What the fuck
Some miscellaneous thoughts on the moral abomination that is factory farming.
Clunk. The grinder came to a halt.
The worker lumbered toward the old machine with a sulking pace. This was the third time the macerator had clogged in the past hour. It switched the machine off, and reached its gnarled hand inside to remove the blades.
Harvesting human meat isn’t easy. It’s a gruesome affair, but more strikingly, it’s boring. Humans are loud. They smell. And the harvesting process leaves a bloody mess — quite literally.
To Entities, the task is worth the reward. Human meat is a delicacy like no other, and they’re willing to pay the price to get their hands on it. It turns out that Homo sapiens flesh contains compounds that unlock a certain je ne sais quoi for an Entity’s complex palette.
The worker brought the large blades over to a sharpening stone on a workbench. After meticulously gliding them across the stone for a few minutes, the blades were razor sharp once again.
The worker inserted the blades into the machine, and flipped the on switch.
These old-yet-wholly-effective machines are crucial for lowering costs when harvesting human meat. Female humans tend to have higher body-fat percentages, and therefore are of little demand from Entities, who instead prefer a tougher, more muscular texture. As crude as these grinders are, they’re the most cost-effective way to dispose of female newborns. Burning young Homo sapiens alive tends to leave a stench in the air. Suffocating them with carbon dioxide is somewhat cost-effective, but grinding compresses them into a space-efficient paste, leading to lower disposal costs that are passed on to Entity consumers.
Being ground alive might sound like an unpleasant affair, but a farmed female Homo sapiens has it relatively good. It’s a somewhat instantaneous death, and occurs largely before any significant brain development. The pain of being ground alive is of course significant, but it’s typically all over quite quickly. In this case, mercy is relative.
Males do not enjoy the same luxury. Most males are in peak consumption form around ten years old. For the wealthiest Entities, prized cuts come from humans as old as fifty years, where the aging process adds a certain earthy flavour. These years are spent in small cages, where humans are packed densely together to minimise costs and maximise production volume.
Life in a cage makes death look blissful. Humans often have their hands and teeth removed so they don’t claw and bite each other to death out of stress. Anaesthetics add a disgusting aftertaste to Homo sapiens meat, so these procedures are typically felt in their rawest form.
The stench of rotting flesh and feces permeates the air of the large factories where humans are grown and slaughtered. Desperate screams occasionally find their way out of crushed lungs and vocal chords, though the typical background noise in a factory is a sort of monophonic cry. Disease runs rampant: studies have found as many as ten percent of farmed humans die of excruciatingly painful infections before harvesting. That sort of depreciation is a well-known cost of raising humans for slaughter — it’s cheaper than treating them or increasing the size of cages, and so it remains standard practice.
Entities have no desire for humans to live in these conditions. They aren’t sadistic. Occasionally, a glimmer of concern even flickers amongst the workers in the factory. But this compassion is often quickly dwarfed by a sense of indifference — Homo sapiens neither communicate, think, look, nor act like Entities. For all intents and purposes, humans are unintelligent vessels of flesh that have served economic and cultural purposes for Entities ever since their colonisation of Earth centuries ago.
After all, why would Entities care about a species so biologically foreign to them? It isn’t even clear to Entity scientists if humans can suffer as deeply as Entities can. For all they know, Entities derive more pleasure from consuming human meat than humans suffer during the harvesting process.
The worker, noticing the cries had quieted, shuffled back over to the machine. It reached underneath, and pulled out the waste bucket. After lugging the bucket over to the disposal hall, it returned to the machine to dump in a fresh crate.
I’d like to say I wrote that short story based on a morbid source of sci-fi inspiration. Perhaps a horror movie, a dystopian novel, or a fucked up nightmare I had as a kid. But I didn’t. Instead, as many of you probably noticed, I by-and-large copied the process of how chickens are churned through factory farms and retrofitted it with a weird alien species as us, and us as the chickens. How clever.
Though as far as I’m concerned, the unscrubbed details behind factory farming are as close to horror as it gets, fiction be damned.
Thanks for reading. If you also think factory farming is bad, you might want to hear my other takes.
The ease in which I used the practices of modern factory farms as inspiration for this story strikes me as a huge fucking problem. This might be a hot take, but if the industrial practices through which animals are slaughtered serve as acceptable fodder for a dystopian horror story, we should probably re-evaluate how we produce our food.
Ergo, three succinct words summarise my current views on factory farming: what the fuck.
Every year, trillions of sentient creatures are killed to feed us. Actually no, it isn’t to feed us. It’s mostly to make our food a bit tastier — we can easily produce enough plant-based food to properly feed the global population, and we can do so way more efficiently than we can with animals.
A large number of these animals have lives that probably are not worth living. I don’t say this lightly: they would most likely be better off never having been born.
