Worshipping At The Temple of Grandin

» February 1st, 2015

Temple Grandin is perhaps the world’s most-recognized authority on farm-animal welfare. As the subject of an admiring HBO film, she has a lot of fans. Foremost among them are journalists on the agriculture beat. Whenever an animal-welfare perspective is required, it seems the first person tapped for a quote is Temple Grandin.

But Grandin is a paid industry consultant. She profits financially by designing industrial slaughterhouses. She supplements her income by writing books and delivering speeches about those designs. Whatever animal welfare advice she offers should always be framed in the context of her monetary connection to industrial agriculture.

It should also be noted that big agriculture—big beef in particular—adores Grandin. She approaches agricultural “reform” from a compellingly safe perspective, one as much informed by her Ph.D. in animal science as her autism.

The notion that Grandin’s autism provides unique insight into animal perspectives curries considerable favor with the general public, thereby further enhancing her credibility and reputation as a person who cares deeply about animals. Big Ag plays on this association brilliantly. Journalists help them do it.

Grandin’s allegedly unique connection to animal lives is routinely reified through visually arresting images. Here’s Grandin hugging a horseHere she is surrounded by a brace of cows. Here she is petting a pig. Never do we see Grandin with an animal being slaughtered. That would sully the image.

Obviously, one would think, Grandin’s empathy for these animals runs deep, deep enough at least for us to trust her as a viable source of information on their welfare.

But her real job is to help agribusiness kill them.

Read more.

77 Responses to Worshipping At The Temple of Grandin

  1. John T. Maher says:

    TG is a human with a autism disorder within a spectrum of that term. It is a cultural myth that her autism allows her an insight into how an animal sense, perceives and processes the information that forms its world. I know several autistic persons, some with PhDs, and they range from animal haters to indifference to those who are comforted and loved by critters. None of them claims TG’s abilities. I believe her entire career is little different than that of how certain aboriginal cultures viewed the mentally ill — as bringers of great wisdom and insight unavailable to mortals and totally unverifiable and unquantifiable. Because our culture worships science as a replacement for immanence the same logic applies mirabile dictu: so-called normal non autistic persons are not afforded the same insight and so are not privileged with TG’s supposed insights into the minds of animals. Thus TG is no better than the Great Oz in the ‘Wizard of’ book or any other relabeled shaman. Let’s concentrate on animal agency and attempting to understand what an animal really wants.

    TG’s own website shows she specifically allows for the use of electric cattle prods and in religious slaughter allows an animal 30 seconds to die before she recommends finishing the job with a bolt gun. Sounds like institutionalized suffering to me. When she does resort to the gloss of science it is basically a Mengele type checklist of allowable suffering. That is what she does, she tally’s suffering and decrees what she would allow. Why not allow none?


  2. Ellen Crain says:

    You are so right about Grandin. She is being used by agribusiness to help them appear concerned about animal welfare as the animals are herded into the death chutes. This view need to get out to the general public.

  3. Rucio says:

    Autism, as I understand it, is a social disorder above all, manifesting as an inability to read or respond to social cues. That would hardly suggest that it can provide special insight into the lives of others. Perhaps rather Grandin has allowed it, with lip service to sensitivity, to provide a model of sociopathic compartmentalization and lack of real empathy necessary for the animal slaughter industry.

  4. Robin Lamont says:

    Thanks you, James McWilliams. The glorification of Temple Grandin as someone who truly cares about animal suffering is akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s good to see the layers stripped away.

  5. Dear James:

    You neglected to mention that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gave Grandin an award for being a “Visionary,” The Humane Society of the United States refers to her as a “[r]enowned animal welfare scientist,” and many other so-called “animal advocates,” do not recognize her as a sock puppet for industry and hold her out as having some deep and almost mysterious insight into animal welfare. So the problem is not that journalists turn to her; the problem is that journalists turn to her because the “animal movement” points them to her.

    I have been writing about the relationship between Grandin and the “animal movement” since the mid-1990s. I know that you and I disagree about the welfarist movement but it is undeniable that it is the welfarists who have provided Grandin with the aura of expertise, not the media.


    Gary L. Francione
    Board of Governors Professor
    Rutgers University

    • John T. Maher says:


      Respectfully, one must disagree with the statement that ” the problem is that journalists turn to her because the ‘animal movement’ points them to her”.

      First, PETA is the exception rather than the rule and should be conceptualized as a sort of Thanotopic cult and but a media player on the margins of the animal movement. Their version of welfarism is: death is better than suffering. In brief, PETA is not the animal movement per se and not one’s average neo welfarist.

