Slaughterhouses. New York Times article misses the point.

Unnecessary suffering. Part of a miserable process that need not exist

Over a four-day span last week, I spoke to several hundred sixth graders at a middle school in New London, CT. (See links below for details). Prior to the presentations, I had been warned by a senior educator and colleague to stay away from delicate topics like animal suffering or the implication that we must never eat meat or dairy. God forbid that we should tell our kids what’s really going on behind the scenes.

The first class to hear the Food Math 101 message in the United States---at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, CT

The first class to hear the Food Math 101 message in the United States—at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, CT

So, I was a good boy and chose “sustainability” as my primary focus. Of course, I emphasized the potential for disease-reversing, whole foods, plant-based eating to lower our health care costs in the United States—but I also stressed that I wasn’t necessarily talking about a vegetarian or vegan way of eating.

Rather, I emphasized the maximization of “whole plants” in the diet—as a percent of calories. I told them early in my talk that if they were unsure about the correct answer to a question—that it was probably whole plants. 

The title of my presentation was Food Math 101. The overriding message was that we’d all need to add a lot of whole plants to our daily routine so that the numbers behind what we’re eating would enable Mother Earth to sustain our species. Since she has a finite amount of arable land, water and fossil fuel, we must learn to live within those natural and permanent restrictions to our lifestyle. And right now, we are failing miserably in three ways: The size of our population, the way we live and the way we eat.

Of course, the primary focus was on the latter—the way we eat. As I told those twelve-year-olds, changing the way we eat will be far easier to change quickly—and would have a greater impact in the near term—the next fifty years. To clarify, I showed those kids the “big picture” about the consequences of our food choices and didn’t even have to tell them about the miserable suffering of animals in order to make my point. And I do believe that most of them actually grasped that big picture.

So what has all of this got to do with slaughterhouses?

Our wasteful western diet is the number one driver of world hunger.

The other 4 billion people who cannot eat the typical western diet—there’s simply not enough land.

One word answer. Unnecessary. There will be no suffering in slaughterhouses if there are no slaughterhouses. Those sixth graders understand that there’s not enough land and water for everyone in the world to eat our totally unsustainable Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). They understand that if all seven billion humans on the planet tried to eat the way we Americans do—that four billion of us would starve to death.

They also saw a pretty powerful visual (see below) of the fecal waste material that is generated by our animal food industry in the United States—at the rate of 87,000 pounds per second or 1.37 billion tons a year. Those kids know that it just isn’t going to work for us to continue eating the way we do—the numbers behind Food Math 101 just don’t work.

Semi-liquid fecal waste on a dairy farm in the USA.

Semi-liquid fecal waste on a dairy farm in the USA.

What about health? Even if the American diet of meat & dairy three meals a day was healthy for humans, the numbers simply don’t work from a sustainability standpoint. Conveniently, it’s not healthy for humans—in fact it’s killing us and is responsible for driving $2 trillion of our annual $2.8 trillion cost of healthcare in this country.

Meanwhile, the good folks at the New York Times and the animal rights organizations are missing the point. They’re putting a great amount of time and energy into making living conditions more humane for the ten billion animals that we raise per year for our dinner tables in the USA.

Quite frankly, it’s distracting our attention from the underlying problem—we’re eating the wrong food for our species. If we start eating the right food, many HUGE problems associated with the food production process will simply disappear.

NY Times LogoNo doubt you’ve heard about the Ag-Gag laws springing up around the nation—making it illegal to report ANYTHING negative about our nation’s disgusting process of producing meat and dairy products. The article began:

IN 1999, as a writer for The American Prospect, I went into a slaughterhouse undercover, with the help of some rebellious employees. The floor was slick with the residue of blood and suet, and the air smelled like iron. A part of my brain spent the whole time trying to remember which of Dante’s circles this scene most resembled.

Today, under legislation being pushed by business interests, that bit of journalistic adventure could earn me a criminal conviction and land me on a registry of “animal and ecological terrorists.” So-called ag-gag laws, proposed or enacted in about a dozen states, make, or would make, criminals of animal-rights activists who take covert pictures and videos of conditions on industrial farms and slaughterhouses. Some would even classify the activists as terrorists.

