People generally believe they are not effectual as individuals when it comes to issues that are larger than themselves. Recycling your soda can won’t stop global warming, voting for Ron Paul won’t get him elected and donating $10 to charity will not cure cancer.

This is not necessarily apathy. It’s human nature to focus on immediate concerns rather than attempt to tackle abstract concepts. A low grade on your math test will undoubtedly rattle your world more than genocide in Darfur. This is how people are and there’s nothing right or wrong about it.

That being said, however, it is important to be aware of your world and to make sure the decisions you make from day to day are generally informed and responsible. These issues do affect you.

During a coffee date at Starbucks, a friend showed me an undercover video from the Humane Society of the United States documenting extreme cases of animal abuse in a California meat farm – sick cows pushed to slaughter by forklifts, dragged by chains and electrocuted repeatedly in attempts to get them to stand. The video is graphic and sickeningly disturbing, incorporating voice over narration over handheld shots of workers’ violent behavior. Intertitles explain California’s animal treatment laws as they are completely disregarded.

This video has generated a huge amount of controversy and news coverage. Downer cows, or cows that cannot walk due to sickness, are banned from the food supply. Yet the pathetic, miserable animals in this video had somehow passed the pre-slaughter inspection. The company in the video is one of the top suppliers to the National School Lunch Program. On Feb. 17, it initiated the largest beef recall in history – 143 million pounds. By the time of the recall, it was estimated that the majority of the beef had already been consumed.

Downer cows pose an unjustifiable threat to the food supply. Of the 15 reported cases of mad cow disease in North America, 12 were traced back to meat from downers. Another risk is E. coli – dangerous bacteria that can cause sickness and sometimes death. According to the New York Times, there were 21 beef recalls last year due to concerns about E. coli, compared with eight in 2006 and five in 2005.

This is obviously a major and rising problem. It is impossible to be unaffected by the footage of the mistreatment of these animals, but a common criticism about documentary films is that, although viewers may be shocked and angry by what they are watching at the time, very few will actually take the next step and get involved once they leave the theater.

But think about it. Probably no student at this school could answer where Aramark gets the meat he just ate in his Danforth hamburger. And, to be honest, there may not be that much you can personally do to change the way meat is farmed and slaughtered in America. You do, however, possess the not-quite-so-small power to decide what to order for lunch.

Hass is a member of the class of 2010.

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