When The Hen’s Henness Trumps The Racoon’s Raccoonness
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.