As the vice president of policy for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I’ve had the great pleasure of traveling across the country throughout the past year, joining some of the nation’s top debate teams to discuss the ethical implications of eating meat. After more than a dozen such debates, one thing is clear — a vegan lifestyle is more mainstream than ever on college campuses.
Of course, this likely won’t be news to many Cornell students. Anybody who’s stepped foot in the campus dining halls lately has probably noticed something different — vegetarian and vegan food options seem to be everywhere. Indeed, whether they are working to combat the environmental devastation associated with raising animals for food or are simply outraged by the practices of an industry that refuses to make even the most basic improvements in the way that it treats animals, students nationwide are ditching meat, eggs and dairy products in favor of healthier, more humane cuisine.
Just this month, peta2 — the student wing of PETA — unveiled its 2010 list of the Most Vegan-Friendly Colleges in the United States. Vegetarian barbecue riblets, vegan Southwest steak wraps and dairy-free chocolate coconut-cream pie are just a handful of the hundreds of delicious and cruelty-free menu options that are now commonplace in dining halls across the nation.
So what’s driving this unprecedented demand for meatless meals? Well, as more and more students are discovering, animals living on factory farms and dying in slaughterhouses face abuses so severe that they could warrant felony cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were the victims instead of cows, turkeys, pigs and chickens. McDonald’s suppliers cram mother pigs into crates that are too small for them to turn around in, cram hens into tiny cages that cause their muscles and bones to waste away from lack of use and kill chickens using a method that guarantees that every year millions of birds will still be conscious when they are immersed in the scalding-hot water of defeathering tanks. Every year, billions of chickens have their throats cut while they are still conscious, and PETA investigations have proved repeatedly that sadistic abuse on the part of workers is the norm, not the exception.
As if that weren’t bad enough, across the board, animal agriculture wastes our limited resources by funneling them through animals who are raised for meat and other animal-derived products. For example, we currently feed more than 70 percent of the grain raised in this country to animals who are raised for food, rather than eating the grain directly. Similarly, nearly half the water consumed and 80 percent of the agricultural land in this country is used for livestock, when it could be used to grow food directly for human consumption. This wasteful use of our resources has a devastating effect on our local environments as well. Currently, farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. population produces, and much of this waste finds its way into our local waterways, including right here in New York.
These are issues that affect each and every one of us, so it’s understandable why there is such a thirst among students for active discussion on these important issues. My recent peta2-sponsored debates at Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, the universities of Texas and Georgia and many other major institutions have been standing room only, with hundreds of people in attendance at each, because students recognize that there is no harm in allowing people to see both sides of the issue so that they can develop a more informed stance.
In that spirit, I invite all Cornell students to attend the “Is Eating Meat Ethical?” debate at 6 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 29, in Ives 305. We plan to hold a robust discussion of the issues, and the latter part of the event will be dedicated to addressing attendees’ questions and concerns. All viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.
Bruce Friedrich is PETA’s vice president for policy and government affairs. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.