Student-led protest outside of McDonald's to help raise awareness about the suffering of animals coming from the fast food giant's suppliers.
One of the joys of being a teacher is seeing where students end up after they graduate from high school. In some cases, we’re lucky to have the teacher-student relationship evolve into one where former students start to get comfortable with the idea of teacher as friend, peer, or in a few instances, colleague. Today I was pleased to see that some of my former Social Justice students have continued to get active for others, in this instance, for animals within in the food system.
It is no secret that concentrated animal feeding operations are torture for animals, and while McDonald’s has led the way in the past with animal welfare reform issues, when you start calculating the overall good vs. harm of the fast food giant it is hard to see how anyone could defend them. They provide jobs, they operate more playgrounds than most cities, and give people a delicious convienent meal option, but they are also responsible for more environmental degradation, animal suffering (and human rights abuses if you consider slaughterhouse workers), and hefty waistlines than most other businesses.
In addition, I’m sure there are several children (and probably some adults) who are terrified by that deranged looking clown and his cohort of hamburger patch friends. Anyone who as seen or read “IT” by Stephen King knows what I’m talking about.
As today is Halloween, there’s reason to give people a good scare. We’ll be spending the evening watching slasher movies with friends, but there’s nothing more scary than the reality of the slaughterhouse, or the terror that slave children feel harvesting cocoa for those little chocolate bars being passed out across the nation. While many people will be applying some fake blood for theatrical purposes today, 2.7 million land animals will be killed for food, and close to 15,000 young boys will continue to endure forced labor, many who will be beaten and whipped on one of the 600k cocoa plantations in west Africa. That blood is real, and covers the hands of all who take part in these industries. Which is why one man even tried to prosecute himself for being involved.
Luckily, one of the other benefits of being a teacher is that I have the opportunity to help students explore these issues in the classroom. I feel hopeful knowing that tonight several of my students will be participating in reverse trick-or-treating in order to educate the community about slave chocolate, and others will be trick-or-treating for UNICEF in order to help children around the world.
However, if all of this serious stuff is too scary for you, at the very least you can enjoy these recipes for your left over pumpkins.
The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”
While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.
Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).
However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that thiscould be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.
While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?