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Family Farms, Factory Farms, and Meat on the Hoof
by Neala Schwartzberg

I firmly believe travel is broadening, exposing us to ideas, people, and circumstances we would never otherwise encounter. Sometimes that makes for discomfort.

Confession: I eat meat. I consider it to be a moral short-coming and I’m quite certain I’ll be asked about it when the good and bad of my life is tallied. But in the meantime, I seem to have a very difficult time becoming a vegetarian.

I do however, buy meat from what I like to call “happy cows.” They were still slaughtered for my dinner, but at least I console myself with the notion that they weren’t tortured first. In part, this comes from the “broadening” effects of travel.

On a press trip last year in Colorado the vast flat prairies rolling outside the window for hours, we sometimes passed by family ranches where the cows grazed in pastures and lounged under trees. The scenes that you look at and at the same time smile at the bucolic tranquility. The kind you point out to the kids to see the moo-cows.

But as we rode along I noticed that the piquant but comfortable ranch smell was becoming quite strong, and soon, in fact, downright overwhelming and very unpleasant. “What the heck is that,” I wondered. I’m a city person, what do I know from animal factories?

Eventually the source was revealed. As far as I could see there were penned up cows. Nothing more than meat still walking. No grass, just mud with a small mat of dirty straw in the middle of each pen. And stench. I can’t imagine it would ever be washed out of the air.

Did the cows have enough room to walk? Yes, they did. But not by much. It wasn’t as packed as a rush-hour train but no animal could amble around and look for a good space to lay down. There wasn’t enough room for that, and there was no good place to lie down. Just mud and muck. It certainly became clear why factory farm animals need to be dosed regularly with antibiotics. All those animals had to be making animal droppings.

One of our media “chaperones” explained that even cows raised on family farms are often sent to these factories to fatten up prior to “finishing” — the euphemism for being slaughtered for my dinner.

Broadening power of travel has left me with new reading material; the fine print on the label on my package of beef.

Sometimes I’ve noticed the words “never” and “always” appear — “never given antibiotics,” “always fed grain” or “grass-fed” — rather than the meat byproducts used to fatten them up.

Of course it’s more expensive but when I’m questioned on my behavior I will at least be able to assert — I might have eaten them, but I didn’t torture them first.

Neala Schwarztberg is the owner of the award-winning Offbeat Travel and Offbeat New York webmagazines.

See also our previous editorials