Archive for the ‘The Ethics of Slaughter’ Category
Civilization, to which agriculture is integral, is necessarily and systematically harmful to non-humans. This point was recently reiterated by Rhys Southan in a response to a post of mine arguing that omnivores have a added obligation to consider the ethical implications of eating animals.
The reason why his premise, which I did not originally acknowledge (but should have), should be taken seriously is that it raises a possible bind. After all, it has ethical vegans saying “don’t eat animals” while they continue to participate in the basic infrastructure of civilized life. And so the question emerges: can we say I don’t eat animals but I tacitly support developments that harm them in possibly more systematic ways?
It’s an excellent quandary to highlight because it suggests the potential inconsistency behind the seemingly untouchable idea that a decision to avoid eating animals is a selfless and morally superior choice. As it turns out, I think that it’s possible to draw a real distinction between the personal choice to avoid eating animals and our unavoidable (well, barring suicide or dropping out in some survivalist kind of way) participation in that collective inheritance known as civilization. Much of this distinction hinges on the degrees of separation between action and intention, as well as the extent of the consequences that ensue from our respective choices.
One relevant distinction between my choice to avoid animal products and my choice to, say, eat almonds that came from a plantation whose owners eradicated squirrels as a form of pest control, involves the relationship between intention and action. When I forgo eating a pig it’s not unreasonable for me to think that I have, as a direct result of my choice, helped save a pig from slaughter and consumption. Even if this one-to-one correlation is a self-serving (if not altogether false) mental construct, it nonetheless does the work of perpetuating my benevolent belief that it’s morally wrong to eat animals, and that doing so is tragically selfish and should be ended. To the extent that this opinion enters the world and merges with like-minded opinions on the subject of eating animals, thus shaping cultural thought in general, my decision to forgo the pig quietly ripples beyond my singular choice to become a force making civilization less harmful. Or at least attempting to.
When I choose to eat almonds instead of pigs, it could be said that I affirm the selfishness that I righteously denounce in the case of choosing to not eat the pig. In other words, that I, squirrel killer, behave inconsistently. But I can’t ultimately agree with that assessment. While one could argue that by choosing to forgo almonds I’d be choosing to spare the lives of squirrels, this position would miss the point that the primary intention of growing almonds (an integral act of being civilized) is not to harm squirrels. It’s to provide consumers with healthy plant food, ideally with as little suffering as possible.
Intentions direct future action. Almonds might now come at the expense of squirrel slaughter. But that’s just for now. Consumer support for almonds could easily become a force for positive change if consumers, perhaps inspired by the growing public disdain for the arbitrary but direct slaughter pf pigs, pushed farmers to pioneer growing methods that minimized and eventually eliminated the perceived need to kill squirrels. We’re innovative critters. Such a prospect seems a lot more reasonable than caring for and then killing an animal in a mini-system specifically designed to do only that: wreck the lives of animals.
There’s another way to distinguish between “eating animals is selfish and causes harm” and “living a civilized life is selfish and causes harm.” It has to do with the impact of these decisions on humans vis-a-vis non-humans. When you kill an animal for food we don’t need you necessarily focus suffering exclusively on non-humans in order to enhance the gustatory pleasures of the human (I realize this comment ignores the impact of slaughter on laborers . . .but most of them experience the pleasure of eating meat). The whole point of animal agriculture, whatever its form, is to exchange an animal’s death for human pleasure. Now, there are numerous aspects of civilization—conjure up any form of brute-force development—that devastate the non-human world, if only as an unintended consequence. But, as I’ll be the first to concede, human “civilization” per se is a bitch for non-humans. No doubt.
But—and here’s the critical point—it’s also a bitch for humans. The engine of civilization mows down the disenfranchised, be they human or non-human, with indiscriminate power. Consider driving, which is integral to being civilized (yeah, smug New Yorkers will disagree), and it becomes clear that when you drive a vehicle your chances of killing animals is quite high. But, with over 35,000– 40,000 Americans dying in car accidents every year, driving is no picnic for humans either. The unintended negative consequences of driving are experienced by humans and non-humans alike. There’s thus a parity of sorts in the dominant apparatuses of civilization.