The agriculture industry says the images are unfair. They seem to show cruelty and brutality, but the eye can be deceiving. The most humane way of slaughtering an animal, or dealing with a sick one, may look pretty horrible. But so does open-heart surgery. The problem with making moral arguments by appealing to revulsion is that some beneficial and indispensable acts can also be revolting. With gruesome shots of cadavers, a skilled amateur could make a strong emotional case against using them to teach anatomy in medical school.

You get the point, right? All of this debate about a process that need not exist—indeed one that WILL NOT exist one hundred years from now. I say, let’s not waste our time and energy trying to make slaughterhouses humane (as if that were possible)—let’s get rid of them.

Focusing on what we should be eating, not on what we''re trying to avoid.

Whole Plants. This is the picture I used to illustrate what we humans should be eating.

As for the health benefits of the S.A.D., almost every one of those sixth graders raised their hands when asked if they knew anyone with diabetes or heart disease. And they now know the two-word answer for how to get rid of both—WHOLE PLANTS.

We need to focus on the “blinding flash of the obvious” necessity of moving aggressively in the direction of whole foods, plant-based eating. Many years ago, Paul McCartney said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.” Well, they don’t have glass walls—in fact, they’re moving in the opposite direction, as reported by the Times article.

Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School of New London, CT

Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School

The Bottom Line. Let’s focus on the glaring necessity of plant-based eating—and how it relates to Sustainability and Human Health. Let’s put the slaughterhouses out of business.

So far, only a brief introduction to Food Math 101 has been shared with one grade in one small school in one small state of our entire country. What would happen if we began teaching some form of Food Math 101 in all levels of public education from K through 12 and college—in all fifty states?

Maybe Connecticut will be the state with the courage to get this started. One state senator, Mr. Andrew Maynard, attended my first presentation last week, and he is now taking steps to bring this crucial information to other schools in his district. Stay tuned.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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18 Responses to Slaughterhouses. New York Times article misses the point.

  1. J. Morris Hicks says:

    This discussion about our creator reminds me of the story of the middle-aged man who was swept off the top of his house and drowned during Hurricane Katrina. The first rescue boat came when the water was up to his doorstep. He yelled out, “Go away, God will take care of me.” The second boat arrived when the water was up to his second floor windows. Again he shouted, “Go away, God will take care of me.” Finally, as he clung to his rooftop, a Coast Guard helicopter approached as he screamed above all the noise, “Go away, God will take care of me.”

    The next day, the man was greeted at the pearly gates by St. Peter who asked, “What are you doing here? You’re not due for another thirty years.” The man replied, I didn’t want to drown and I was thinking that God would take care of me.” St. Peter sternly told him, “We sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more help did you think you needed?”

    Did you ever think, Mrs. Eshleman, that I just might be like the rescue boat or helicopter—sent by God to help get things back on track?

    • Nope.
      “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8
      Do not ask me, Mr. Hicks. Ask Jesus if your passion is the passion of His heart. He came to save the world. It is His world that He created. Truly seek his heart in the matter. Study his Word and talk with him. Nothing would delight him more than to share his heart with you.

    • Joanne Irwin says:

      Again, the Divine asks us all to be co-Creators with Her. When an injustice is committed, if it’s right for us, then we are called to take action. There are many modern day prophets, like the prophets of old, who are reaching out to mankind in the name of love to care for our planet, preserve our resources, and walk hand in hand with the Divine.
      I think of Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, the Dali Lama, John Perkins (a former economic hit man), to name a few – who have made a difference. They didn’t and don’t sit back and leave it all to the Divine. They serve. A very wise rabbi wrote – happiness comes when we acknowledge that there is pain and suffering in the world; when we belong to people, and when we use our gifts and talents to make a difference.
      Jim, your passion for health and wellness, for healing our planet, paired with your intelligence, writing skills, and analysis are appreciated and needed. Not to boost your ego – we need to remove ego out of the equation – but you are among a plethora of modern day prophets. Keep preaching!

