The 12 Most Horrifying Anecdotes From NYMag's Ethical Eating Guide

Illustration for article titled The 12 Most Horrifying Anecdotes From NYMag's Ethical Eating Guide

The latest issue of New York Magazine includes an exhaustive list of foods—essentially, every kind of food—whose production inflicts a disturbing barrage of ethical, environmental and health disasters. Growing alfalfa, for example, gives farmers an increased risk of cancer; the meat and dairy industries are a rancid hellscape of animal abuse and pollution; some poultry industry workers, denied bathroom breaks, have resorted to wearing diapers. Oh, and pink slime is back, baby!

We’ve heard a lot of this before (especially if you happen to keep up with vegans on YouTube), but to see it all come together in one overwhelming map really subverts the notion that obsessing over food quality is a bougie liberal tic. It is true, however, that some of New York’s recommendations—for, say, avoiding parmesan cheese containing wood chips—involve spending more cash on higher-quality products.

Here are some anecdotes that made me want to give up and inject myself with a Soylent feeding tube (whose soy ingredients also contribute to the destruction of the rainforests, so never mind, I’ll just starve):

If there’s any fate worse than death, it’s living at an egg farm. Most hens are kept in cages with only about 70 square inches of space — causing their muscles to atrophy and their bones to go brittle. Rows, each holding hens by the hundreds, are often stacked four or five high; the feces and urine smells are nauseating; and birds die frequently, some from dehydration. Male chicks, meanwhile, deplete precious feed, so several disposal methods exist for them, such as snapping their necks, gassing them with carbon dioxide, feeding them live into a grinder, or (though it’s frowned upon) even suffocating them in bags.

Industrial dairy farms are basically gulags. The little calves are often taken from their mothers when they’re just a day old (and fed milk substitutes that include cattle blood so the mothers’ milk can be sold to humans).

Caviar comes out via forced gynecological surgery. To get a fish’s eggs, workers rip out its ovaries or perform a C-section, then sew it back up so they can repeat the procedure again and again, according to PETA.

Scallops try to escape. They can perceive danger, and imminent pain, enough to swim away from predators by flapping their shells.

Slaves harvested your shrimp. Thailand’s human-trafficking industry is now responsible for producing an enormous share of the world’s shrimp. Factories there essentially hold hostage undocumented workers from Cambodia and Burma, forcing them to spend their days peeling shrimp in humid, stinking sheds.

The rising cost of ground beef has meant an increased demand for “lean finely textured beef,” more commonly known as “pink slime.” The Pepto-Bismol-colored paste, made from pulverized beef trimmings, suffered publicity woes in 2012 when pictures of the product oozing out of a machine circulated on the internet. A few months later, demand for the product had plummeted. But just two years later, as the cost of beef began to rise, producers say retailers are back to buying pink slime.

To produce foie that lives up to the name (“fatty liver” in French), workers shove pipes down the throats of geese and ducks twice each day, force-feeding them up to two pounds of grain at a time. PETA reports that many of the birds ultimately have trouble standing because their abdomens swell so large. They’re confined to tight spaces, and it’s not uncommon for them to suffer from infections, diarrhea, heat stress, and lesions. And because only male ducks are useful to the foie gras industry, female ducklings are typically thrown into industrial grinders and used for fertilizer or cat food.

2 percent of hot dogs contain human DNA. And two-thirds of the contaminated dogs were “vegetarian products.”

Caged pigs are deprived of light nearly 24/7 to keep them calm. They also suffer the stench of ammonia from their manure and foot injuries from standing on a grid floor all day.

In Peru — now the world’s No. 1 exporter of asparagus — companies are expanding production by pumping groundwater away from the people who need it most — small farms and communities where tap water is now available only once every 10 days.

Farm workers are calling for a boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, alleging poor pay, wage theft, sexual assault, and sexism at two of the company’s suppliers.

Commercial beekeepers drive more than 1 million hives all over the country to track season crops,according to PETA, and these trips “clobber the bees with physiological stress, pesticides, diseases, and related disorders.” It’s also common to cut off the queen’s wings so she can’t swarm.


Included also are a number of extremely common, some might say essential items—wheat, soy, palm oil, quinoa, chocolate, coffee, tomatoes, lettuce, bananas, avocados—whose production threatens either consumer or producer health, local populations, and/or the environment.

Head over to Grub Street to read the whole thing, and for some helpful suggestions on what the fuck to eat instead. If you need me, I’ll be lying under my desk with a cold compress.

Image via Associated Press.

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`



It’s entirely true that “ethical” food is the realm of liberal bougie types, and the reason is a combination of awareness about food ethics issues and the ability to access and pay for more ethically-produced food. But I reject the idea that it’s stupid or snobby to care about consuming food that’s produced in ways that aren’t exploitative of farmworkers and our planet. The truth is that food is made artificially cheap in the U.S. (between agricultural subsidies and food prices that don’t reflect the true cost of human rights abuses, environmental degradation, carbon-reliant farming and food-transporting practices, and so on), and we don’t spend as much as we should be spending on our food (…,…). We also waste a shameful, appalling amount of food in this country (…).

Rather than dismissing concerns about sustainable, ethical food as bougie, how do we figure out how to change our food systems to make those foods more accessible to all?