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     Most of us grow up eating animals without realizing where meat comes from and how it gets to our plates.  Meat is a funny word because it doesn’t tell you much about your food.  For example, what does a hamburger animal look like, or a hot dog animal?  Or a bacon animal?  Hamburger is really ground up cow and bacon is really strips of pig flesh and a hot dog is really a mishmash of dead animal parts.  When you think of food that way, it certainly makes a difference, doesn’t it?

    Some people think that the animals they eat were raised on farms where they lived their days basking in the sun, munching on tasty food and running around enjoying themselves.  But today most animals are raised on factory farms in dark, crowded, smelly sheds, usually unable to even turn around because there is so little room.   Their babies are taken from them almost as soon as they are born, frequently never allowed to play, stretch or feel the sunlight.

    Cows are branded with hot irons that burn a mark deep into their flesh so people can tell them apart.  They don’t give them anything to kill the pain.  Have you ever burned yourself?  Do you remember how much it hurt?

    To mark pigs, some people cut off pieces of their ears!

    Many pigs go crazy from having to live inside the smelly, crowded sheds.  Sometimes this causes them to bite each other’s tails.  To keep this from happening, people cut off their tails without any pain killers.

     Before they are transported to be killed, pigs sometimes get their noses broken with baseball bats or sledge hammers.  People think that this will keep them from biting each other when they are crammed into the trucks.

    Chickens, turkeys and ducks all have the ends of their beaks and bills cut off or burned off and chickens and turkeys have their toes cut off – all without painkillers.  People do this to keep them from hurting each other because they fight when they are crammed into tiny cages in filthy, smelly sheds.  It is not natural for them to live like this and they get all stressed out over the terrible way they are forced to live.

    When cows and pigs are taken to slaughterhouses where they’re killed, they’re often forced onto crowded trucks with an electric prod.  This is a big stick which gives them a very painful shock. Those who are too weak or sick to walk, are dragged by chains or pushed with bulldozers.

    Killings animals to eat kills us too!  The top diseases in the United States are heart disease, cancer and stroke—all of them strongly linked to meat.  Your chances of getting these diseases when you are older are very small if you stop eating animals early in life.

    Using animals for food is also very bad for the environment.   When land is used to raise animals instead of crops, precious water and soil are lost, trees are cut down to make land for grazing or factory farm sheds, and chemicals are used to fatten up the animals quickly and then end up in streams and in the earth.   Besides that, pigs and cows produce a lot of waste that pollutes the environment.

    People who don’t eat animals are called vegetarians.  More and more people are becoming vegetarians today because they don’t want to be a party to the cruelty involved in producing meat, they are concerned with the environment and their own health.

    Some people become vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) and don’t use any animal products at all – including milk, eggs, leather, wool, etc. They know that animal products cause great suffering to the animals.  For instance, egg-laying hens have an awful life – even worse than the chickens who are raised for food!   These hens are crammed into tiny cages – six to eight in a cage.  The cages are stacked on top of each other in huge factory farm buildings.  Hundreds of thousands of chickens live in just one building. The buildings smell so bad that you can barely breathe in them, but the chickens have no choice.  Many die in their cages because they can’t get to their food or because other chickens trample them.

    Male chickens can’t lay eggs, so when chicks are born for egg-laying, the males are thrown into the garbage alive or are ground up while still alive to make chicken feed.

Dairy cows also suffer terribly. They are forced to give much more milk than their bodies were intended to give.  They are given growth hormones so that they can produce more milk that they would have given during their entire lives in only 8 days.   They are hooked up to milking machines for hours and this is very hard on their bodies.  They have to have babies every year in order to produce milk, but then their babies are taken from them right away which is very upsetting to them.  They get worn out after only four years and are sent to slaughter.  Most of them become hamburger meat.

    As long as there are grains, nuts, fruits, beans and vegetables around, nobody has to eat animals.  You can start slowly by cutting down on the amount of meat that you eat, or you can change your diet overnight!  It’s important though that you replace the meat with other proteins.  To learn more about becoming a vegetarian, visit the Vegetarian Resource Group.   PETA will be happy to send you free information on becoming a vegetarian along with great veggie recipes.  You can even take the VegPledge and make a pledge to move towards a plant-based diet over the next 60 days.

    If your parents want you to eat animals, share your feelings with them and get some books on vegetarian nutrition which you can read together.  You may have to compromise, which is OK.  Eating fewer animals is a big help too.

    A vegetarian diet is healthy not just for you, but for your whole family.  Ask your family if they are willing to eat vegetarian meals once or twice a week.  Borrow a vegetarian cookbook from the library and volunteer to help prepare a vegetarian dinner once a week for your family.

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