Food for Thought and Thought for Food -Thesis Part 1
Everybody eats. Food is one thing, no matter who we are or where we live, that is required to sustain our existence. Human eating patterns have shifted over time, partly as a result of increasing technological advances. In the United States, changes in diet have been dramatic, particularly over the last century. The Standard American Diet has impacted all facets of life, from our personal health to the health of our nation’s children, the well being of members of the global community, the welfare of the animals that often end up on our dinner plates, and the state of the environment as well. The vast majority of Americans are engaging in eating patterns that are detrimental on many more levels than they might realize.
I believe that a care ethics approach is the key to resolving many of these issues. Care ethics takes into account the interconnected nature of our world, and the vulnerabilities and dependencies of those who live in it. Accepting that we are intrinsically linked to one another can give us a better understanding of how our actions impact others, and how we possess the capabilities to better the lives of others. A care ethic demands that certain virtues such as empathy and compassion be brought to the forefront of our decision making processes.
In this paper, I will explore how applying care ethics to the manner in which we eat can help change our society for the better. In Chapter One, I will provide a detailed explanation of the problems that are a result of our current way of eating in the United States. In Chapter Two, I will outline the theoretical principles of care ethics that lay the foundation for virtuous behavior. In the third and final chapter, I will apply the basic principles of care to the problems we are facing and discuss possible solutions, so that we might begin to move towards embodying a more thoughtful and compassionate society.
Chapter One: The Problem
What we choose to eat on a daily basis might seem like a simple task, one that revolves mainly around personal preferences. In reality however, what we choose to consume has consequences at many levels. These choices impact our own health, as well as the health and well being of our families. They impact other people throughout the world, whom we might not consider as being connected to ourselves. In choosing to consume animal products, our choices also significantly impact the welfare of farm animals and consequently, the environment. When we look a little deeper into the average American diet, and start to understand that what we eat is part of a process rather than an isolated event, we can start to uncover just how critical our food choices really are. In this section, I will provide an overview of several of the major problems resulting from our current eating habits.
When it comes to food, what we choose to eat has a significant impact on our health and overall well being. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans have adopted a diet that is less than ideal, and even dangerous when it comes to their health. The so-called “Standard American Diet”, or SAD, is rich in animal products, but shockingly low in plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. It is high in refined carbohydrates as well as fat. According to Peter Singer and Jim Mason, “a burger on a bun with a serving of French fries, followed by an ice-cream sundae and washed down with a can of cola, fits squarely in this American tradition” (Singer & Mason p.15). The amount of food that we consume, in terms of calories, is a problem as well. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the “average daily caloric intake increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000” (USDA). The leap in calorie consumption corresponds with an increase in obesity over the same period of time. The Standard American Diet has become so commonplace in the United States that most people don’t even think twice about it. The problem is, they should.
The United States has experienced dramatic changes in agricultural production methods over the last hundred years. Traditional farming methods in the United States revolved around the family farm, where one family was responsible for their own land, and the creatures or crops being raised upon it. Over the past century however, “periodic downswings in the economy have had major impacts on small-scale farming and rural economies, leading to bankruptcies and migrations… even with periods of relative prosperity and increased farm production, the number of small farms, along with midsized multigenerational farmsteads, has continued to decline, up to the most recent Census of Agriculture in 2007” (Gottlieb & Joshi p.27). In the late 19th century, industrial agriculture began to take root, and by the mid 20th century had quickly overtaken the traditional family farm. Huge farming operations began to monopolize the land, water supplies, and labor force. Industrial farms also began receiving government subsidies, which aided their ability to increase production. According to Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi:
By the 1950s, industrial agriculture had expanded its reach and established new relationships that further transformed the nature of food growing and production. New fossil fuel-based energy and capital-intensive inputs such as pesticides, fertilizers, and more advanced machinery, combined with long-distance transportation and more extensive marketing, helped change the face of agriculture throughout the country… Farming itself was reconfigured as an activity whose product- the food grown- became a type of industrial input for the increasingly processed, reformulated, and packaged end product. (Gottlieb & Joshi p.28)
Animal farming in particular changed drastically in the 1950s-1960s. Farmers who originally were able to exercise some independence over their flocks were essentially consumed by commercial agribusiness. These large corporations bought up smaller companies and family farms, and applied industrial farming techniques to their acquisitions. Traditional farming was turned upside down, and the end result was what is commonly referred to as “factory farming.” Factory farming is the most common method of animal farming currently used in the United States. The agricultural shifts we have experienced over the last several decades are in part a result of the power of commercial agribusiness, however the consumer demands of the American people also play a large role in why we continue to support these farming methods. We can begin to see why this is the case when we take a moment to reflect upon the Standard American Diet.
