them the diseases packaged up by factory farms like Tyson and Smithfield. They have the power to kill and still we surrender to them as if they were inevitable.

An appeal to the environment, although cliché, is also necessary here. Those who live next to factory farms will be the first to tell you how they ruin the land, air and water around them. There simply was never meant to be so many animals raised in factories rather than on actual farms.

Pig factory farms, for example, keep their pigs inside from birth until death in cages where they are unable to turn around and are forced to defecate on their downstairs neighbors for cages and cages below them. This excrement piles up, is liquefied and then funneled into a giant manure lake in the factory’s backyard, where it stinks for miles and miles in every direction.

Local legislatures have tried, to no avail, to stop the building of factory farms near homes, but factory farms are granted their right to property regardless of the environmental laws they break. Sometimes the large factory farm corporations would even rather pay for a lawsuit than stop polluting.

All of this goes relatively unnoticed in cities and large urban areas, where the disconnect is so great that people hardly know that chickens and pigs actually have personalities that are comparable to some pets coveted in our society. Can you imagine if our nation treated dogs the same way we treat pigs? Then, maybe, we would see some action.

I have bones to pick — not only with the corporations that have reduced the lives of animals to a meaningless, wasteful, torturous existence, but also with the people who stand by and let it happen, who even sometimes thoughtlessly encourage it.

I say it is time to make a solid effort to save the lives of our fellow creatures. We all know who the enemy is here. We are privileged enough to have voices and the ability to communicate, so now let’s use that power to help the powerless. It is possible to make a change, to cut our ties to a horrible system, but only if we work in numbers.