Except when we explicitly jigger it to harm sentient non-humans in a way we’d never harm humans. That’s just uncivilized.
I think anyone who eats animals—and thinks about eating animals—is at least somewhat cognizant that the choice to do so is, on some level, an ethical one. Of course thoughtful meat-eaters are not walking around with their noses buried in Bentham, but they do, by virtue of being thinking meat-eaters, at least entertain the idea that there’s a basic difference between eating a pork chop and a piece of toast. A moral difference, no less. Put simply, for anyone who is honest with himself about the decision to raise and kill animals for food we don’t need, there’s a vague idea that eating animals under certain circumstances might very well be morally wrong.
It all comes down to the realization that an animal, like us, has interests—the most basic of which is avoiding pain. Because we cannot, as decent people, go through life thinking that our interests matter more than other interests simply because they are ours, we thus tacitly grant to other humans and many non-humans—basically anyone with an interest in avoiding pain and seeking pleasure—what philosophers call equal moral consideration. We may not even be aware that we live our daily lives according to this standard but, in most cases, we do. We often just call it the Golden Rule or some such and get on with the business of being decent folk.
Adherence to this fundamental notion of fairness actually requires a lot of us—and it structures the workings of everyday life. Notably, it means that if we are going to inflict intentional pain on another sentient being, we need to justify that painful act with a competing moral consideration. For example, when I affix a leash to my dog before walking her down a busy street, I surely cause a nominal amount of suffering. She hates her leash and is much happier left untethered. But of course I justify my decision to leash my dog with the competing moral consideration that, without that little torture device, she would dart into traffic and suffer far more serious harm, if not death.
That’s a relatively easy case. Where this scenario causes many meat eaters problems is when it forces them to highlight the rather unfortunate fact that the only competing consideration against killing an animal for food we don’t need is lame: our taste for the texture and flavor of that flesh. And, by any moral standard, that won’t cut it. After all, is it a standard you’d ever want applied to your own life? Or the society of humans you cohabit?
It’s for this reason that whenever I read contorted defenses for raising and killing animals I find myself thinking, “stop with the half-baked rationalizations and just admit you love meat too much to give it up.” I find this answer—I just can’t stop eating meat—to be far more refreshing than the pseudo-philosophical junk often brought in to justify the causation of terrible but unnecessary suffering. ”I know I shouldn’t eat meat but . . . .” strikes a more honest chord than “we evolved to eat meat.” Not that I agree with the “I can’t help it” assessment, but at least it doesn’t cheapen the importance of equal consideration of interests, which is at the foundation of leading an ethical life.
The looming nature of this conundrum—how can something as arbitrary as taste ethically justify killing animals?—may also help explain why so many consumers react to eating meat with such visceral enthusiasm. I know people who, at the mere mention of eating bacon, will veritably growl and twitch and say “mmmm. . . bacon,” as if there was something primal stirring in their gut. Nobody acts that way about broccoli. But it could it be that what’s primal is the subconscious effort to excuse ourselves from the moral standard we know deep down, as thinking meat eaters, we fail every time we eat animals? Could that expressed inability to stop eating meat be a way to avoid the conclusion that, to live an ethical life, we must do just that?
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The media fails animals. All the time. Tragically. Part of this failure boils down to the fact that it can. And part of the fact that it can reflects the reality that animals cannot speak for themselves, at least not in the press. You cannot, for example, call up an animal to ask his perspective on what it’s like to be owned for the purposes of commodification.
And so what the media does, as Dan Frosch of the New York Times recently did, is project onto animals stereotypical assessments that ignore the most basic tenets of animal ethology. To wit, as a kind of toss off remark, Frosch writes that a cow up for auction “stared blankly out at the crowd.”