The adoption of the Standard American Diet is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the 1950s, our eating habits as a population were starkly different. During the Great Depression, food was a scarcity, and was treated as such. Similarly, as we moved into World War II, Americans learned there was great value in rationing food, and there was a greater appreciation for the value of food itself. As we entered the 1950s, we experienced a large ideological shift when it came to food. Not only were there changes in the way the food itself was being produced, but our whole manner of eating changed. Food became something innovative, and a strong emphasis on food being convenient and readily available arose. The popularity of the TV dinner and household appliances surged, and allowed housewives to “do it all” without devoting an entire day to slaving away in the kitchen. The emergence of fast food restaurants seemed revolutionary at the time, and they have rapidly increased in popularity ever since. Nowadays, it proves nearly impossible to drive anywhere without passing by at least one of these establishments.
The evolution of the American diet has been less than ideal. We consume higher amounts of nutrient-deficient and overly processed foods than we did in the past. Our brains have now become hard-wired to desire foods that are high in sugar, salt, and fat. According to Michael Pollan, Americans are now consuming a diet in which half of all calories taken in come from sugar, in one form or another. This has contributed to a dramatic increase in debilitating diseases amongst Americans; “While the widespread acceleration of the Western diet has given us the instant gratification of sugar, in many people- especially those newly exposed to it- the speediness of this food overwhelms the ability of insulin to process it, leading to type 2 diabetes and all the other chronic diseases associated with metabolic syndrome,” asserts Pollan (p.113). The prevalence of obesity has also risen. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 35.7% of American adults are obese; this statistic does not even include the number of Americans who are simply overweight. The American Medical Association provides similar statistics, recording that just 13% of adults were obese in 1980, yet the number spiked over the next several decades and hovered around 34% by 2012. Why is being overweight a problem? An individual who is overweight is not necessarily unhealthy, just as an individual who is thin is not necessarily in good health. However we do know that there is a strong correlation between weight and the risk for certain diseases: “Overweight and obesity may raise the risk of illness from high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, and breathing problems. As weight increases, so does the prevalence of health risks” (NHANES). Weight is just one component of the overall equation, a symptom of a much greater problem: the diet itself.
The Health of Our Children:
Recently we have begun to notice an alarming trend when it comes to our nation’s children. The chronic health problems that many American adults have been experiencing have started plaguing our children as well. At the Sixth Annual Pediatric Bioethics Conference at the University of North Florida, dietician Aurea Thompson addressed many of these concerns. Thompson pointed out that childhood obesity is a fairly modern phenomenon in the United States that is largely caused by eating patterns and family lifestyle. Many families who adhere to the Standard American Diet have created “obesogenic” environments in their own homes, that is, an environment conducive to excessive weight gain and thus health problems such as diabetes. Infants, children, and even many teenagers are incredibly vulnerable, in the sense that they are reliant on others (generally their parents) to provide for them. They are limited in what they can choose to eat based on what their parents purchase or what their schools serve up on the lunch menu.
When children do get to make their own choices regarding food, they tend not to make healthy ones. This is in part because children are very susceptible to marketing schemes, and are prime targets when it comes to advertising. This sends confusing messages to kids, as commercials rarely promote healthy foods:
Television advertising is particularly pernicious in this respect: convenience or fast foods and sweets, according to one study, account for 83 percent of advertised foods, while snack-time eating has been depicted more often than breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined. Clearly, junk food advertising is big business, and it has a significant impact: of the $200 billion spent by children and youth consumers: the four largest categories in sales to children are candy and snack foods, soft drinks, fast food, and cereal. (Gottlieb & Joshi p.70)
Some nations limit marketing targeted at children, but the United States is not one of them. It becomes quite clear that these advertising campaigns have a huge influence over what children want to eat. According to Gottlieb and Joshi in their book Food Justice, on average teenagers eat at fast food establishments as often a twice per week, making them the highest consumers of fast food.
