My first job was at McDonald’s, flipping burgers, assembling fish sandwiches, and deep-frying Chicken McNuggets.
I work for PETA now, and I’ve told my friends and family about our McCruelty campaign. I now hate McDonald’s, but back then, I loved working at the “Golden Arches”—here’s why:
I loved the food.
However, at age 16, I only thought about WHAT I was eating, not WHO. Although I considered myself an animal lover, I prepared chicken nuggets without ever thinking about chickens as individuals with thoughts and feelings. I didn’t know that cows have long-term memories and complex problem-solving skills or that these gentle animals lick one another as a sign of affection and mourn when they lose a loved one.
I loved cooking and preparing sandwiches.
But back then, I had never heard of factory farming. I didn’t know that chickens raised for food are packed into filthy sheds where they can barely move, much less do anything that comes natural to them, such as taking dust baths, foraging, or roosting in trees. I never realized that at the slaughterhouse, these terrified birds are shackled and hung upside down, their throats are cut while they’re still conscious, and many of them are scalded to death in the tanks of water used for feather removal.
I looked forward to getting free food every time I went to work.
I just never thought about hens on egg farms or the other animals who suffered for my meals. On my lunch break, I would eat sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddles. I never thought about the hens who were sitting inside cramped, filthy cages with hardly enough room to turn around or spread their wings or the male chicks who were ground up alive because they were considered useless to the egg industry.
I also didn’t think about the pigs who were slaughtered for sausage or the mother cows on dairy farms who have their babies taken away from them at birth.
I loved the beat-the-clock work.
But I didn’t know a thing about slaughterhouse line speeds (how quickly animals are killed and processed). I worked hard to keep up with all the customers who came in, but my “busy” shifts were nothing compared to what slaughterhouse workers—and animals—go through.
Killing animals is inherently dangerous work, but the fast-paced, filthy killing floors and lack of training make meatpacking an even riskier industry. Meatpacking workers are 2 1/2 times more likely to become ill or injured compared to other industry workers in the United States.
At the end of my shifts, I would throw away food waste and feel satisfied, thinking that I did a great job that day.
However, the food that I threw out was just trash in my mind—not lost lives and wasted resources. I would throw out an entire bucket of food waste every day, but it was just garbage to me. I didn’t think about the animals who had never had the opportunity to feel grass beneath their feet and who lost their families and lives.
I also had no idea that farmed animals—not people—are fed more than half the crops grown in the world or that switching to a vegan diet is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a hybrid.
I was making people happy by serving them cheap food that they loved.
But I was also feeding people’s addiction to meat, eggs, and cheese. These unhealthy foods are linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems. The “value” menu isn’t such a great deal when people have to pay for medical bills because they’ve eaten too many Big Macs and Egg McMuffins.
Now, I LOVE being vegan!
When I learned where meat comes from, the health hazards associated with eating animal-based foods, and the impact that the meat, egg, and dairy industries have on the environment and slaughterhouse employees, I went vegan. I now promote a healthy vegan lifestyle, and I don’t miss the unhealthy foods that I used to eat, because there are plenty of tasty vegan options available.
You don’t have to sacrifice taste to make healthy, humane foods. Now, I make my friends vegan sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches and veggie burgers. And when we occasionally stop for fast food, we choose one of the many restaurants that offer vegan options.