I’ll say this right away: I love cheeseburgers.

Eating a cheeseburger is like biting into a savory storybook of textures, tastes and time-told traditional American cuisine. It starts with the gentle poke of sunflower seeds on a shiny golden bun of Midwestern grain. Next, it proceeds to the oozy kick of fire engine-red Pennsylvanian ketchup and daisy-yellow mustard.

Then there are the sweet, sun-soaked Arizona tomatoes, the crisp crunch of verdant California lettuce and the gooey opiate of melted orange Wisconsin cheddar.

Finally, there’s the savory, char-fired brown innards of a Colorado steer raised by hard-working American cowboys who killed the noble animal after its long life of robust grazing on the steppes of the Oregon Trail.

Eating a cheeseburger is like listening to Bruce Springsteen on the Fourth of July — it’s triumphant, overpowering and delicious.

And I have chosen to never eat another one again.

It was a hard to choice to make, but the burger I imagined does not exist.

Those cows raised for beef weren’t brought up by hard-working cowboys on a ranch like in the movies. They spent their lives standing with thousands of other cows in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) covered in their own feces, being fed corn and antibiotics from a trough (aren’t cows supposed to eat grass?). They developed stomach infections from their diets and habitat, and their testicles and horns were cut off without pain relief before slaughter.

This is old news for many of us who have seen “Food, Inc.,” and know the stories of factory farms hidden somewhere in the West doing unspeakably cruel things to animals in order to supply our insatiable demand for meat at nearly every meal.

Yet most of us decide to do nothing about it. I was like that, too — until one day I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that system anymore.

Many meat-eaters think vegetarians are tree-hugging louts deficient in patriotism and testosterone. But can the typical U.S. meat-eater call himself a manly American simply because he heads to the supermarket and picks up the flesh of animals raised in terrible conditions like a CAFO or an industrial slaughterhouse?

They may be animals, but so are we — and eating them the way we do now reduces us to soulless, flesh-devouring machines.

I’m a 21-year-old, 80-mile-a-week collegiate cross-country and track runner who lives off beans and spinach and who can crank out a mean set of pull-ups after a 16-mile-long run before eating a big plate of vegan sausage patties for breakfast.

Reducing your consumption of meat a little bit can make a big difference in shrinking the pressure to perpetrate animal cruelty. You can also choose to buy grass-fed, humanely-raised burgers whenever possible, or eat veggie meat. Most of the newer stuff today actually tastes great!

While I do miss the taste of cheeseburgers at times, I’ve found other ways to make sure I still get all the protein I need and enjoy every bite along the way. I’ve said my farewell to the burger. Maybe you can, too.

David Roza is a summer intern with the News-Times in Forest Grove and its sister newspaper, the Hillsboro Tribune. He is a rising senior at Haverford University in Pennsylvania.

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