It seems in our current times there is an overall lack of education when it comes to nutritious eating. If parents aren’t leading by example, and schools aren’t reinforcing good habits, it becomes unclear where children are supposed to glean this information. While adults have the ability to research what they are putting in their mouths and demonstrate purchasing power, children simply do not. Gottlieb and Joshi explain that many of our nation’s children are “overfed but poorly nourished”, meaning they take in adequate calories throughout the day but the food has little nutritious content. Therefore their bodies are being deprived of many of the essential nutrients that they need to function optimally. They also still feel hungry, even though medically these children would be classified as being overweight or even obese. The Standard American Diet, and subsequent marketing of the foods that fall within it, are to blame for many of the issues we see arising in American children.
The Global Community:
What we choose to eat does not impact solely our own health, or the health of our immediate families. Like a stone being tossed into a pond, our food choices create a ripple effect. These choices effect individuals on all levels, from those who prepare our food to those residing in countries on the other side of the world. Farming, whether it be plant or animal based, is tedious, time consuming work. The immense pressure put on farmers to produce goods at rapid speeds for little money takes a huge toll on them. Many farmers throughout the world are in debt, and their farms are being overtaken by massive corporations. This is devastating to these individuals, both financially and psychologically. In his book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World System, Raj Patel addresses the high rates of suicide amongst these individuals. Patel explains how widespread farmer bankruptcies in 1980s resulted in the suicides of many farmers:
The number of US farms had been falling for decades, while the size of farms had been increasing. Debt had been the singular motor both of the increase in farm sizes and for the destruction of farming families. In a bid to make the farms more profitable, and then in a bid to repay the original loans when the economy turned sour, farmers borrowed heavily, mortgaging the soil on which they worked. When the banks came to repossess the land, some chose death over the dishonour of losing land that had been in the family for generations. (Patel p.47)
Suicide might seem extreme, but it is very much a reality for many of these farmers, both in the United States and abroad. Traditional family farmers have very little control over their own land, as many of them have been acquired as contractors for larger corporations. As they have become enveloped in commercial agribusiness, they are seeing less of a return on their investment and output. Agribusiness creates a multilayered system, with multiple players involved on a variety of levels. As money is doled out at every level, less of the money goes back into the hands of the farmer. The government also subsidizes certain crops, such as corn, which allows the price of it to remain artificially low. It also deters farmers from producing other unsubsidized crops, such as fruit and vegetables, as there is little financial incentive for doing so. Although these corporations certainly have their own agendas, with money often being the bottom line, it is important to understand that they are acting in a manner that is in accordance with the demands we are making of them.
Our adherence to the Standard American Diet not only has a significant impact on the farmers who grow our food, but also the workers responsible for the processing of these products. According to Gottlieb and Joshi, farm workers are often treated as modern-day slaves. They tend to live in extreme poverty, work under extremely hazardous work conditions for low wages, and are treated quite poorly by their supervisors:
Mike Anton in an article profiling grape pickers in California’s Coachella Valley, states that when they are on their own, farmworkers share stories of being cheated out of pay, forced to skip a rest or lunch break, and even fired if they discuss these issues outside the fields. In the sweltering fields, farmworkers are often without drinking water or shade, a situation that has led to severe illness and death. Women farmworkers in these fields have been sexually harassed by their employers and have been too afraid to complain for fear of losing their only livelihood. (Gottlieb & Joshi p.20)
Many are immigrants who fear deportation for speaking up against injustices, and therefore continue to take the abuse. The exploitation of children in these situations is quite common; “Since 1938, exemptions in the federal child labor law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, have excluded child agricultural workers from many of the protections afforded almost every other working child” (Gottlieb & Joshi p.21). The hardship of physical labor on their bodies has created a slew of health problems for these children. Adults are certainly not exempt from these ailments either. In addition to back-breaking labor, exposure to chemicals and pesticides on these farms has resulted in illness and even sterility. Those individuals responsible for working in factory farm and slaughterhouse environments are subjected to psychological trauma on top of the physical hardships. Violence becomes commonplace, and workers become desensitized to the torture and death that surrounds them on a daily basis.
