December 31, 2001 was the last time I ate meat at a barbecue in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. I celebrated new years eve with a bunch of strangers and decided that from now on, I no longer wanted to be a part of an industry that mistreats animals and makes people increasingly unhealthy.
I had just read Fast Food Nation, a book by Erik Schlosser on the American Fast Food industry, in which different parts of the industry (potatoes, meat, corn and marketing on children) are discussed. During my eight month trip, I already started to realize that the world is not nearly as nice as I thought, but the facts that I read in Fast Food Nation were loathsome.
Beside the fact that eating fast food is obviously not really healthy, and that they put a lot of stuff in it to make it taste good, the industry behind the food you can order at a fast food counter is disastrous. For example, all small potato farmers were bought by a large mega company that now owns the whole potato industry in America. And a similar thing happened in the corn business. Of course, it's no difference in Europe, where the French company Nestle and the Dutch-Britisch company Unilever hold the majority of the market.
If you think of fast food, you think burgers. Which are made from cows who have little or no space to move, who get to eat recycled food and, in the U.S., often carry the e-coli bacteria. The industry refuses to vaccinate all cows at once, because the costs of potential lawsuits from people who got sick of it, are lower than the vaccinations. These cows are being killed in massive slaughter houses, where the calculated time for the processing of one cow is so short that some of the animals are not well slaughtered and are often still alive when they are cut open to proceed to the next step of the process.
And it's not only the animals that are treated badly. The people who work in those slaughter houses (in America often illegal immigrants) are risking their lives by cleaning up dangerous machinery, working in unhealthy conditions and making long hours, which makes them tired and inattentive. The employees of McDonalds restaurants may join a union, but if too many employees of a franchise have joined, McDonalds closes the restaurant, only to rebuild a new one a hundred yards away. Of course, they only rehire the staff that didn't join the union at the new location.
I know that by not eating meat, I cannot save the world. And I know that I also, by the choices I make in the supermarket and in restaurants, am part of a large system that slowly destroys everything. But I am convinced that consciousness can lead to change, and that my decision, ten years ago, was a very small contribution.
There are too many facts and stories that show how the fast food industry works. In 2006, Schlosser made a film with the same title as the book, which was followed by Food Inc. in 2008. Watch them and at least realize what you eat, when you order a Big Mac.