The Channel Islands have witnessed several environmental controversies of late. The most current is what to do with the non-native feral pigs that have roamed Santa Cruz Island for 150 years.
Also on the Channel Islands are 145 species of plants and animals found nowhere else, including the island fox.
Opponents to the pigs argue that the reproductively prolific pigs act like walking rototillers that uproot indigenous plants and ancient Chumash Indian campsites. The pig's offspring are a favorite meal of the Golden Eagle who also feed on the endangered foxes.
Bald Eagles are native to the islands, but they died out in the 1960s due to DDT poisoning. When they disappeared, the Golden Eagle took their place.
The idea is to remove the pigs that attract the Golden Eagles and reintroduce the Bald Eagles. A company from New Zealand was hired to eradicate the Channel Island pig population over the next couple of years.
Defenders of the pigs say this plan will never work.
Even if they are able to kill all the pigs, their carcasses will be left to rot, providing a veritable feedlot for Golden Eagles for the next several years. A lawsuit has been filed to stop the feral pig hunt.
There has been much energy, planning and moral debate over the fate of feral pigs. This debate and heightened level of consciousness illustrates how people have concern for the environment and taking principled positions, opposing as those positions might be.
So what is it in our culture that allows us to be so less concerned about how the animals we put into our bodies as food are reared, raised and slaughtered?
The passion surrounding the feral pigs debate is a healthy one, however, the ignorance, disconnection and indifference to America's factory farms is a sad commentary about our value system toward animals.
If you purchase a hamburger in one of the many fast-food restaurants in Santa Maria, don't delude yourself to associate the life of the animal you are eating to pastoral scenes of beef cattle grazing happily on oak tree-studded ranges on the Central Coast.
You are most likely consuming the remains of a dairy cow that was past her prime in milk production or born a male.
So what's the beef about beef? Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast-Food Nation," spoke at UCSB last year.
He talked about and has written in detail about how lax food safety standards are.
Schlosser presents data that indicates over the last 25 years, food-borne illnesses in this country have climbed to 76 million people sickened annually and 5,000 die of food poisoning every year.
Read "Fast-Food Nation" and learn about the meatpacking industry and you'll get a good idea what has gone wrong with this country's meat processing system.
Even if you cannot work up pity for the millions of dairy cattle, pigs and poultry that languish in cramped, unnatural conditions in massive factory farms, you should be concerned that around 100,000 Americans will be sickened by E. Coli 015787, which is carried in ground beef.
According to Schlosser, 10 percent of the cases are spread hand to hand, so even a vegetarian is at risk if they are in contact with someone who handled tainted meat.
We live in a very urbanized society, and most of us have become very disconnected to the sources that provide the food that sustains us. Many of us have dogs, cats and other pets whose love and companionship they provide are rightly cherished. In those relationships, we understand animals to be sentient beings.
Yet that same degree of consciousness we might find for a feral pig on Santa Cruz Channel Island or the love we share for the family pet seems lost to us when we cook a pork chop or order bacon and eggs.
That dissociation is neither healthy nor principled.
If you care about the environment, worker safety, the welfare of animals and the safety of the food supply, you owe it to yourself to learn more about the lives of the animals you consume.
At 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Betteravia County Government Center, the Santa Maria Peace Coalition will be showing "Peaceable Kingdom," a film about large-scale factory animal farms. I encourage you to come see it and talk about it after the showing. We just may look at the food we eat in a different light.
Cameron Miller lives in Santa Maria. He can be reached at email@example.com or 349-0146. Looking Forward runs every Friday, providing progressive views on local issues.