For anyone who knows the first thing about cows, this is almost too much to take. “Blankly,” of course, implies without emotion or thought. It implies that the cow didn’t know what was up, that she’s just a clueless fat beast that we needn’t feel bad about killing and eating. But does anyone–I don’t know, say, an editor–ask Frosch to provide a source for the implication that the cow was clueless?
Of course not–that cow is just an animal and, as our blinders ensure it, the cow does appear to exhibit a “blank” stare. So we let it go and take another sip of coffee. And, really, what kind of average reader would think to question the portrayal? Thus the self-serving stereotype is further normalized.
The common acceptance by the media of this kind of projection is why we need to wage a war on how animals are covered in the press. There is, after all, zero evidence that there’s anything blank about the cow’s stare. To the contrary, that stare harbors a world of emotion, a universe of doubt and fear. Frosch could have, should have, in the future must, call someone who has a clue about cows to ask what’s going on behind that stare.
Until he does, we need to push back. Hard. A brilliant example of how this push back might work appeared the other day at The Dodo. Not to pick too much on the Times (although its reporting is chronically insensitive to the animals it covers), but after Stephanie Strom wrote a deeply misinformed article on the rise of humanely raised pork, she was taken to the woodshed in a very productive way by none other than a pig farmer, a man named Bob Comis. You can find Strom’s piece and Comis’ response here. It’s worth reading in its entirety, both to appreciate how dreadfully wrong Strom got the story, her sclerotic reason for getting it wrong, and the measured tone of Comis’ response.
I suppose if we went back into journalistic history we could trace a line of enlightenment in the way reporters wrote about minorities, the poor, and the disabled. Before How the Other Half Lives was published, for example, reporters described the tenement dwelling masses as dirty and lazy. Few questioned this portrayal because (and this is the insidious aspect to today’s animal coverage) it conformed to a set of unquestioned assumptions. People basically didn’t know to question the stereotype.
Today, of course, the media covers the impoverished with considerable sensitivity to the hard reality and perspective of poverty. We must start working to ensure that a similar transition happens with the way animals are covered. (And, please, if you are about to yell at me for equating the economically disadvantaged with animals, just stop it.)
This war is urgent. Right now, Chipotle is undertaking a campaign to promote “humane” farming through tactics taken right out of the Big Tobacco playbook. There will be more on this issue to come. But for now note that through “native advertising” the company is working under the “Farmed and Dangerous” slogan to establish a broad cultural pretext to support Chipotle’s rise to fast food dominance. When a company spends millions on advertising and never mentions its name you should be very scared.
This rise cannot be covered by the media without a consistent reference to the suffering experienced by the millions of animals that fuel the company’s rise into rarified wealth through both ideological seeding and burritos stuffed with animal flesh. We need to let the world know that this flesh came form animals who did more than stare blankly into space. And that those seeds are toxic.
Pasture proselytizers mouth the mantra all the time: they are allowing their animals to indulge their animalness. The pigness of the pig. The henness of the hen. The cowness of the cow. All that jazz. It’s a line that goes over well with consumers who, while perversely wanting the animals they eat to have been happy, are ultimately just interested in the meatness of their meat.
Beyond this disconnect, there are other problems with a pasture-based farmer thinking that the environment he’s fabricated for his animals will be experienced by his animals as natural. Call it the Joel Salatin impact. You provide space and let the animals loose, rotate the critters every now and then from one pasture to the next, take pictures on sunny days–and then call the arrangement natural and charge a premium. Write books. Cash in.
But what’s natural by human standards might not in the least be natural to the animals. For example, hens without access to low lying branches and dense foliage become stressed. Left out on a pasture without access to forests, their cortisol levels increase. They’re stressed. But that’s not what we see. We can’t see their fear. Most farmers don’t give a flying cluck–if they did they wouldn’t slaughter them. They just want the scene to look as it should: natural.
