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The Story of a Hamburger

by Maia W.

In the beginning, Angus the bovine thought he knew what hell felt like. First, it was hot—searing hot—when a metal rod pressed into his rump and a burning blade severed his horns. Then there was blood. A sharp knife ripped his scrotum, tearing his testicles from his body, and the excruciating pain lasted for days. He then watched helplessly as the North Dakota winter took the lives of over 90,000 cattle, including that of his mother. All this time, Angus stood cramped in a measly pasture surrounded by a cold metal fence, and endured the persistent sting of frostbite covering his entire body. He needed food and water and warmth and care, but there was never enough in his cold, cruel home.

After six months, the truck came. Angus was weak from cold and confinement, and stumbled over his hooves when a strange man corralled all the steers out of the enclosure. The man pulled a chain tight around Angus’ neck and dragged him forward. Left without a choice, Angus complied, and soon found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with the other steers in an old trailer that reeked of death. The trailer bumped and swerved and stopped then started again, causing Angus’ stomach to flip like a washing machine. When the time came to unload, Angus thought he was lucky that he lumbered out on his own, but little did he know that there were much, much worse ways to die.

In Angus’ new home, there was always enough food, yet its empty calories never seemed to nourish him. Confined to a stall barely large enough for his body, Angus had no stimulation, and therefore he turned his attention to the trough of feed in front of him. In it was a never-ending supply of corn and soy by-products, chicken manure, antibiotics, and growth hormones. The more Angus ate, the worse he felt. His stomach swelled with gas, constricting his lungs and making the acrid air even more difficult to breathe. Every inhale felt like thousands of pins puncturing his lungs, and every exhale was a despondent sigh. Angus suffered through millions of breaths, each one just as painful as the last.

Almost a year later, the truck came again. This time, it was a different strange man who shoved Angus into the trailer, and the ride was much longer. There was no food or water in the trailer, so Angus’ throat burned and his stomach growled. It seemed like everything hurt: whether from motion sickness or indigestion or starvation or confinement, Angus didn’t know.

Thirty-six hours passed before Angus limped out of that trailer and into a wide passage. The passage was crammed with cattle, and its cement sides loomed high above Angus’ back. Angus hesitated, unsure of where the passage would lead, but the torrent of cattle forced him onward. With each step forward, the passage grew narrower until its walls pressed Angus into a single-file line with the other cattle. One by one, the cattle disappeared into a grey metal box, and Angus didn’t know where they went after that. He heard banging, but didn’t know what that meant either, so he simply waited.

Finally, the time came for Angus to step into the box. Its cold sides pressed against his warm ones, and suddenly, a piece of metal swung upward and hit him roughly under the chin. Angus flinched and tried to shake his head, but discovered that yet more metal was squeezing his head tighter and tighter. Above him, a strange hand put a cylindrical metal object to his forehead. Angus wiggled and bucked, but to no avail. He couldn’t move.

Then, thump! Angus felt as if bolts of lightning had shot through his head and traveled all the way down his legs. He flailed uncontrollably, but the throbbing caused by his legs hitting metal was nothing compared to the fire consuming his every nerve. Then, the agony stopped, and Angus’ world went black.

If the bolt gun hadn’t rendered Angus unconscious, he would have seen the horrors before him. A line of cattle, hanging from a conveyor belt on the ceiling by their hind legs, stretched into the distance. Many of the cattle hung motionless, but some writhed and spasmed as a man ripped their throats with a large, bloody knife. Every worker wore a white apron stained with crimson and a face numb to the pain.

Unfortunately, Angus’ life had not yet ended. As if someone flipped a switch, Angus came back to his torturous reality. There was no ground beneath his feet. There was no thought in his mind. There was only warm blood waterfalling from his neck and the instinctual need to make this torment end. Just like countless other steers before him, Angus thrashed and bellowed. The more he thrashed, the more the rope yanked on his ankle and the faster his blood flowed. Eventually, his body gave out. For the first time in his life, Angus endured no suffering.

Angus lived for sixteen months. A hamburger may only take ten minutes to eat, but behind those ten minutes are sixteen months of suffering. With this knowledge, we have to ask ourselves: do the means justify the end?

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