Posts Tagged ‘Temple Grandin

Do We Have a Contract With Animals?

» October 5th, 2015


My last three columns have explored philosophical defenses for eating animals. I’ve done this from the perspectives of utilitarianismanimal rights, and contractualism. My intention with this series has been, in part, to reiterate how difficult it can be to justify eating animals, but also to defuse the off-putting “total abstinence” dictum inherent in the vegan ideology. There is, after all, almost certainly moral space for consuming animals.

But it’s not necessarily an easy space to find. It’s often neither consistent with the way we currently source meat nor tolerant of a business-as-usual approach to agriculture. It may require radical behavioral changes as well as structural shifts that are pragmatically beyond our control. Ironically, given the current configuration of our food system, these changes may be so difficult to achieve that choosing veganism by default could prove to be the easier option.

That said, there appear to be legitimate ways to eat meat, ways that are consistent with the ethical principles that we rely on to guide us through life, and ways that the future’s food architects might consider accommodating.

Wendell Berry has famously declared eating to be “an agricultural act.” This phrase has become a rallying cry for an agrarian reform movement that seeks to know the sources of our food supply. But, perhaps even more so, eating is also an ecological act, an elemental behavior that extends beyond the local farm and the farmers’ market to the endlessly interrelated biotic community. It is from this latter perspective—deep ecology—that I want to suggest a fourth philosophical defense for eating meat.

Read about it here.

Ham I Am

» May 21st, 2013


Some philosophers argue that the evolution of language grants humans exclusive rights above and beyond non-human animals. This controversial position has been effectively debunked, but the claim provides a nice opportunity to examine precisely how we use formal language to convey meaning about eating animals that some philosophers think, on the basis of this self-serving grammar, we have every right to eat.

A recent study reveals how several European languages have adapted to accommodate specific culinary habits—such as eating ham. Turns out that Norwegians have fewer words than the Spanish to describe ham. It also turns out that they eat about 400 grams of ham a year, compared to 3.3 kilos for the Spanish (the Italians eat 4.4 kilos  year).

So let me get this straight. We have language. Animals don’t. We use that language to create a lexicon to describe how animals taste. Animals, lacking a language, cannot provide a verbal rebuttal. This ham is succulent we say. The animal sits there, dead, on the plate. And, based on the one-sided conversation, we claim ourselves in the right. Seems like a lot of verbal sausage to me. (I know that animals do have language, but you know what I mean . . . )

In any case, that verbal sausage is being churned out faster than a carnival barker selling salvation at a hoedown. There’s a great deal of ballyhoo about declining rates of meat consumption in the United States. Great. Maybe more and more of us are becoming vegan before six or eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Whatever catchy little slogan we may have grasped onto, the decline does nothing to counter the emerging tsunami of additional animal exploitation in places like China and India.

Oh, and don’t forget Russia. Russia is now building a pig feed mill capable of churning out 500 tonnes of feed per day in order to supply a 300,000 head pig farm moving nearby from Ireland. In a textbook case of “spread effects,” a processing plant will complete the trifecta, churning out 27 different kinds of pig product. Plan to see a lot more of this kind of expansion in the years to come. If you know how to slow it down, let me know.

And if you’re sitting there all smug and satisfied with your locally-sourced, cave-cured, pig-pampered bacon approved by, who knows, Temple Grandin, it’s time to choke on your little strip of porcine death. Grandin is now working directly with . . . . . Tyson Foods. She’s now expanding her brand of humane exploitation to the company’s Animal Welfare Panel. Behold. She is joined by Ryan Best, former President of Future Farmers of America, and Miyun Park, head of the Global Animal Partnership Label, which I profiled in Harper’s last August.

It would take a very special pair of glasses to see the formation of this board a hopeful development. Also, from a political perspective, I don’t get it. Why would people who purport to care so much about animals place themselves in such a vulnerable position? I mean, the next time Tyson inevitably gets busted for some horrific animal welfare disaster or other, the blood will be on their hands, too.

I could go on. And on.

(Thanks to Jamie Newlin for the tips . . .)

Temple Grandin’s Reason for Eating Animals?: “I get lightheaded . . . if I go on a vegan diet.”

» May 8th, 2012

Temple Grandin is widely considered to be a leading authority on animal welfare. She’s routinely cited by organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States and Whole Foods as an expert on the humane treatment of animals. Grandin, of course, designs slaughterhouses, but I guess the term “welfare” is pretty plastic. Not unlike “humane.”

I’ve read Grandin’s books. While I find her affection for animals to be genuine, and her insight into their perspectives nuanced, her work strikes me as remarkably unthoughtful about the human-animal relationship. Her books plod, important contexts dissolve, her thinking feels mechanistic. I’m well aware that Grandin is autistic, and I admire her accomplishments in light of such adversity. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that her analysis of animal welfare can be cold, shallow, and unpleasant. Kind of like an ice bath.

Grandin wrote an essay for the Times now famous/infamous/notorious “Justify Eating Meat” contest. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist–and I think you’ll see why. Her essay is worth reading, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves how troublesome the idea of “welfare” can be. Interestingly, when Grandin found out her essay was not chosen, she published it in a beef industry trade magazine. She obviously knows who her friends are.