It’s normal for those who care enough about animals not to eat them to be chided for “anthropomorphizing.” But isn’t the decision to put animals on pasture, to uncage them, and let them roam under the assumption that “that’s what I would want” also due to a form of anthropomorphizing? If so, we need to defuse the anthropomorphizing charge by noting that anyone who thinks about animal welfare automatically anthropomorphizes. Moreover, after acknowledging that all welfare concerns come from an anthropomorphic instinct, we need to draw a distinction between thoughtful and selfish anthropomorphizing.
Thoughtful anthropomorphizing doesn’t require a Mensa membership. It simply requires recognizing that we would rather not be exploited and eaten while our caring killers profit from our death. And, in turn, neither would animals. Thoughtless anthropomorphizing, by contrast, is essentially shortsighted, self-serving, and, most of all, selective. And it’s driven by the fact that a farmer owns an animal for the ultimate purpose of profiting from her body. This interest in an animal’s body ensures selective and destructive anthropomorphizing.
The selectivity of pasture based anthropomorphizing is perhaps most evident when small farmers–who share their opinions extensively at backyardchickens.com and other similar forums–go to great lengths to anthropomorphically project a set of seemingly compassionate desires on their animals (they want space, warmth, companionship, etc) and then, at the same time, not only eventually kill those animals, but kill other animals that attempt to interfere with his anthropomorphic love.
It’s one of the most conspicuous cases of arbitrary moral thought you’ll find, but if you ever want to hear an fathomable depth of bloodthirsty hatred, listen to a pastured chicken owner express his feelings for raccoons, hawks, snakes, coyotes, and even dogs. What’s strange about this vituperation is the fact that one reason that animals are pastured is to approximate more natural experiences. Isn’t predation natural? And why should the anthropomorphic instinct not be extended to raccoons? What about the racoonness of the raccoon?
The upshot of these inconsistencies is pretty simple: a well managed pastured-based animal farm is a constructed environment every bit as complex as a factory farm. At what this means is that ethical vegans cannot be condemned for anthropomorphizing, but only praised for doing it with moral consistency.
Sensible people take climate change seriously. We do so because, in a vague way, we care about the planet and, in a less vague way, we’re troubled by the conspicuous ecological devastation that results from a world set on slow simmer.
One of the more troubling consequences we lament when we broadcast our concerns over climate change centers on the issue of species extinction. As a rule, reasonable people don’t like the idea of a species gasping its last breath under their watch, especially when the driving force appears to be anthropocentric. When polar bears come under threat from melting ice caps, we get upset.
This all seems mighty obvious and appropriate. What’s less obvious and appropriate is the self-serving distortion that happens when environmentalists inveigh against the anthropocentric demise of another species.
You frequently hear vegan activists argue that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist. This carbon-calculator critique holds water. But there may be a more fundamental way to confront the meat-eating environmentalist: challenge the way he conceptualizes animals. This must be done because, as matters now stand, the environmental movement rests its anti-global warming stance on a conveniently deceptive view of animals.
Many environmentalists indulge in a kind of eco-tourist environmentalism. Despite having no real appreciation of an ecosystem’s underlying complexity, they make an earnest fuss about the demise of elephants, orcas, lions, eagles, and other “majestic” animals one might encounter while traveling on an eco-venture or watching a nature show.
Concern for these animals—and concern for the potential of their extinction—is certainly a good thing. But it also allows us to root a superficial notion of environmental responsibility in shallow aesthetic ideals represented by a species that–due to no fault of its own–embody an overly stylized concept of “nature.”
According to this strategy, we “care” about these animals not as animals per se, but because of what they collectively represent to us: the ability to stoke our awe for the natural world. We “care” about these animals not as animals per se but for the conceptual purposes they serve as noble “species” clinging to existence in the age of global warming. This props them up for our righteous outrage. But not our compassion.
Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with admiring these animals as a species. They are indeed majestic, awe-inspiring creatures who capture the imagination and, for many of us, bring us closer to the natural world. But it’s worth exploring the question that this admiration begs: if we love iconic animals as a species, why do we not also love them as individuals? After all, you can’t really do the latter without the former, or vice-versa.
