By: Chaia Wyatt
Just as I finish my homework I hear my mother calling to me. “Amanda, it’s time for dinner!”
As I rush down the stairs I can smell the savory flavors that I’m about to devour. I walk into the dining room as my mother places a steaming plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes in front of me. I immediately dig into my plate of food, savoring every bite.
My name is Amanda. I am thirteen years old and I go to Tenaya Middle School in Merced, California Merced (1) is a small town that is located in the middle of California right where Highway 99 crosses with Highway 140 (2). Living in such a small town in the middle of nowhere, there is not much to do. Usually I just go to school and occasionally hang out with a friend on the weekend, but other then that I don’t really get outside of Merced unless on a trip. I am an only child and I live with my mom and dad. Both of my parents are realtors and show houses to people all over Merced County. Once a year in May we get to go to a realtor’s convention in San Francisco and see all the fun sights. I love when we go because I get to see what it is like to live in an urban city that is near the beach which is very different from my everyday life (3).
As I go into the kitchen to serve myself a second helping of meatloaf I glance at the recipe that my mom used which is sitting right next to the pan. I read the ingredients: onion, egg, milk, ketchup, bread crumbs, and ground meat (4). Sounds pretty simple and straightforward to me. My mom says it’s her favorite recipe because it’s so simple and the ingredients are so cheap (5). I don’t pay much mind to it and walk back to my seat shoveling down my dinner as I go. I then ask to leave the dinner table with the excuse that I have to go to bed early to prepare for my big field trip tomorrow.
The next morning I wake up easily, excited for my packed day ahead but I also have a slight stomach ache. I assume that it is probably just not digesting my food enough from the night before and go downstairs for breakfast.
“Are you excited for your field trip today?” my mom asks as she fries eggs and bacon for my dad and I.
“Yes, I’m so excited!” Going to school in Merced is not very appealing, given that we don’t have many places to go on field trips but as long as we’re out of the classroom I’m always down for anything. Today we are going to a factory farm right outside of our small town. I don’t really know what a factory farm is, but I’m excited to learn something new and hopefully it will be a fun trip.
After I finish my breakfast I grab my backpack and walk down my block to the bus stop. My stomach is still hurting but I try to ignore it and hope that it goes away by the time I get to school. I get onto the bus and sit next to my best friend, Hannah. “Are you excited for the field trip today?!”
“Not really. I don’t really want to go to a factory farm. They are so sad the way they treat animals.” I didn’t really know what she was talking about but I didn’t want her to know that I didn’t know what a factory farm was so I just played along.
“Oh yeah, I guess so.” We pull up to school and see our class waiting outside getting ready to go so we line up with the rest of our classmates to get on the bus that will take us to the farm.
It takes around forty-five minutes to get there so Hannah and I play twenty questions. Finally we arrive. It looks way different then what I was expecting. There is a big field with a row of six or seven long metal buildings (6). I didn’t really know what was in the buildings but it looked dirty (7) and not like a typical farm should look. “Hannah, what’s in those tents?”
“There are hundreds of animals in there”, she says. I was in shock. Why were there so many animals inside the buildings and why weren’t they just outside? How could they even fit in there? I thought she might have been kidding but by the look on her face I could tell she was nervous and sad.
We walk onto the land where the buildings are located and we’re greeted by a man named Matt. He introduces himself and tells us that he is a farmer and works with the animals. He says that we are going to go on a tour of the farm and he begins walking backwards while talking to us, just like a tour guide. He begins by explaining the structure of the farm and how the main “livestock” they produce are cows. We walk into one of the stinky metal buildings and see hundreds of cows all crowded next to each other with less than six inches of space between them (8).
Matt says, “We are known as an ‘Animal Feeding Operation’, or AFO, which means that we keep and raise animals for food production (9). That means that the meat you ate last night for dinner probably came from us.” I think about the delicious meatloaf I ate last night, juicy and flavorful, and then I look at the cows crammed right next to each other, with barely any room to even turn around. I raise my hand to ask a question (10).
“Why are they all so crowded and why are there so many of them?” Matt looks hesitant to answer as if there was something to hide.
“Well, we are a large scale production facility and we produce beef for people all over the world. In fact, Merced is the second highest grossing in livestock for all of California! We produce 388,791 livestock units per year (11).” He said that as if he was proud to be the one who treated those animals so poorly and then killed them (12).
As we went through the rest of our tour I was just zoned out, constantly thinking about those poor cows, stuck in a gross-smelling tent without any room to move around. I start feeling really guilty about the fact that I eat those animals and one of them could be my dinner tonight!