Branching out from the impact on farmers and farmworkers, the consequences of our dietary choices reach even further. Certainly there are some Americans that are hungry, and some poorer nations have wealthier individuals that are very well fed. However the obesity trends in the United States illustrate that many Americans are quite literally busting at the seams. This is in stark contrast to the masses in poorer nations who are struggling to obtain even the most basic nutrition. Patel points out an interesting phenomenon, that “the hunger of around one billion happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one and a half billion people on this planet who are overweight” (Patel p.9). At first glance this seems like a logical fallacy… how on earth could we have people suffering from issues of excess and insufficiency at the same time? The answer to this lies in the maldistribution of food across the globe. A 2011 TED Talk given by Josette Sheeran emphasized the destabilizing effects of hunger. One out of every seven people on the planet goes hungry on a daily basis: a staggering one billion people. Starvation is particularly rampant in the world’s poorest countries, killing more children than AIDs. Every ten seconds a child dies due to starvation. This is in heavy contrast to the excessive overeating that takes place in wealthier nations like the United States. It can be difficult to even see a link between the two, yet they are undeniably intertwined. Food marketing targets those that can afford it, and makes products available in places where people have the ability to purchase it. Thus we have an excessive amount of food available in wealthier nations like the United States. There is more than enough food on the planet to food everyone, it simply becomes a matter of reallocating it so that it’s available to those who need it.
Another problem lies in the production of the food itself. It takes a lot of resources to raise animals like cattle in a factory farm setting, as the animals themselves require a tremendous amount of grain in order to grow to a desirable size. Americans are funneling a ton of energy into producing the animals that end up on their dinner plates. Redirecting the grain used to feed cattle being raised for slaughter could feed the one billion people who are starving in the world. The process of factory farming is simply not a sustainable one, and shifting our methods of production and distribution could help put an end to world hunger.
Issues of Animal Welfare:
In order to keep up with consumer demands for meat, dairy, and eggs, we have continued utilizing industrial farming techniques in order to speed up production. Our consumption habits now sustain a system of agribusiness that did not exist a century ago. The days of farmers caring tenderly for their herds, hand milking their dairy cows, or gingerly collecting eggs one –by-one are over. Instead they have been replaced by enormous factory farming operations that have mechanized almost the entire process of raising and slaughtering animals. There are several trademark characteristics that are representative of factory farming. The animals are often confined to tight quarters, essentially living on top of one another. In some situations they are confined to individual cages, unable to even turn themselves around, and in others they are “free” to roam about, but with so many animals nearby they are unable to move. Their diets are shifted from what they traditionally meant to eat to one that is cheap and readily available (for example, cows that are meant to be eating grass are instead fed grain). Animals are often genetically engineered, and growth hormones are used to breed animals that are large in size at a faster pace. The animals are pumped full of antibiotics to prevent them from getting ill. Even their sexual behaviors are manipulated, with artificial insemination used as a means to ensure continued breeding in females, and castration used as a means to tone down the behavior of males. The conditions of these operations are generally quite heinous, and have been well documented by a variety of sources. Factory farming has quickly become the American norm for all types of land-based farms, including poultry farms, piggeries, cattle and dairy farms: “for each food animal species, animal agriculture is now dominated by the factory farm- 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle” (Safran Foer p.109). The process has even been adopted when it comes to raising fish and other sea creatures for human consumption.
One of the biggest issues is a matter of economics. “The core issue is the commercial pressures that exist in a competitive market system in which animals are items of property, and the conditions in which they are kept are not regulated by federal or state animal-welfare law” (Singer & Mason p.55). Because the demand for animal products is so high, it is imperative that animals are raised, slaughtered, and processed at lightening quick speeds to keep up with the market. The vast majority of processing facilities want to do this as cheaply and efficiently as possible, which unfortunately means animal welfare concerns are pushed to the side: “The real ethical issue about factory farming’s treatment of animals isn’t whether the producers are good or bad guys, but that the system seems to recognize animal suffering only when it interferes with profitability,” note Peter Singer and Jim Mason in their book The Ethics of What We Eat (p.54). Indeed money seems to be the only motivating factor behind the corporations that churn out animals at shockingly quick rates. The fact of the matter is these animals are sentient creatures, and they are capable of experiencing both physical pain and psychological suffering.