Environmentalists will object to this charge. They will claim that they do love animals. But exactly how is this love manifested? After all, love rarely prevents environmentalists from shooting animals, eating animals, culling animals, domesticating animals, and wearing animals. As long as the beloved “species” is not unduly threatened by massive environmental exploitation, then the individuals within it seem fair game for exploitation. The implications of this inconsistency are rarely acknowledged.
But they’re worth exploring.
One could start with this question: Is there a problem with raging over the loss of polar bears’ habitat without raging over the loss of individual polar bears? The anger we feel over dying polar bears is an anger we couch in terms of “losing a species.” That’s safe, because it keeps the idea of a sentient being at a distance while allowing us to experience the guilty pleasure of high dudgeon. But is it the species that really tugs at our emotions? No.To lament the loss of a species is ultimately disingenuous. It’s to lament the loss of an impersonal collective phenomenon, sort of like lamenting the loss of an obscure language.
What’s really happening here is a process of abstraction that enables enviro types to publicly demonstrate their concern for global warming and its resultant species extinctions while continuing to exploit animals to meet our selfish little palate fetishes. It allows us to weep over the loss of a species while sharpening our knives to keep eating the chops and steaks that make our lives so happy and hypocritical.
“Now I know where my food comes from.”
This common pat-on-the-back typically marks the aftermath of either a do-it-yourself slaughter or the acquisition of animal products from an uber-local, off the grid source. The sustainable food movement, in its somewhat precious insistence that we dutifully investigate the source of every calorie we consume, has promoted this quest as a means of steering clear of the agribusiness-industrial complex and the processed crap it churns into the American food system.
In and of itself, that isn’t such a bad thing. But when our obsessive intimacy with how food is produced becomes the sole justification for slaughtering animals without exploring the ethical explanations, potentially serious ideas are reduced to paradoxical slogans that obscure more than they reveal. The original idea—know where your food comes from!—is thus cheapened to the point of meaninglessness. Well, at least for those who think about it.
You raise an animal. You kill an animal. You eat an animal. But no matter what your stance may be on these practices, these decisions are fraught with ethical tension. However, instead of exploring the moral implications of these acts, we too often tell ourselves that, because we were intimately tied to the means of production, we’re exonerated from confronting the morality of slaughtering an animal to satisfy an arbitrary desire. Participation is ipso facto absolution. And that logic is just plain whacked.
To wit: take another group of people who know where their food comes from: slaughterhouse workers.These men and woman are as close as anyone could possibly get to the crude logistics of meat production. They’ve stared into the maw of slaughter and they know the deal. Does their proximity to the essence of meat production—i.e., death—entitle them to some sort of special exoneration? They know their food as well as any tatted-up hipster strangling his chicken like a frontiersman. So are the slaughterhouse workers, too, off the hook of food ignorance?
The sustainable foodie who sings the virtue of self-sufficiency would have to categorically object to such a proposition, if for no other reason than the setting is a commercial slaughterhouse, a place where the “fruit” of the worker’s labor enters an industrial labyrinth that will not bring it back around to his plate, a place where state and federal regulatory agencies make the rules and issue the fines.
This distinction matters. Notably, it reveals the underlying reason that the backyard slaughterer assumes a more virtuous mantle than the slaughterhouse worker. It’s not only about knowing your food. It’s also about independence. It’s about controlling the cycle of an animal’s life and death and consumption without the explicit interference or oversight of external authority. This observation brings us closer to the hidden and more complicated meaning of “know where food comes from.”
I’ve read hundreds of accounts from backyard slaughterers who valorize their work on the grounds of “I did it myself.” No help required. In that valorization, the virtue of independence shines so brightly that participants are not only blinded to the ethical question at the core of their work (which is a problem), they are wedded to libertarian values that would make a Tea Partier wiggle with excitement (which might be a problem–keep reading).
I’m not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with libertarian values (he wrote, possibly to placate certain readers). What I am saying, though, is that the ideology that obscures the ethics of killing behind the untouchable veil of localism and liberty is an all encompassing mode of thought–one that typically rejects state run programs such as the Affordable Health Plan, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance, and other top-down programs.