      Next, it seems that TG is a quasi religious media figure who adds ‘value’ to meat through a ritualistic gloss of welfare. I have heard of writers being directed to get a quote from Grandin because she is a recognizable and cliched presence who functions essentially to allow the reader to be absolve of guilt for eating a bacon burger. I do not make the connection back to the animal movement in this process, which is essentially postmodern and removed from any actual animal as what is being sold by Grandin is a process situated in the minds of the reader concerning guilt and sacrifice.

      Welfarism has its problems, many of which we have considered after reading your works such as your groundbreaking ‘Rain Without Thunder’, but I do not think Grandin’s welfarism is a product of the animal movement, but rather an emotional and cultural salve to the gullible consumer.

      • Mylène says:

        “I do not think Grandin’s welfarism is a product of the animal movement, but rather an emotional and cultural salve to the gullible consumer.”

        With said salve being regularly and eagerly administered to the gullible consumer by various large welfarist organizations in exchange for the donations received from these same consumers. PETA and many of the other large business-like welfarist organizations do just that. Does it also really need to be pointed out that well-funded groups like PETA probably run over a large percentage of the animal advocacy related articles in most newspapers? If you look at articles like this one below in which PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk sings Grandin’s praises, for instance, you’ll see at the bottom that it first ran in a newspaper. The same can be said about HSUS and the large number of PR pieces it also runs, promoting so-called “humane heroes” like Grandin. To downplay the effect of large welfarist organizations on mainstream media’s portrayal of animal issues (and, thus, those welfarist organizations’ effect on the public’s perception and idolatry of someone like Grandin) really ignores the obvious. If anyone has made a media darling and welfarist tool of her, it’s organizations like HSUS and PETA.


  6. Barbara Beierl says:

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s unfortunate, but true, that Grandin leaves a great deal to be desired as an animal advocate, to put it mildly. the term, “shill,” might be more accurate. When the slaughter of two oxen, Bill and Lou, of Green Mountain College in Vermont came into the national eye, generating national debate and damning the college, Grandin visited and was so detached from humane issues that it was shocking. Not only did her autism demonstrate itself but also the accompanying Asperger’s. Extremely upsetting for everyone.

    • Linda Mathews says:

      I read about the plight of Bill and Lou some time ago and sent an Email to Green Mountain College imploring them to let these two beautiful souls go to a sanctuary that was more than willing to take them. It did not turn out well. I am not surprised that Ms. Grandin acted in the manner you describe. How can any one who, on the surface, describes themselves as an “animal welfare” advocate, design institutional slaughterhouses. Very disturbing.

  7. Mr. Maher:

    As I mentioned in my comment above, PETA *and* HSUS laud Grandin. She is widely embraced by welfarists and has been widely embraced since the 1990s. I wrote about this in “Rain Without Thunder.” In any event, to say that this simply a matter of a PETA aberration is wrong.

    James’ point was that Grandin is to go-to person for animal welfare because journalists who ought to know better have made her the go-to person. That is wrong. Grandin has been given credibility from the outset by welfarists.

    And I would suggest that the welfarism of the animal movement is itself “an emotional and cultural salve to the gullible consumer.” But that is a different point.

    Gary L. Francione
    Board of Governors Professor
    Rutgers University

    • John T. Maher says:

      Thank you for your comment in response.

      I argue HSUS is merely another media actant and not representative of the animal movement as a whole. When I have seen HSUS, who I do not defend and have had numerous disagreements with, refer to Grandin it has been in the manner of citing her acknowledgement f poor welfare practices such as the chicken industry rating system as a sort of “Look, even your buddy Grandin says you are inhumane”. To refer to James’ point, Grandin’s credibility is only partly due to the agency of BigHumane and I disagree that it is entirely attributable to the ‘animal movement’ an undefined entity sort of like Nixon’s silent majority. Grandin would still exist and be touted by industry even if HSUS and PeTA issued a fatwa upon her. At best she is an advertorial.

      To me the animal movement comprises individual consciousnesses and not corporate entities such as we have mentioned. Welfarism is a psychological step in asking minds to consider incremental choices favoring animals aimed at eliminating the worst abuses of industrial agriculture and, most important, conditioning those minds to ultimately choose to reject all animal consumption. HSUS and PeTA are media players manipulating affect and are removed from working with actual animals.

      So I respectfully disagree with analytic philosophy’s insistence on ethical consistency and say that the welfarists serve a temporal purpose although they are repugnant and ultimately ethically disposable.