We sat down for lunch and Hannah and I were both really quiet. I didn’t even have that much of an appetite and decided not to eat my turkey sandwich. On the bus ride back to school Hannah and I just read our books for English class. I couldn’t even concentrate on it though because all I could think about were the poor cows. When we got back to school my mom was waiting for me in the car. “How was your field trip?” my mom asked.
“It was ok, I didn’t realize what a factory farm was and it was such a surprise when we got there. All those animals are bunched up in such a small area with no room to turn around,” I said, expecting my mom to act as surprised as I was. But she just nodded her head and acted like she was already aware of this horrible news.
When we got home I asked my mom if I could use her laptop to do some research for a school project. She said I could use it until dinner was ready so I took it upstairs to my room and climbed into bed to do some investigating.
The started by looking up “factory farms” and got a lot of results. There were pictures of pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and so many other animals crammed in small pens. I started browsing different articles and and got to reading about the many effects that factory farming have on animals and the community. I learned that not only do the animals have barely any room to move around, they are also greatly harmed. Chickens and ducks are debeaked while cows and pigs get their tails cut off while still fully conscious (13). I dug in deeper and found that factory farming also has many harmful effects on the environment. The US produces a million pounds of manure per day from factory farms and it gets put in a large pit that can leak and hurt other animals and crops. Cows, sheep and goats are also fed antibiotics that are hard to digest and produce methane which is a greenhouse gas that supplements global warming (14). The last thing I found before I went down to dinner was a video on the treatment of factory farm animals and the effects they have on the communities surrounding them. I learned that they have a higher chance of having cold-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny noses, and stomach aches (15). I immediately think about my stomach ache that had been bothering me all day. It worried me that the food that I love so much and eat all the time could be making me sick.
At the end of the video there was a slide that said “WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP” I paused the video so I would have time to read everything. It said that the minor things to do would be buying locally and sustainably grown livestock and crops (16). Some of the more major endeavors would be to completely eliminate meat and become a vegetarian or even completely eliminate all animal products and become vegan (17).
Just as I finished the video my mom called me down for dinner. “Amanda, it’s time for dinner.” I go downstairs to see what’s for dinner and we’re having pot roast, big surprise. Another chunk of meat that was horribly treated and is now in a pot smothered with meat juice and laying on top of a pile of vegetables. As we sit down to eat I tell my mom about the research I did and how I learned that there are factory farms all over the world that have horrible conditions for animals and we are the ones that are contributing to it by buying meat from them.
“Well Amanda, that meat is cheap and it is the only meat we have access to. It would be very inconvenient and expensive for us to try to get a hold of more sustainably farmed meat (18).” I was quiet. I thought about how much I wanted to change the way I ate and help the cause against factory farming.
“I think I want to become vegetarian,” I said to my mom and dad. They looked up and each other and then stared at me. My dad talked first.
“Well, if that’s the way you feel, we will support you.” I could tell that my parents didn’t believe that I would be able to do it, but I was determined.
The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed. I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. As my mom and dad ate their daily eggs and bacon, I opted for a healthier and more animal friendly breakfast of oatmeal and bananas. As I walked to the bus stop I felt happy. I knew that I was making a change that would not only benefit me and my health but also protect animals and stop the gruesome killings and horrible practices that occur in factory farms.
1)Tenaya Middle School is located on W. 8th Street in Merced, CA. It is dedicated to providing students with an effective, standards-based instructional program.
2) Merced County is located in the middle of California and Highway 99 and Highway 140 cross right in the middle of the county.
3) This picture details exactly where Merced County is and what cities it entails.
4) A traditional meatloaf recipe
5)Although factory farming comes at a large price for animals, many human meat consumers are thrilled with the reduced cost of meat.
6) Any factory farms look ominous from the outside, just being a row of metal buildings, but what lurks inside is horrifying.
7) Factory farms do not treat animals well and they have horrible living conditions. As a result, the factories become very dirty.
9) “According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AFOs are “agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations” and they “congregate animals, feed, manure, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.”
10) Animals are brutally killed and sent to be eaten by consumers.
11) Merced County is the second highest grossing for livestock production in California, with the only county before it being Tulare County, producing almost double the amount of livestock as Merced.
12) This map shows the density of factory farms in all of the United States. It has filters based on different animals.
13) These practices are called “de-beaking” and “docking.”
14) Many factory farms dispose of animal waste in large open lagoons which causes pollution and leads to global warming.
15) In a major study, residents in the vicinity of a large pig farm were found to have “higher reporting of headaches, runny noses, sore throats, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes.”
16) By purchasing locally, the money goes directly to the farmers who use sustainable practices to raise animals.
17) Many people who are against factory farming will argue that the best thing to do is become vegan in order to eliminate all animal products and avoid the harming of animals completely.
18) Purchasing sustainably raised meat is very expensive because it costs more for the farmers to produce the meat.