World Farm Animals Day: Some Thoughts
First of all, I have 16 years of cred as a vegetarian. Furthermore, I was once a card-carrying member of the radical animal rights movement. (Indeed, I am ashamed to admit that I was a PETA member for one year when I was 12 years old. After which they slaughtered dozens of innocent trees to send me the same stupid "survey"-cum-plea-for-donations every few months for the next 10 years.) No, I never broke into any labs or "liberated" any animals or even wrote any threatening letters, but I certainly understood the sentiment behind those acts, even if my belief in pacifism also forbade me from engaging in them. These days, I have mitigated my views a bit. I remain a vegetarian, but an uneasy one. I'm not sure that what I'm doing is really doing a whole lot more good than if I followed Bobby's path of flexitarianism with an eye to sustainability. It is just the emotionally easier choice for me.
So I don't come to my feelings about groups like PETA and events like World Farm Animals Day with any notion of preserving my own comfort as a meat-eater; indeed, it would be much more comfortable if I could believe that what they say is true. The problem is that I don't. Not anymore.
I do share one fundamental belief that is supposedly the goal of WFAD: opposition to factory farming. Aside from its blatant cruelty, factory farming is wrecking our environment and bolstering a massive agribusiness that is perpetuating nothing short of criminal acts against people, animals, and the planet. If WFAD drew the line there, you'd see a very different post from me about it. As it is, though, the line about "memorializing the more than 58 billion cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other land animals who needlessly suffer and die every year in the world's factory farms and slaughterhouses" has a more insidious agenda. Because who isn't against factory farms? Most people are, to an extent at least. That's why "supermarket pastoral"--the butter tubs with the happy cows grazing in front of a red barn, egg cartons with a hen snuggled atop a nest--sells so well.
But then you click on the About WFAD link, and here is what it says:
World Farm Animals Day is dedicated to exposing, mourning, and memorializing the needless suffering and death of cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other innocent, sentient animals raised and slaughtered for food.
Whoa. We're beyond factory farming now, folks. A bit further down the page, we hear about their yearly agenda, "[i]n addition to promoting a vegan lifestyle ..." Now we're waaaay beyond simple and reasonable opposition to factory farming.
So there you have it. WFAD isn't about factory farming. It is about raising animals for food. All kinds of food, including dairy, eggs, and yes, even honey. The two are very different issues with vastly different implications.
First of all, there is a fallacy in the "vegamentalist" movement that automatically equates raising animals for food with factory farming. This couldn't be further from the truth. Factory farming is a relatively new manifestation driven by an abundance of cheap corn. People have been eating animals and animal products for millennia without factory farming. Or, I have five pullets in my backyard who will soon provide all of the eggs Bobby and I can eat, and then some. That falls under the umbrella of "raising animals for food." It most certainly does not fall under the umbrella of factory farming. Our chickens probably receive better care than many children in this country.
An opposition to factory farming is an opposition to a cruel, wasteful, and destructive system that is not good for anything but lining the pockets of Big Agriculture and producing lots of cheap food. (It's not even remotely profitable for the majority of farmers who practice it; I point no fingers at them.) An opposition to raising animals for food is a whole different ball of wax, and while I hesitate to go into monster-shouting mode and say that it could lead to as much environmental destruction as factory farming, it definitely could have deleterious consequences for the environment, no matter what the vegamentalists bleat about how going vegan will save the world.
I've written about the sustainability issues that vegetarianism/veganism present before. My belief is that the notion that going vegan will save the planet (and feed the hungry and allow you to live longer and have better sex and ...) derives from a fundamental disconnect with how the world--and by that, I mean Nature-with-a-capital-N--works. (Incidentally and ironically, Big Agriculture arises from the same disconnect.)
Vegamentalists and radical animal rights activists/liberationists believe that it is wrong for human beings to have any sort of relationship with animals beyond admiration. To do so constitutes "exploitation" and "slavery"--loaded, hurtful words that we generally only apply to the worst abuses of humans by humans. For a human to kill an animal is "murder." If you keep bees for honey or chickens for eggs--mind, things that the produce whether or not humans consume them--then you're exploiting them. If you spread manure on your garden from your pet goat, that is likewise exploitation. Consider this quote from A Call to Vegetarians on Care2Causes:
What makes veganism even more empowering is that it goes far beyond diet, and eliminates one’s contribution to the entire animal use paradigm.
In biology class, when we studied mutually beneficial relationships between two nonhuman organisms, we called it symbiosis. It's everywhere. Everything is connected. 90% of trees rely on mycorrhizal fungi in their root systems to help them take in water and nutrients. Ants literally farm aphids, protecting them in exchange for the sugar-rich honeydew that aphids produce. Nothing occurs alone or independent from the organisms around it. Including us.
Now, when we talk about human relationships with other organisms, we speak of domestication, a word with ugly connotations. Sometimes, those connotations are justified; we have certainly, in some instances, taken much more than we've given back. Factory farming is a glaring example of that. But, fundamentally, domestication is not an evil thing, and it certainly is not without benefits for the animal partners in it. In exchange for lives that are usually short, brutal, and uncertain, animals have the most essential tasks performed for them by humans. We assure them regular meals, comfort and care, and protect them from predators. Anyone who's ever slogged through the snow or rain to take care of an animal, sitting fat and happy in its cozy shelter, might question who really ends up with the short end of the domestication stick. In exchange for this, animals provide us with food, fiber, manure, companionship, labor, and other uses. Backyard chickens, for example, can live as long as ten years. In the wild, they likely would not have such long lives, or such pleasant ones. It shows our connectedness to the world around us to honor that relationship with nonhuman species.
If you've ever talked to an animal rights activist or vegamentalist, you've probably heard the term "speciesism": the belief that humans are superior to other animals. That we use animals for food (among other things) supposedly illustrates our "speciesism" because using animals for food is predicated by our belief that animals are there for us to use.
Well, here is where I see speciesism. I see speciesism in assuming that humans are apart from other animals. That we don't need each other. That we didn't evolve with a codependency on each other for survival. That humans can effectively remove themselves from the processes that drive all other life on Earth. It need not apply to us because we're separate, because we're above and beyond that. Every other organism on Earth forms varying relationships with others, ranging from mutualism to parasitism to predation. Not us, though; we are apart from that primitive, barbaric "animal instinct."
In her book The Vegetarian Myth, former vegan Lierre Keith speaks of the motives behind veganism:
I know the reasons that compelled me to embrace an extreme diet and they are honorable, ennobling even. Reasons like justice, compassion, a desperate and all-encompassing longing to set the world right. To save the planet--the last trees bearing witness to ages, the scraps of wilderness still nurturing fading species, silent in their fur and features. To protect the vulnerable, the voiceless. To feed the hungry. At the very least to refrain from participating in the horror of factory farming. These political passions are born of a hunger so deep that it touches on the spiritual.
I understand this too, for these were also my motives. I often say that I feel like I was born with a place inside of myself clawed red and raw, and each pain to which I bear witness sets its fingers anew in the wound. I once wrote in a poem:
I cannot sleep, for comfort.
I cannot rest with the sheets light upon me,
the rain muttering,
the wind-chimes tolling an arpeggio,
the drowsy body of my mate beside me,
my skin knowing
I cannot rest for a hurting world.
. . .
As I lie here, knowing--
how can I sleep?
How can I rest?
So believe me when I say that I know and understand what motivates the extremity of veganism and the animal rights movement generally. But I don't believe the removing oneself from the circle of life, to invoke that cliche, is the answer either. That loss of connection that we have allowed to happen is often the reason for the horrors in the first place.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!