  8. Ian Silver says:

    I agree with Gary. It’s not just PETA or HSUS. Here is a link to Grandin’s CV: (http://www.grandin.com/professional.resume.html). Here are a few of the awards listed:

    Harry C. Roswell Award, Scientists Center for Animal Welfare
    The Brownlee Award for International Leadership in Scientific Publication Promoting Respect for Animals, their Nature and Welfare, Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada
    Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation – Humane Ethics in Action, Purdue University
    Humane Award, American Veterinary Medical Association
    Founders Award, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
    Joseph Wood Krutch Medal – The Humane Society of the United States
    Wood Gush Memorial Lecture, International Society of Applied Ethology
    British Society of Animal Science, Yorkshire England, Animal Welfare Award Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty in Animals
    Franklin Pierce College, Alumni Association: Leader of Conscience Award
    Honorary Doctorate – Swedish University, University of Agricultural Science, Uppsala, Sweden, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Degree in Animal Welfare
    American Humane Association – National Humanitarian Award – Pioneering Efforts that Reshaped Animal Welfare in the Livestock Industry
    Liberty Science Center Distinguished Humanitarian Award

    Of course, she has received numerous awards for outstanding service to the animal agriculture industry too.

    It’s really unbelievable how misguided and confused the welfarist movement is.

    • unethical_vegan says:

      “It’s really unbelievable how misguided and confused the welfarist movement is.”

      I’ll take the “welfarists” at COK and MFA over arm-chair abolitionists any day.

      • Ian Silver says:

        Posted from your armchair?

        Abolitionists are creating new vegans every day. I’m sure welfarists are too, though they would create far more if they had a consistent and coherent message. If that were it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But because of their inconsistent message, they actually make it harder for some people to go vegan.

  9. Barb Lomow says:

    Prof. Francione is absolutely correct in reminding us of the substantial role that the animal welfare community has played in turning Temple Grandin into some sort of bizarre celebrity spokesperson for farmed animals. A few examples:

    HSUS’ Paul Shapiro has frequently referred to Temple Grandin in glowing terms, often using the “renowned scientist” description when praising her. Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Baur had Temple Grandin supply a promotional blurb which prominently appears on the back cover his 2008 book, and Farm Sanctuary’s (and formerly PETA’s) Bruce Friedrich has also been known over the years to refer to Grandin in a very reverential manner, as if she is actually a friend to — and a positive force for — farmed animals.

    In this 2013 quote from HSUS’ Director of Corporate Policy, Josh Balk gushes: “Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the most renowned animal scientist in history and member of the American Meat Institute Hall of Fame, is the leading opponent to gestation crates. She famously said “We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go.”

    Here is a link to the 2014 HSUS “All-Stars” self-congratulatory promotional video choreographed by the “Farm Animal Protection” division. The piece is obviously very calculated and rehearsed, so it’s no mistake that two of Temple Grandin’s books are strategically displayed right off the bat at the 15 second mark. This leaves zero doubt that she is being deliberately touted by HSUS as a champion for farmed animals.


    The ongoing promotion of Grandin by many in the “farmed animal protection” arena has definitely helped to make her the go-to authority of so-called “humane slaughter”. She’s making a nice living off of the backs — and every other body part — of the farmed animals who she betrays with her “expertise”.

    Grandin recently donated 1/4 million dollars to expand the animal sciences building at CSU: “The facility will be named the Gary and Kay Smith Global Food Innovation Center and will feature a meat and poultry harvesting and processing center; a culinary research and sensory analysis facility; lecture hall; demonstration classroom and retail meat and dairy store and cafe. Additionally, the building will house the Temple Grandin Animal Handling and Education Center, which will include livestock handling and teaching areas designed by Grandin and a fully equipped livestock arena.”


  10. What I find puzzling about all of this is that in 2012, James McWilliams reprimanded those of us who were critical of welfarism for not supporting groups like HSUS. I discuss what happened back then here: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/a-response-to-james-mcwilliams-and-its-not-debatable/#.VM_kxCyQx8G

    Now, James is attacking Temple Grandin, who is, in effect, nothing more than a creation of the welfarist movement. If it were not for the welfarists, Grandin would be just another mediocre hack making animal exploitation more economically efficient. But instead, Grandin has been transfigured into some sort of oracle who, supposedly because of her autism, has special access into nonhuman consciousness. Frankly, anyone who is familiar with Grandin’s work and who thinks she has special access to animal minds does not think much of animal cognition.

    James blames an uncritical media for anyone thinking that Grandin cares about animals. Now I accept that a good chunk of the media is uncritical. But it beyond absurd to overlook that Grandin is regarded as the darling of animal welfare only because the welfarists declared it so going back 20+ years and legitimized her as a media spokesperson for animal welfare issues.

    It’s all rather odd.

