Spokesmen for industrial agriculture are fond of describing the benefits of their economy of scale. I’m sure Tyson, Purdue, Conagra, National Beef, Cargill, Smithfield, and other Fortune 500-ranked meat producing companies are quite jazzed about their bottom lines. After all, they’ve certainly developed the most profitable method of meat production on the planet.
For these companies and plenty of others, that bottom line–the profit–justifies everything else: the way the animals are treated, the impact on public health and the environment, and the fact that smaller farmers can’t compete in the same market. The bottom line is king (along with corn).
But a person or a company can’t be ethical by looking only at the bottom line. You can’t make all your decisions based on the final row on the ledger. So I’ve developed some new personal bottom lines to guide my dietary decision-making:
The animals I eat must be able to engage in their natural behaviors–grazing, foraging, mating, frolicking, lying down, stretching their wings, nursing their young, and all the other birthrights of every living creature. This includes not only animals that ultimately give their flesh, but also the cows that give milk and the hens that lay eggs.
The animal must come from a place I’d like to visit. (This one is courtesy of Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of Righteous Porkchop). A corollary is that the farmer or manager would allow me to see the animals and how they live. Getting anywhere near animals in a factory farm (and most slaughterhouses) is like being granted access to the double-double top secret rooms of the Pentagon.
I realize I’ve named two bottom lines, which doesn’t make much sense if one is supposed to be at the bottom. But maybe they shouldn’t be at the bottom at all, but rather the top, to guide everything that follows.