By Valerie McMurray – [email protected] – Staff Writer
UNC Asheville’s Animal Rights Organization paid willing students $1 to watch an exposé film on animal cruelty in the food trade following Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer’s official proclamation designating March 20 as “Meatout Day.”
“We’re hoping that enough people will watch this video and be shocked. This is why I went vegetarian. I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” said Carolina Arias, a sophomore who started UNCA’s chapter of ARO this year.
Students watched as small pigs’s testicles were sliced off, without anaesthesia, according to the film, and their heads where slammed against the floor and skulls smashed. Chicks were thrown en masse into a grinder or had their beaks sliced off.
Farm to Fridge is a documentary detailing the abuse and slaughter practices of farm animals in major food production facilities nationwide. The film was produced by Mercy for Animals, a non-profit animal protection organization that is making waves, not just for farms, but also among big brands such as Tyson Foods and Nestle-owned DiGiorno.
“It’s so easy in our society to ignore all the major problems that are underneath the fabric of our society. You can go to the supermarket and buy a package of meat that does not resemble at all the animal it used to be, and you can just forget about where it’s come from. We don’t want to let people forget. If you’re going to be giving these companies money, you need to remember what these companies do,” Arias said.
Mercy for Animals came under fire in recent years for undercover filming practices, which led Iowa agriculture leaders to push for legislation to ban the production and distribution of these types of materials. After NBC networks showed Farm to Fridge, Tyson Foods and other companies demanded their suppliers halt treatment of animals in the ways depicted.
Heimerman’s proclamation coincided with the eponymous annual diet education campaign.
Arias said ARO promotes the meat-free day for all the reasons the proclamation says, including dietary health, preservation of natural resources, reducing greenhouse emissions and preventing pollution of waterways by pesticides, but emphasized going meat-free is the consumer’s key choice in preventing animal cruelty.
On hand to support ARO were representatives from the Asheville Vegan Society and Full Circle Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit “lifetime home” for farmed animals. Kayla Rae Worden, its founder and executive director, said she hopes visitors like ARO, whose members volunteered at the sanctuary in February, will meet the animals and “fall in love.”
“Every person who chooses to go vegan, each year they’re saving 75 individual animals,” said Worden, who graduated from UNCA in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. “I think everyone deserves to know where their food comes from, and it’s kept hidden.”
Worden said she co-founded the original animal rights group in Asheville in ‘89 and has been involved in animal activism since then.
Frank Contreras, an Asheville Vegan Society member, said his eating habits changed after picking out the documentary Earthlings from a library.
Earthlings focuses on animal treatment more broadly as pets, entertainment and scientific research in addition to food production. Like Mercy for Animals’ work in Farm to Fridge, undercover filming techniques were also used to produce it.
Contreras said he broke down several times while watching it but he was determined to see it through. He was in the restaurant business for 35 years and said he battled guilt for a long time after he saw Earthlings, because he felt he had participated in animal cruelty. He became an animal rights activist then, and ultimately inspired Arias to reinstate animal rights activism among students.
“I want to tell people that this is an issue that they should really look into. I think a lot of people ignorantly go through life eating the American diet without really questioning the processes of how that meat gets from the factory farms to their table, and I think if they knew, they would question their meat-centric diet,” said Kelsey Gaffigan, freshman ARO treasurer. “I think it’s really important that people educate themselves in sustainability and animal rights.”