The localism of food production provides an incentive for small scale food producers to opt out of state and federal regulatory apparatuses designed to deal with larger institutions. It’s a trend that, politically speaking, aims to replace state oversight with individual responsibility. Again, this strikes me as a perfectly legitimate position to take (although it’s not one that I fully support). At the same time, though, it aligns locavores and do-it-youselfers with a Tea Party-ish political persuasion that precludes locavores from embracing most liberal/progressive political initiatives.
Returning to animals, this potential inconsistency in the locavore creed highlights the subtle permutations some people make to obscure the ethics of slaughter. People who believe the government should play a role in promoting basic social justice through taxation, legislation, and regulation want the same government to keep its hands off our food. Are locavores ready to part ways with traditional progressive values to pursue a way of eating animals that absolves them of all ethical considerations for animals? Are they ready to jump on the Tea Party chuck wagon? Because I bet my senator,Ted Cruz, would be happy shut down the USDA on their behalf and join the hootenanny that would ensue.
In the December 23/30 edition of the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has a thoughtful “Talk of the Town” piece on the death penalty. In particular, he explores the weird circumstances currently surrounding the matter of how we kill death row inmates. The article ends with an arresting paragraph that, without in any way intending to, highlights the potentially illogical position taken by those who believe in the idea of “humane slaughter” for farm animals.
Toobin writes, “The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society. It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque.”
Toobin’s argument offers a remarkably uselful parallel to the ethical vegan’s argument that there’s no such thing as humane slaughter, no matter how “palatable” we try to make it. Indeed, that it’s an oxymoron. Similarly, Toobin effectively captures the idea that “humane” farming at least grants animals some measure of freedom before they’re offed–”a meager kind of progress.” Even so, there’s no denying that the end result–the unnecessary death of a sentient being–is “grotesque.” Thus, the question is raised: can you oppose the death penalty as “cruel and unusual” while supporting the “humane” slaughter of sentient animals?
I’m sitting here having a hard time seeing how you could identify a quality unique to humans that singularly justified their right to avoid the state sponsored killing of a human (no matter what the crime) while, at the same time, allowed for the humane-farmer killing of a sentient non-human. Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that consumers who seek out happy meat are also people inclined to oppose the death penalty. But, if I’m right in assuming this rough correlation, I’d be eager to start a conversation about whether or not you can oppose the death penalty but support “humane slaughter” of animals.
Part of my opposition to treating animals well and then killing them is that it seems to constitute a fundamental betrayal. In essence, we are humoring animals and ourselves when we cuddle and kill them. Worse, we are treating them as a means to the end of reducing our own guilt for perpetuating an act we instinctually sense to be wrong.
I stand by this position even though the animal will never realize, at least for any length of time, the nature of that betrayal. That is, even if the killing is “efficient” and painless (perhaps never possible, but go with me. . ), there’s still something deeply problematic about cultivating the trust of a sentient and social critter and then slicing the animal’s throat and eating her. Something about this deception feels plain wrong. And, I imagine, it does so for a good reason.
Why this act is wrong even if the animal lives very well and has no idea what’s coming is not an easy question to answer logically. I mean, we can say “my gut tells me it’s wrong” and move on. But I feel like more of a grounded explanation is required on this one.
One answer seems obvious. I’ve indicated in past posts that a sentient animal has an interest in her future happiness—just as humans do. Think for a moment about the nature of pleasure. It’s not only something predicated on the moment, but it’s a phenomenon integral to the past and the future. Without the prospect of a future of potential happiness the entire meaning of living is diminished to the point of irrelevance (there are 4 “ofs” in that sentence, which is bad, but I’m too tired to correct it). So there’s that.
Another way to go about pinning down the problem of painless betrayal is to consider how we might treat a human under similar circumstances. Leave out the killing and consider a more benign scenario, say, inviting a person to the movies not because you enjoy that person’s company but because that person, who happens to be very needy for friendship, has a sibling you are romantically interested in. You could care less about this person, but he has no idea of that and actually has a great time at the movies.
