Mariama Taifa-Seitu,17, a senior at School Without Walls, is teaching this time by highlighting the controversial issue of factory farmed meat production. Inspired in her freshmen year by a video she watched about factory farming, she was hooked that the way she felt about fast foods would change. Her vigilance to bring attention to this issue never stopped.
“Before the video I never heard of factory farming before,” said Seitu. I wanted to let my friends know but they were not interested.”
Factory farms are a hidden aspect of food production in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, they are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. In order to maximize profits, they produce meat in high volumes, with scant regard for food safety, the environment, or animal welfare. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. However, with obesity on the rise across America, there have been issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable and ethical.
In her sophomore year, she wrote a persuasive essay on the controversial subject and read it in her class. “I saw some people making gestures like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Others who became impressed with the well researched topic asked questions about how animals were treated. “It was a shock factor.”
In her junior year, Taifa-Seitu’s activism went to a higher level after she read a book by Peter Singers called Animal Liberation. “I knew I had to do a project for my senior year and developed it even more by reaching outside my classroom.”
Taifa-Seitu's senior project was under the tutelage of Dr. Baruch El Yehudah, a health literacy expert, naturopathic educator, and owner of Everlasting Life Restaurant and Cafe. For a three month period he guided and encouraged her to use her project to critically examine and analyze the connections between meat production and consumption, and the promotion of sustainable eating alternatives that contain no threat to animal welfare or human health.
"I am extremely impressed with Mariama," Dr. Baruch said. "Most teenagers flock to fast foods. Mariama runs from the industry. For someone her age to not only extol the benefits of healthy eating, but to educate others as well is refreshing. Her senior project was exemplary, and I look forward to great things from Mariama in the future."
In December, 2011, as part of her school senior project, Mariama conducted a “feed-in” in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment on the District line, passing out free vegetarian food and literature.
“I chose KFC because of its continued abuse of factory-farmed chickens. KFC must stop the cruelty chickens suffer on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, including live scalding, lifelong crippling, and painful debeaking. KFC has refused to adopt animal welfare guidelines and change the way it treats chickens,”Taifa- Seitu explained.
At the feed-in, as a scrumptious alternative to fast food chicken, Tiafa-Seitu distributed barbecued and fried tofu, which she prepared, and vegetarian fried “chicken,” composed of tofu skins, purchased from DC’s Senbeb and Everlasting Life Cafes. The response of one passerby, after signing the petition and sampling the tofu, was a hearty “Yum!”
Numerous emails and calls were made to the KFC food chain to no avail. However, on its website it states that KFC does not raise animals and it purchases it poultry from several different farms. It did not mention the farming companies.
“Sadly, big businesses often use “animal welfare standards” as marketing and PR spin to keep consumers in the dark about how their suppliers treat farm animals.
Recent headlines have called out McDonalds and Butterball, both household food names, for being party to horrific farm animal abuse,” said Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization. “KFC suppliers torture animals, as many investigations have proven, and the company ignores its animal welfare advisers, four of whom have resigned in protest.”
Meat industry representatives disagree.
“The words ‘factory farming’ are thrown around loosely by people who don’t know what it means. It’s too loosely defined. Are they talking about practices on family-owned farms or other types? There’s such a wide range of practices,” said Janet Riley of the American Meat Institute.
Darren Williams of the National Cattleman’s Meat Association also agreed the attacks are unjustified. “We feel the term ‘factory farming’ is a pejorative term used by people with an agenda, who just fundamentally disagree with modern ways of growing food.”
Undaunted by the statements, Taifa-Seitu remained on her quest to make others aware of factory farm animals and products used by fast food chains to make higher profits. “I am a vegetarian and proud to practice compassionate and ethical eating for the planet, my health, and farm animals,” she said. “I want everyone to be aware of the fact that millions of animals are murdered every day for the sake of our taste buds, and as a nation we can stop corrupting our health and the environment by not supporting the meat industries. I know I can’t change the way America handles animal agriculture, but I can at least make a change in my community.”
Taifu-Seitu plans to attend a vegan friendly college or green school next year.
DeRutter Jones contributed to research for this article.