Cities: Factory Farms for Growing People?

To make a standardized product at the least cost, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) crowd livestock into confined spaces and rely on technology and antibiotics to keep production high. Kelley Snowden uses images from CAFOs and our human "habitat" to ask whether we treat people about the same as we treat our meat animals.

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Looked at a certain way, cities are factory farms for growing people. Consider the pairs of photographs below. On the left, human “habitat”; on the right, factory farms.


Looking: From the play pen to the school yard, as children we are taught that bars and gates are nothing to be feared. Space is to be managed, broken into chunks of allowed and not allowed. We never question if we are the ones being kept in, or if it is the world that is being kept out. Only time teaches this lesson as we learn the nature of captivity and loss of freedom. 


Touch Screens: In our technological age resources seems boundless. We may touch a screen and interact with a game, text, or even a far away individual, but rarely with the person sitting next to us. 


Cows picture by gemma.lou
Food: We are the eaters, not the eaten. But beyond that, is there really that much difference between us?

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High Density, High Yields

Overcrowded living conditions, in-door pollution, polluted water, aggressive social behavior. These are characteristics of both factory farming and high-density urban living. 

The defining characteristic of the factory farm is “confinement at high stocking density.”  Such confinement “is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern technology, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. Confinement at high stocking density requires antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of disease and pestilence exacerbated by these crowded living conditions.” 

Using these methods we produce vast quantities of food animals to meet our unceasing demands. The animals are product, nothing else, to be judged by EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences) and carcass quality. 

Like our food animals we are, whether you like it or not, product. 

As a society we have “breed standards,” albeit in a much broadened definition. Our breed standards may not include carcass quality, but we want people to dress in a certain fashion, look and act in a certain way, and achieve certain things.  These are the ways we define quality (or if you like, success). 

To achieve these things we do to ourselves what we do our food animals. We pack ourselves in boxes. We confine ourselves to produce a standardized product. And when you come right down to it, in the end, we are all the same. 

Choices

Our food animals do not have choices. We make those for them. The far majority live out short lives in factory and industrial farms, and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).

Over the past few decades there has been a growing cry for organic, natural, grass finished, cage free, free range and pastured food animals. We know, deep down, to raise an animal in confinement is just plain wrong but we make excuses for it. The other methods don’t produce as much, the end products are more expensive – these are common responses to the call for “alternative” methods of farming food animals. 

But I think it goes deeper than that. I think the biggest reason we can’t seem to escape the factory farm is because we are the factory farm. 

Cities as Factory Farms

As largely  city dwellers, not only do we willingly confine ourselves in areas specifically engineered for high stocking density, we celebrate that environment.  Cities are said to be the answer – they are where things happen, from entertainment to scientific advances. The more people you have crammed in one space, the more likely we are to exchange ideas and make progress. 

Not only are we all packed in a high-density environment, we like our amenties packaged and standardized.  

When we go to a McDonalds, no matter the location, we know the food we will be the same and taste the same. When we go to a Starbucks, we can rest assured that when we order that white chocolate mocha, no matter in Los Angeles, California,  or Longview, Texas, it will taste the same. 

Sure we celebrate the different, like the small neighborhood café or that uniquely Bohemian bistro, but mostly we live, eat, shop, and die in boxes that all have the same contents. 

Reflect

Taking all this in, one reason we may be hesitant to change the way we produce our food animals via the factory farm is because, if we recognize this as a problem, we must recognize the problem in ourselves. 

No one should live their lives in confinement, not our food animals, not us.  

In the factory farm we see a numb reflection of our own lives devoid of even the smallest vestiges compassion and humanity, talents perhaps we have deliberately cultivated to survive and serve our urban jungles in our rapidly changing society.

But is this the way we truly want to live? Is this the way we want to die? 

Perhaps we should give these questions some serious thought. We might gain a better understanding of who we are and our relationship to our food. 

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High-Rise Living: A sign of wealth and luxury is to live in a high-rise condominium. We confine ourselves in expensive boxes with large windows to take in the view. The truth is our box looks like everyone else’s and the view is always the same.


Production: To increase our productivity we are given individual, identical boxes. Conditions are monitored closely to make sure we meet our quotas and provide good service. 


Beneath Our Feet: We spend our lives walking on concrete. To remind us that there is more to life than concrete, cities sometimes landscape the sidewalks with trees. Perhaps it is this appreciation of nature that we hope separates us from our food. 


Running picture by adwriter.
Outside:Life outside the box is experienced in deliberate segments of time. We go outside to play; we turn animals out on pasture. But eventually animals are brought up and we return to our boxes. Living our life on concrete and between walls, we look forward to the next time we will have grass under our feet, whenever that might be.


Herding: We willingly herd ourselves to our destinations, usually a new and different box.


Farm picture via USDAgov
Where We Live: We take special pride in our neighborhoods. Although we may not know anyone but our closest neighbor, and all the boxes look the same, we still espouse the idea of community. 


End Product: Having lived our lives in boxes, at death we hope to get an even nicer one. 

 

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