Poultry farms are notoriously infamous for their substandard conditions. Tens of thousands of birds are often confined to a single shed, where they are quite literally living on top of one another. The amount of waste produced by these chickens, in conjunction with the fact that they have little room to move about, poses significant health hazards. The way the birds have been bred over the past several decades has also altered their genetic makeup: “Chickens have been bred over many generations to produce the maximum amount of meat in the least amount of time. They now grow three times as fast as chickens raised in the 1950s while consuming one-third as much feed” (Singer & Mason p.24). Due to their rapid growth, the birds often end up immobile and even paralyzed because their bone structures are unable to uphold the amount of muscle mass they acquire in a short period of time. Because they can’t move, they often die of thirst or starvation in the shed, and their carcasses are left to rot among the living. Not only is this traumatic for the birds, it’s completely unsanitary and can result in widespread health concerns. Egg-laying chickens are subjected to conditions just as damaging as birds bred for meat are.
The conditions of massive piggeries are not much better. As Jonathan Safran Foer points out, pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures, right on par with dogs. Dogs are pets that we lovingly care for, and they reward us with their companionship. In the United States, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to eat a dog; eating pork however is not out of the ordinary. When it comes to the treatment of dogs, acting in an abusive or neglectful manner can land you behind bars. As Singer and Mason address, not only are there no federal laws governing the welfare of farmed animals on the actual farms, but the majority of states exempt “common farming practices” from anti-cruelty laws. So it’s perfectly acceptable (according to our current laws), to torture a pig and then serve it up for dinner, regardless of the fact that the pig possesses every intellectual capability that a dog does. Raising a pig in a cramped, artificial environment is psychologically damaging. Plucking piglets away from their mothers before they are ready to be weaned is cruel in the truest sense of the world. “The contrast between the life of a factory-farmed pig- pumped with antibiotics, mutilated, tightly confined, and utterly deprived of stimulation- and one raised in a well-run operation using a combination of traditional husbandry and the best of modern innovations is astonishing” (Safran Foer p.165). Why would one choose to support a torturous farming system that causes so much unnecessary anguish when there are other options?
Like pigs, cows are highly intelligent creatures. Like pork, Americans love to eat beef. The conditions that cattle are subjected to on factory farms are marginally better than their avian and porcine counterparts, however that really isn’t saying all that much. Cows are meant to forage and eat grass, but this is not an economically feasible option when it comes to factory-farmed cattle. In order to bulk up the cows as cheaply as possible, they are fed a diet of grain. “Putting cattle on a corn-based diet is like putting humans on a diet of candy bars- you can live on it for a while, but eventually you are going to get sick. For the beef producer that doesn’t matter, as long as the animal doesn’t drop dead before being slaughtered” (Singer & Mason p.61). The cows are given antibiotics to prevent and treat the resulting illnesses, which in turn end up in the meat that humans are consuming. Similarly to the case for chickens, current industrial farming practices have allowed cows to grow and be ready for slaughter at a much faster rate than nature initially intended. Dairy cows, although initially spared from slaughter, do not lead a life that is any less painful. In fact their suffering might arguably be greater. Birth is what stimulates milk production in a female cow, like any other mammal. After delivery, dairy cows are forced into a constant state of lactation and given hormones to up their milk production, which often causes mastitis, a painful infection of the milk ducts. Sadder still, their calves face the potential of living very short, very tragic lives. Veal is considered a delicacy in the United States, yet it is the flesh of a newborn calf, separated from its mother at birth and confined to a tiny space in order to keep its muscles soft. Because they are dealing with the separation from their newly born calves, the mothers will often become agitated and bellow, crying out for their babies for weeks on end. The mothers of these calves appear to experience a true mourning over the loss of their offspring.
Industrial fishing has come to mirror many of the same dynamics as factory farming. In commercial fisheries, large numbers of fish are bred in captivity in order to meet consumer demands. In the wild, breeds are being pushed to the point of extinction due to overfishing. Safran Foer points out that often we see fish as being even less worthy of moral consideration than we do other species simply because they are very different in nature: “Fish are always in another element, silent and unsmiling, legless and dead-eyed. They were created, in the Bible, on a different day, and are thought of as an unflatteringly early stop in the evolutionary march toward the human” (Safran Foer p.30). Indeed many people will say they don’t eat “meat”, but they do eat “fish”, as if to say fish could hardly fall into the same category as other animal species being consumed. However fish, like the other animals mentioned in this piece, are not immune to pain or suffering. In a farmed setting, fish will often cannibalize one another due to the cramped environment they are confined to. Because there are so many fish in such a small space, their excrement pollutes the water, making it difficult to breathe and a breeding grounds for sea lice. The slaughter process for farmed fish is a painful one, as “often the fish will be slaughtered while conscious and convulse in pain as they die” (Safran Foer p.190). The lives of factory farmed fish are fraught with disease and pain, and the drawn out slaughter process only serves as an extension of this suffering.