  2. I gave this article a one star rating. But I would like to explain. I heartily agree with whole plant eating. Feel better myself when eating that way and am working toward bringing my family to a whole food diet. However, telling children that one way we are failing at “miserably” in “sustaining this planet is the “size of our population” fill me with such righteous anger that I am literally shaking as I type this reply. Which, dear sir, of these children would you say was burdening our planet? What a horribly thought to put in a child’s mind. So, according to statistics, the number of these middle school children that you spoke to, who will consider suicide in their teen years can remember you referring to too many people on the planet anyway!
    We, the people, are NOT the ultimate sustainers of this planet. Let us remember, not one of us put the stars and planets in their place. Not one of us keeps the sun rising and setting each day. Not one of us can control the coming and going of the rains. Only God is the sustainer of all these things. He sustained a nation in the wilderness for 40 years without them sowing one seed. He fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. And he never said once that there was a population problem. I invite you to study how God views on the “big picture” on this issue. You might find how precious you and each one of the people on this planet are to him.

    • J. Morris Hicks says:

      Thank you for your comment. As a Christian, I have trouble believing that God is pleased with what the human species has done in the past two hundred years. It took us 199,800 years to reach the one billion mark. Since then, we’ve added another six billion—in a mere “blink” in the eye of history. And as our numbers swelled and our food preferences changed, we’re now well on our way to a very serious world hunger problem. And I believe the more people understand this big picture, the better. I recommend that you visit my video tab and take a look at two powerful movies this coming Sunday afternoon: HOME and Earthlings. They might help put things into perspective for you. God bless you.

      • That is where we differ Mr. Hicks. The Genesis account shows the earth to be about 6,000 thousand years old. Man has existed since day six. GOD’s directive was “multiply, and fill the earth”. I think he is quite pleased with how we have done. As I have said, study God’s perspective on the “big issue”. “World Hunger” is a scare tactic of the devil. We begin to not trust God and think we have to take charge and do something because God must not be big enough. Again, he fed an ENTIRE nation for 40 years without them sowing one seed. Ask God to show you the truth in that. He will reveal it to you.
        Yes, there will always be hungry people in the world. Jesus told us to feed the hungry. NOT reduce the population! That way we do not become so self centered, can understand compassion, and be grateful for what we do have.
        Research the people who are helping others plant gardens, and grow crops to feed themselves and others. You will see they are working side by side with poor and hungry, building relationships, and showing them there are people AND a God who cares about them. Go out among them Mr. Hicks, and see the ones bringing true hope.
        Blessing to you.

      • Joanne Irwin says:

        Having just read Mrs. Eshleman’s response in which she outlined her belief that the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old, I find myself both chuckling, angered, and befuddled. I understand that there are groups of individuals who adhere to these Fundamentalist opinions. We are all entitled to a personal opinion. However, when personal opinion is mined as fact, then something is wrong. Check with any credible scientist, geologist and/or anthropologist. I feel sad for people who seem to cling to dualist thinking. They’ve lost their mythic consciousness. Mythic and mature religions, according to Father Richard Rohr in his masterpiece, “Falling Upward”, can understand and process events like love, death, suffering. How nice for those who believe that God – Divine Creator, Force of Love – what you perceive the Creator to be, will take care of everything. We can sit back and in our elitist stance, abuse, consume, and rape the land. That’s fine. God will heal and fix.
        That thinking, in my mind, is nothing but immature, stinking thinking that has its roots in immature religion, and is totally devoid of anything akin to real spiritual development.
        We can learn much from our Native American brothers and sisters who taught that every thing, animate and inanimate, is a gift from the Creator. The Creator gave us this planet and gave us the free will to either co-create with Him/Her. And, yes we are all called to co-create, not sit back and deplete our beloved Mother Earth of its vast resources for the benefit of a few. We have to take responsibility for our actions. We can either be co-creators with the Divine, and work to heal and correct the wrongs inflicted by many big corporations and individuals who are only concerned with their self-interests, and self-seeking and serving profits or sit back like the Eshleman’s for the world, and leave it all to God. What about the greatest commandment – love one another as you love yourself. If we truly live that commandment, along with the Beatitudes that say far more than the 10 Commandments, then we’d truly be enraged at how we’re squandering our precious resources; we’d be enraged that there is so much hunger in the world; we’d be enraged that the beautiful forests of the Amazon are being raped in the name of big business; and we’d get off our self-righteous derriere’s and do something.
        And so Mrs. Eshleman, you are entitled to your own opinions, but please do more study, advanced study and self-reflection, that will unhinge you and free you from the snares of dangerous Fundalmentalist beliefs.

