The latest issue of Time magazine has a cute Pug on the cover. Underneath the headline reads: "What animals think. New science reveals they're smarter than we realize." It's an interesting piece that raises some important questions about how we treat animals as a society. Among the new discoveries we're making is scientific evidence that animals are conscious, meaning they are aware that they are alive. They experience life. They feel fear, pain, joy and love -- maybe not exactly as we do -- but the point is, they are not merely automatons that react to stimuli, they are individuals with their own unique personalities, characteristics, and quirks.
Now, for those of us who live with dogs or cats, this comes as no surprise. But what about the animals we eat? Does it change our perception to think of them -- the cows, the turkeys, the pigs, the chickens - not just as dinner, but as individuals, billions of individuals that are slaughtered each year?
When I became vegan a few years ago, I learned some pretty startling things about how the animals we eat become food. One of the nastiest things I became privy to is how hamburger is made. I think most of us have the perception that when we bite into a burger, it's just the meat from one cow, but the truth is, it's actually meat from hundreds of cows. That's right, there may be pieces of 100-400 (sources differ) cows stuffed in one hamburger. When cows are "processed" the less desirable cuts and scraps of meat are all thrown together into a texturizer, fat is added (up to 30% of hamburger is fat) and voila! Still lovin' it?
Now, if you go to the USDA's website on how to properly handle ground beef, you'll literally feel like you're reading a report from a CDC investigation. Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella are just a handful of the pathogens that can live in hamburger. And just so we're clear, infected meat from just one cow can contaminate up to 16 tons of beef!
But aside from the health issue, I just find something creepy about eating 100 animals at once -- 100 individuals at once. Imagine someone taking 100 dogs or cats and mushing them all together to make a burger for you. I wonder how many turkeys are in a turkey burger, or how many pieces of different animals are in, dare I even imagine it, a hot dog.
I know this stuff may actually taste good to some of us, but where, might I ask, do we draw the line? And why do we accept these Frankenfoods as American trademarks? I don't know about you, but I don't find any particular pride in hamburgers. Seriously, it's time to update this traditional American staple, peeps.
A local restaurant in Los Angeles, Hugo's, has an item on their menu called "The New American Burger," here is how they describe it:
An outstanding combination of organic sprouted mung beans, organic brown rice, assorted fresh vegetables, mushrooms, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, herbs and spices fried crispy. Served with onion, lettuce, tomato, Vegenaise and your choice of any burger toppings. This burger is "new", because it is more nutritious than meat and is a positive use of our agricultural resources. And most importantly, it's delicious.
Go ahead, read those last two sentences again. I'd like to add that Hugo's is not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. They serve meat, but they acknowledge the benefits of reinventing the American classic.
I realize that a majority of Americans, at this time, are not willing to give up their meat. But I'd like to humbly request that we at least think about the animals we eat as the individuals they are. That may become slightly overwhelming when eating a hamburger.
Follow Ari Solomon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/VeganAri