Temple Grandin’s essay:

Eating Meat is Ethical

Humans and animals evolved together. Our brains are tuned into animals. Research with epilepsy patients who had monitors implanted in their brains, showed that the amygdala responds more to animal pictures, compared to pictures of landmarks or people. The amygdala is an important emotion center in the brain. Pictures of both cute and aversive animals got a big response. Recordings from the hippocampus, which is involved with memory, had no differences.

Human beings have an intrinsic bond with animals, but our treatment of animals has ranged from respectful to horrendous. Scientific research indicates that animals have emotions and they feel pain and fear. It is our duty to provide the animals that we raise for food with a decent life. I often get asked, “How can you care about animals and be involved in designing systems in slaughter houses that are used to kill them?” I answered this question in 1990, after I had just completed installation of a new piece of equipment I had designed for handling cattle at slaughter plants. I was standing on a catwalk, as hundreds of cattle passed below to enter my system. In a moment of insight, I thought, none of the cattle going into my system would have existed unless people had bred and raised them.

Our relationship with the cattle should be symbiotic. Symbiosis is a biological concept of a mutually beneficial relationship between two different species. There are many examples of symbiosis or mutualism in nature. One example is ants tending aphids to obtain their sugary secretion and in return, they are protected from predators. Unfortunately the relationship is not always symbiotic and in some cases, the ants exploit the aphids. There are similar problems in poorly managed, large intensive agriculture systems. There are some production practices that must be changed. In the cattle industry, I know many people who are true stewards of both their animals and their land. Their relationship with both the animals and the land is truly symbiotic. It is mutually beneficial to both the animals and the environment. Killing animals for food is ethnical if the animals have what the Farm Animal Welfare Council in England calls a life worth living.

I have been attended grazing conferences and I have learned that when grazing is done right it can improve the rangeland and sequester carbon. Ruminant animals that eat grass are not the environmental wreckers that some people say they are. Rotational grazing can stimulate more plant growth and growing plants help remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Ruminant animals, such as cattle, bison, goats, and sheep, are the only way to grow food on rangelands that are not suitable for crops.  Ronald C. Follett with the USDA-ARS-NPA in Fort Collins, Colorado, states that grazing lands have the potential to sequester carbon.  According to researchers at National University in Panama, converting South American pastureland to soybean production will reduce carbon storage. Organic agriculture would be impossible and extremely difficult without animal manure for fertilizer.  Another issue that must be looked at in perspective is methane emissions.  It is likely that 80% of all total methane emissions come from coal burning power plants, rice paddies, and landfills.

I have a final reason why I think eating meat is ethnical.  My metabolism requires animal protein, and I get lightheaded and unable to concentrate if I go on a vegan diet.  There may be metabolic differences in the need for animal protein.  There are practices that must be changed to be true stewards of both the animals and the environment.

McFib: HSUS Goes after McDonald’s “Epic Story”

» November 2nd, 2011


Perhaps you’ve heard the news: the McRib is back! “Even your dreams dream about this,” says McDonald’s about the return of this “fantastically flavorful,” “sweetly scrumptious,” “sensationally savory” pork sandwich.  Further distinguishing the McRib is the implication that the pork comes from happy pigs raised under humane and sustainable conditions.  McDonald’s buys its pork from Smithfield Foods, which employs Dr. Temple Grandin as an animal welfare advisor and, perhaps as a result, brands itself as “100 percent committed to . . . animal care.” In an outburst of appreciation for the work Smithfield does, McDonald’s recently recognized the Virginia-based company with a “supplier sustainability” award.[]

But the Humane Society of the United States isn’t celebrating.  Earlier today HSUS filed a legal complaint with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Smithfield is misleading consumers about its welfare practices. [] In a series of videos titled “Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production,” Smithfield contends that its animals are raised under “ideal” conditions in an environment where “every need is met.” A 2010 undercover HSUS investigation, however, revealed information altogether to the contrary.   []

HSUS found that Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically denied. Female pigs were stuffed into Gestation crates, preventing movement for most of their lives; many crates were coated in blood from the mouths of pigs chewing the metal bars of their crates; a sick pig was shot in the head with a captive bolt gun and thrown into a dumpster while still alive; prematurely born piglets routinely fell through the gate’s slats into a manure pit; castration and tail docking took place without anesthesia; and employees tossed baby pigs into carts as if they were stuffed animals. The investigator saw many lame pigs but never a vet.     [}

The curious thing is that both McDonald’s and Smithfield know that gestation crates are bad news for a pig. Temple Grandin, as an advisor to Smithfield, declared that the crates “have to go,” and in 2007 Smithfield agreed to phase out the crates by 2017. The company has since rescinded this promise.  In a company video, McDonald’s admitted that group housing “is best for the welfare and well-being of those sows.” None of this has been lost on Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at HSUS. “It doesn’t take a veterinarian to know that locking a 500-pound animal in a cage so cramped she can’t even turn around for on end isn’t exactly ‘ideal,’” he explains. McDonald’s, he adds, “should heed the advice of its own animal welfare advisors and dump gestation crates from its supply chain.”

In the meantime (actually, for all time), the rest of us should just say no to the McRib.