      • I am replying for the sake of others who might read this. God’s directive was to multiply and fill the earth. I think he would be pleased. My God likes to work in the realm of the impossible. Nothing is too difficult for him. This world is passing away, his word says. But it also says He is making a new heaven and a new earth for those who will turn from their ways and follow Him. Therein we will find our hope for the future. God forbid we keep these truths from our children. Thank you for letting me know you respect other people’s views and opinions on this matter. It reminded me that what you are teaching is just that- a view and opinion. Please tell children this when you are teaching them instead of scaring them with speculations.

  3. CJ says:

    Great to have you back, Jim… excellent posts this weekend. We’re rooting for you!

  4. Frank says:

    Jim, great work with the kids… Did you hear recently about the actor Ryan Gosling urging dairy milk producers to stop de-horning cows and instead breeding hornless cows? This is to protect the cows and handlers in close factory farm operations. He too is just not getting the root of the problem- a better idea would be to stop factory farming cows and stop drinking cow’s milk! Not sure if he is vegan or vegetarian or a meat eater.

    But, I do thank Ryan Gosling for standing up for animals, I just wish he would see the root problem and address it instead.
    Here is a link to an article with his actual letter addressed to the CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation–cow-dehorning-letter-peta_n_3010066.html

  5. Bernadine T. Shea says:

    Jim, I congratulate you for your presentation to these youngsters in New London! My only
    wish is that more Americans (all ages) would be open to receiving this information and taking action to reduce our health care costs and improve the quality of their health! Thank you for
    making a difference! Bernadine

  6. james shea says:

    interesting article– do not necessarily agree with all you write but agree that more veggies less meat is a good beginning- change does not come quickly but you have planted a seed with these children and all who red this article. thanks

  7. Linda says:

    It makes me very happy that you had the opportunity to do this. Informed children are our best hope, I think.

  8. MikeR says:

    The United Church of Christ is doing a denomination-wide program called Mission 4/1 Earth. I think UCC folks need to hear your presentation. I bet there are more than a few UCC congregations in your area. I’ll send this blog post to the folks at my wife’s congregation who are organizing their Mission 4/1 Earth program.

  9. Sal Liggieri says:


    Powerful presentation.

    It would be interesting to know what these children ate that night at home. And what if none of them made any changes. Then would there be any hope for the future of the world?

    Sal Liggieri

  10. Joanne Irwin says:

    Sounded like a fabulous experience, Jim. Teaching the future leaders of tomorrow is necessary today. We must teach our children about sustainability, empathy, truth, justice, and, HEALTH! Do hope your State Senator makes some headway. Keep us posted!

    • Joann, you assume so much about me from one statement. I said nothing about being against taking care of God’s creation. In Genesis he tells us to rule over it. Being from God it must mean to do so in a wise manner. I am however against teaching that “there are too many people in the world for God to care for so let’s see what we can do to fix the problem” that God himself doesn’t view as a problem. He tells us to feed the hungry, care for the sick and lowly. That is loving one another. NOT seeing how we can reduce the population.

      • Joann, I studied a little more of what you wrote and did some reflecting.
        you wrote…
        “What about the greatest commandment – love one another as you love yourself. If we truly live that commandment, along with the Beatitudes that say far more than the 10 Commandments, then we’d truly be enraged at how we’re squandering our precious resources”…
        My reflection…it’s been said our most precious resource is our children. Yes, it enrages me that our children are squandered away in abortion clinics and their mothers are left
        emotionally wounded. I could get more involved with the local crisis pregnancy center.
        You wrote..”we’d be enraged that there is so much hunger in the world…”
        I wonder how small non profit organizations can feed, clothe, and educate so many with such a small amount of dollars. Yet, big, corporate -like organizations receive enough dollars to feed millions yet I cannot figure out where their dollars are going. Guess I’ll give where I see someone making a difference.
        You wrote…”we’d be enraged that the beautiful forests of the Amazon are being raped in the name of big business…”
        Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Lord, I never thought about praying for people in these businesses. Guess they could use it.
        You wrote..”self-reflection, that will unhinge you and free you from the snares of dangerous Fundalmentalist beliefs.”
        “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger,
        And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11
        Lord, help me to overlook being labeled. Pleased show us both where the dangers are in either of our beliefs. Help us both to seek you for all our answers.

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