Chickens are doomed to lives of suffering upon hatching. Since some male chicks are considered “byproduct”, they’re subject to a process known as “chick culling”. Chick culling describes the industrialised practice of disposing of chicks as cheaply as possible, often through gassing them, asphyxiating them, macerating them alive, or throwing them into bins where they are left to die.
Female chicks have it worse. Here are some highlights that I pulled directly from the report:
Most female chicks are mutilated without any pain relief.
To help prevent potential outbreaks of feather-pecking and other injurious behavior that can result from intensive confinement in barren conditions, tips of their sensitive beaks are seared off with a hot blade.
Hens are given less space than the area of a letter-sized sheet of paper in which to eat, sleep, lay eggs, and defecate. The intensive confinement makes it impossible for them to engage in nearly all of their natural behavior, including dustbathing, foraging, or nesting, the most significant source of frustration for battery caged hens.
When their productivity wanes, hens may be “force molted” through low-nutrient feed, until they lose 30-35% of their body weight — to induce another laying cycle.
After two years when hens may no longer be profitable, the majority are “depopulated,” removed from their cages, a process that can cause broken limbs in nearly one in four hens, and then sent to slaughter or gassed on farm.
At the slaughter plant, the birds are uncrated, dumped onto conveyors, and hung upside-down in shackles by their legs. In the United States, birds are typically not rendered unconscious before they are slaughtered, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not interpret the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to extend to farmed birds.
Shackled and inverted, their heads pass through an electrified water bath before their throats are cut, usually by machine. As slaughter lines run at rapid speeds (up to 8,400 chickens per hour), mistakes can occur and up to 3% of birds may still be conscious as they enter tanks of scalding water intended to loosen their feathers.
Of course, we can’t talk to chickens to ask them this, but a bit of introspection tells me that I wouldn’t want to be alive if I had to endure this sort of unfathomable torment.
You don’t have to be an animal lover to view these practices as utterly horrific. So if common sense tells us that this is wrong, why do we keep subjecting these animals to excruciating torture?
I don’t know. The number of people who agree that factory farming is a monstrosity yet still consume meat is larger than sense would imply. In so many cases, intent and action are divorced from one another.
My intention with this article is not to cast judgement on those who eat meat. I’m far from perfect. I only went vegetarian two years ago, and I think it would probably be better if I was strictly vegan, yet I’m not.
When I say “what the fuck”, it isn’t entirely out of a sense of moral disgust of others’ dietary choices. It mostly reflects my profound sense of confusion about how we have made so much moral progress as a society, yet still turn a blind eye to this dystopian engine of injustice. Every time I think about factory farming, I truly struggle to make sense of its existence, and how we could be foolish enough to let it continue.
I struggle to make sense of why two animal-rights activists who rescued sick and injured piglets faced years in jail for their brave willingness to act, yet someone who breaks a car window to rescue a dog in hot weather is praised as a quick-thinking hero.
I struggle to make sense of how baby chicks are dumped en masse into macerators, all for the purpose of shaving a few cents off the price of a carton of eggs. Yet if I asked shoppers at the grocery store whether they’d like me to blend a baby chick on the spot, or require that they pay a few cents more for their eggs, they’d choose the latter without hesitation.
I struggle to make sense of why a significant portion of those who do in fact buy the core arguments of this article will continue with the status quo of eating meat, as if nothing has changed.
I struggle to make sense of why society (rightly) villainises dog abusers, yet largely turns a blind eye to factory farms that subject billions of animals to sick and twisted torment.
Ahem. Pardon my rambling.
Believe it or not, I’ve learned to largely repress these feelings of confusion throughout my day-to-day life. I don’t find them to be particularly helpful for doing anything practical in the world. I’ve truly become utterly desensitised to seeing those around me flippantly eat the flesh of once sentient creatures. Anything else would lead to insanity.
One day our descendants will look back at us with a profound sense of disgust, as we do with previous generations’ repugnant moral practices. That is all but guaranteed. But until this post-factory farming era comes, we cannot collapse to the ground in a constant state of paralysing bewilderment. We can only try to do our part to banish this inhumane practice to the history books just a little bit quicker.
But how can we end this barbarity? In my view, the single most effective thing those of us in high-income countries can do is donate to highly effective non-profits working to improve animal welfare. Rather obviously, not eating meat is great too. If strict vegetarianism or veganism seems difficult, I still think reducing the amount of meat in your diet is a good first step to take, or eating meat that doesn’t cause as much suffering. And hell, if you really don’t want to cut meat out, you can still make a gigantic difference just by donating.
So um, yeah. What the fuck.
While this report primarily references the US, these practices are almost certainly used in many other countries. If you aren’t American, sorry, but you aren’t quite off the hook just yet. I’d encourage you to research your country specifically before making your mind up that your local agricultural practices are more humane than America’s.