    Gary L. Francione
    Board of Governors Professor
    Rutgers University

    • Lucy says:

      2012, now 2015. Is it possible McWilliams has changed his mind with more than 2 years worth of new information.

      The picture here that Prof. Francione seems to be presenting is lacking in it’s way as the lack he has pointed out in McWilliams’ picture – that is. McWilliams has talked of Grandin, the media and agri-business, Prof. F. has talked of Grandin, the media and welfarists.

      • Dear Ms. Lucy:

        James explicitly criticizes the media for treating Grandin as some oracle of animal welfare. But the media do so because the welfarist movement has given Grandin credibility.

        If James agrees with me that the onus belongs with the welfarists, then he should say that.

        If James believes with me that the large welfarist organizations have sold out and have entered into what are, in effect, partnerships with institutional exploiters that result in, inter alia, things like promoting Temple Grandin, then he should, by all means, say so.

        Gary L. Francione
        Board of Governors Professor
        Rutgers University

        • James says:

          My article was not about welfarists! Am I under an obligation to consider every animal-issue through the lens of welfarism? Seems absurd.

          • James:

            You are criticizing the media for treating Grandin as the go-to expert on animal welfare. But that criticism is absurd given that Grandin is treated as the go-to person for animal welfare precisely because the welfarists have made her a celebrity and have given her credibility. So it makes perfect sense that the media treat Grandin as an expert. The welfarist movement does.

            >> Am I under an obligation to consider every animal-issue through the lens of welfarism?<< No, of course not, but in this case, that consideration was plainly required.


            Gary L. Francione
            Board of Governors Professor
            Rutgers University

          • Dave says:

            “Am I under an obligation to consider every animal-issue through the lens of welfarism?”

            What a bizarre question under the circumstances.

            Francione is just flatly right that Grandin’s prominence is owed to the support she’s received from the (so called) animal protection industry. Shining a critical light on Grandin without extending that light to the allegedly “pro-animal” groups who champion her is tremendously misleading. Honestly, I can’t conceive of why you’d make such an omission unless there were certain people and groups you didn’t want to offend. (Hmm…)

            Are you “obligated” to consider this issue through the lens of welfarism? No, not necessarily. Only if you want the things you write to be responsible and edifying.


        • Lucy says:

          I wrote above that, “The picture here that Prof. Francione seems to be presenting is lacking in it’s way as the lack he has pointed out in McWilliams’ picture – that is. McWilliams has talked of Grandin, the media and agri-business, Prof. F. has talked of Grandin, the media and welfarists”. Prof. Francione is ofcourse correct to point out that a number of welfarist organisations have lionised Grandin, and that this is part of the big picture. But in this discussion, I suggest, there is an underlying contest that is being expressed in McWilliams being taken to task by Prof. F. for not focussing on welfarism – McWilliams can not be allowed to focus in his short piece on the connection with agribusiness, he must focus on welfarism. I suggest that this criticism of McWilliams, allowing its many justified elements, is at base political – political in the sense that it is a manifestation of a contest for supremacy on animal rights in terms of, not just theory, but the model of activism and strategy. As Mr Maher has stated earlier, Prof. F. has done a great service in his book “Rain Without Thunder” of showing the poverty of welfarism and the self-interest and ineffectiveness of large welfarist organisations. However, Prof. F. has also criticised soundly many other contenders in animal rights – anti-capitalists, ALF, non-violent direct action groups like dx – and it seems to me, at heart, there has been an issue amongst the criticisms of challenge to the abolitionist ideas of Prof. F. in terms of theory, the model of activism and strategy. For example, anti-capitalists ideas of animal rights/liberation would essentially destroy Prof. F’s fundamental focus on individual morality, moral consistency, the activism of vegan education, and the strategy of growing the numbers of vegans. Returning to McWilliams’ focus on agribusiness and Prof. F. focus on welfarism, I think is a contest of the sort I have been pointing to. Prof. F has been clear that the consumer holds the cards, that consumers can have have transformative power while producers are, ultimately, passive responders, anything that stands in the way of creating more vegans (vegan consumers) is, therefore, fundamentally bad – welfarism, with its weakness on veganism, its truck with happy exploitation, is a greater enemy, therefore, than agribusiness, and McWilliams, in talking of Grandin, the media and agribusiness, must be confronted simply because he is not talking about welfarism.

          • Dear Lucy:

            First, I am not a supporter of capitalism. I am actually in favor of democratic socialism. I have said that the abolition of capitalism would not necessarily guarantee the recognition of animal rights as the status of animals as property of some sort or another has existed across different economic systems. But to say that I have criticized “anti-capitalists” is simply inaccurate and indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of my position.