Our adherence to the Standard American Diet is what continues to drive these factory farm operations in the United States. Animals are being inhumanely produced and slaughtered to satisfy the market demands of the American people. The corporations behind factory farming continue to use these production methods because they keep costs as low as possible, while keeping profits as high as they can. These big businesses are giving American consumers the products they desire at the price they want to pay for them, but it comes at a great cost in other areas, particularly that of animal welfare.
Environmental & Global Health Concerns:
Factory farming has a direct impact on the environment, and these environmental shifts have huge consequences for human health. Animals produce waste, this is a given. According to Safran Foer, “shit became a problem only when Americans decided we wanted to eat more meat than any other culture in history and pay historically little for it” (p.177). When you are raising thousands of animals in a space that was not meant to harbor so many creatures, the resulting amount of fecal matter is astronomical. And all of this waste has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, that “somewhere” ends up being our water supply. The fecal matter is often pumped into huge waste lagoons that are essentially pools of crap. “Conservative estimates by the EPA indicate that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in twenty-two states (for reference, the circumference of the earth is roughly 25,000 miles)” (Safran Foer p.179). Obviously this has had an impact on the creatures living in these toxic waters. Perhaps not as obvious are the effects that this pollution has had on human health. The families living near these factory farms have suffered devastating consequences to their own health, by way of both the water they use on a daily basis and the air that they breathe in. The airborne toxins cause both physical and psychological ailments, including sore throats, headaches, depression, and fatigue among others. When we consume products that are a result of factory farming, we are endorsing a practice that is harmful to human health.
Factory farming reduces the total amount of food available for human consumption, and ravages the land that it takes place upon. It would make more sense from a sustainability standpoint to raise crops for human consumption rather than putting that energy into CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations. According to Valclav Smil, an agricultural efficiency expert, “it is simply not possible for everyone in the world to eat as much meat as people in the affluent world now eat, because to produce that amount of meat would, in the absence of some unforeseen advances in bioengineering, require 67 percent more agricultural land than the world possesses” (Singer & Mason p.232). Factory farming has led to the deforestation of rainforests in certain countries, like Brazil, and cattle farming has put a huge drain on freshwater supplies. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, roughly one quarter of global freshwater is used for farm animal production, with much of it going towards the production of animal feed. Cows are also largely to blame for overgrazing, which is the single largest cause of land degradation in the world. As Singer and Mason point out, more environmentalists are now focusing on the issue of individual consumption, because it has such large consequences. According to the editors of World Watch Magazine, “as environmental science has advanced, it has become apparently that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future- deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease” (Singer & Mason p.240).
The issue of disease is a one of particular urgency. The cramped conditions of factory farms allow disease to run rampant. For this reason, animals are given antibiotics nontherapeutically; that is, not to treat an existing illness, but rather to prevent them from getting sick in the first place. The problem is that these antibiotics end up in the flesh of the animal, and when humans eat this meat, they are ingesting the antibiotics. Over time, people slowly build up a resistance to the antibiotics. This poses a problem when the person falls ill, and is unable to use antibiotics to treat their illness because they have built up an antimicrobial resistance within their own body. Should a pandemic like the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 occur again, there is a likelihood that antibiotic resistance would inhibit us from being able to treat it and stop it from spreading.
We can certainly begin to see how what seems like such a personal choice, what put into our mouths, has farther reaching consequences than we might ever have dreamed of. Because we are undeniably linked to one another through this ongoing chain of processes, it becomes crucial that we begin to address and understand eating from a different perspective. Safran Foer reflects upon the eat with care ethic, and a return to this might serve us well. In the next chapter I will provide an overview of the theory of care ethics, which I believe is the best approach we can take when it comes to deciding what to eat.