Is there a problem here? It really depends on the position you take. A utilitarian would say happiness is maximized and be done with it. But many others might feel, in the spirit of Kant, that we should not use others as a means to an end because, in so doing, we diminish our character. I think I’m somewhere in this latter camp. When we raise and animal with love and kill an animal for food we don’t need we not only show the utmost disregard for animals, but to humans as well.
And if your response to this scenario is to say, well, humans are different, that won’t work either.
It’s called speciesism.
Imagine a situation in which a person was diagnosed with a malignant tumor but, instead of seeing a specialist, ignored the tumor, thinking that everything would be fine in the end. Crazy, right?
Well, that’s exactly what the sustainable food movement is currently doing with respect to the ethics of eating animals. The movement has made the accurate diagnoses that the meat industry is a cancer on the food system. Great. But instead of dealing with the problem in an ethically and philosophically consistent way, it has shrugged off the responsibility and mouthed mantras about happy meat and humane slaughter, thereby turning boutique animal suffering into some sort of elite fetish. (See yesterday’s post for an example.)
There are several reasons why this dereliction of duty is so sad. For one, it leaves the food system everyone seems so eager to reform in the lurch. I’ve said it over and over again: we’ll never reform the food system without a wholesale assault on the habit of eating animals. Second, it puts the movement in the position of mimicking industrial agriculture by doing the following: deploying euphemistic language (“harvesting” animals and then “processing” them), treating animals as objects to be commodified and eaten, and allowing our desire for animal flesh (and tradition) to serve as a baseless justification for eating it.
And this brings me to the third and final reason our failure to think ethically in a public way about animals is so tragic: it perpetuates the unthinking stupidity that has characterized the American way of eating. What an utter waste of time to identify the disease pulsing through the food system’s anatomy, and to rage against industrial animal agriculture, only then to distract ourselves with fictions such as happy meat and humane farming. All of this prevarication when we could be thinking seriously whether or not eating animals is an ethically justifiable act if you do not have to do it.
All I’m saying is that we should have the debate. Just move the topic to the center of the discourse. If the locavores and the slow foodies and the humane butchers (ha!) and the small animal farmers would just stop it with all the evasions and, for once, discuss animals in terms of various moral theories—utilitarianism, moral contract theory, Kantianism, the land ethic—perhaps we might make some headway to thinking more clearly and compassionately about the sentient animals we seem all too eager to keep fucking over.
“At Olive Hill Farms we believe that belly rubs and behind-the-ear scratches make better bacon.”
This is the maniacal sentence that pulled me into what turns out to be a mind-blowingly thoughtless and ultimately cruel website about a farm that claims to love pigs and then kills them. Check it out here.
“Happy pigs, scrumptious pork,” the farm promises. Note to farm owner (who claims with pride, “this girl brings bacon into the world”): you cannot have pork from a happy pig. Because the day you turn the pig into pork is the day you render all those belly rubs and ear scratches the act of either an Alzheimer’s patient or a psychopath, a psychopath bent on profiting from people who happen to be equally thoughtless and clueless.
Let me reiterate for the umpteenth time: you cannot have happy meat. There is no such thing. Sure, you can raise an animal and treat that animal well while she’s alive but when you kill the animal you kill the happiness, making all previous acts and intentions meaningless; when you eat the flesh of a sentient being you are eating the flesh of an animal whose interest in being happy was deemed less important than your salivating palate. And that’s sick. How hard is this point to understand? Evidently very much so.
In a way I have less animus toward mindless consumers who buy cheap factory meat at the Kroger, never once thinking that they are eating the flesh of a being who suffered (which describes the vast majority of meat eaters). It’s those lunatics who claim to care about the animals they kill, those who photograph their beasts in supposed bliss and use that pornography to sell the animal’s flesh, that turns my stomach and makes me sick.