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Dangerous, Dangerous Words

“Lindsay Harris has loved animals her whole life.”

“Diversified farming mimics nature where there is no waste.”

“We care for our Jersey and Guernsey cows like family to make sure they are healthy and comfortable.”

“David Strawn, owner of Deep Creek Ranch, has a profound connection to the land he works and a great appreciation for the animals he raises.”

I’ll stop there. Anyone who wants to read more can go to the website of any so-called “humane farm” and see what the “farmers” have to say about the work they do and the animals they “farm.” In fact, I encourage readers to do so. Whether or not you buy the happy meat mythology, take a few minutes and check out these places. Specifically, examine the language these people use to convince their customers (and themselves) that what they are doing is ethical, compassionate, and even (no, I’m not kidding) critical to the very survival of the world. Then come back and read about why I think this language is so very, very dangerous, and see what you think about it all.

Let me start with the danger inherent in the statement “I love animals” (or its twin “I am an animal lover”). Every time I hear something like that, I cringe. I used to only cringe in my head, but these days, over a dozen years into doing this work, I’m sure it comes through on my face and in the tone of my voice. Sure, there are a handful of folks who both love non-human animals and also don’t use them for food, clothing, therapy, entertainment, or anything else. But as most of us know, most of the time, the people who profess to love animals also eat them, wear them, and/or, in the case of the people who operate these “happy” farms, profit from their very bodies.

I’ve railed against love as the great motivator before (“March is Not the Month of Love”), so I won’t repeat myself here. But I will ask folks to watch how often these happy flesh, egg, and milk people mention that they Love Their Animals, because that’s the first danger in their words. Don’t be blinded by this kind of bullshit statement. Tina Turner did her best to tell us that love’s got nothing to do with it. What’s “it?” In this case, it’s the ability to exploit, manipulate, torment, and eventually murder the animals these people say they love.

So when you run into the people who make a profit off the Happy Animals That we Exploit, Rape and Shoot (I’ll call them HATERS for short), ask them what they do with the male babies their happy, healthy, bovine family members bear. Ask them how their beloved cow kindred spirits got pregnant in the first place, while you’re at it. Ask them if they look into the eyes of their much-adored hens before they cut off their heads once egg production falls off. If you’re really brave, ask them who they have lined up to slit their own throats when they’ve outlived their usefulness to their family members.

Yep, they’re all just one big happy loving family.

Let’s look at some of the other dangerous language in their propaganda. Just beyond the obvious trap of love comes the fast-growing hyper-trap of sustainability. Let’s forget for one moment the reality of rape, kidnapping, baby-killing, and murder that lurks behind the loving facade known as We Treat Our Animals Like Family (or maybe they do, come to think of it). Let’s pretend, in fact, that there is absolutely no cruelty inherent in exploiting someone else to make money, and let’s just examine whether or not there is such a thing as sustainable meat, egg, and milk production.

Organic or not, free-range or not, it takes an enormous amount of grain, grass, water, and other resources (including petroleum) to produce a pound of consumable flesh. In fact, focusing upon cows alone for a moment, consider just how many more trees we will have to cut down – how much more deforestation we will have to inflict upon this planet – to ensure that enough cows can be grass-fed to feed the going on seven billion people in this world a diet that includes bovine flesh. Consider the fact that over 50 billion chickens are murdered every year for their flesh, and remember this doesn’t include the billions more who are imprisoned in egg factories. Where will they all go? Seriously – where will they all go? On fifty million small “free-range” farms housing about a thousand chickens apiece? Because THAT’S how many of them it will take to satisfy the desire for chicken flesh as things stand now — again, not saying anything about where the egg layers will all be housed.

The fact – the FACT – is that there is nothing remotely sustainable about an omnivorous diet.

Yet so many people want to believe that little family farms like the ones in Vermont dotting the landscape as they drive down I-91 are the answer to “CAFOs” (Confined Animal Feeding Operations – what non-animal rights people tend to call factory farms).

But do people really think that all across this world, in every climate, in all different political, socio-cultural, and resource-based conditions, small little romantic farms can be created, operated, and sustained? Do people really think that there’s enough money in it for enough people to make this model viable beyond the confines of a state (Vermont) that has less than half a million people in it? Do people really think that this many people even want to FARM, for christ’s sake? Remember, we’re talking 50 million small farms around the world for chicken flesh alone. Then add millions more farms to account for cows (milk and flesh), egg-laying chickens, and other animals. Trust me, it ain’t gonna happen.

But heaven forbid we tell these people that “farming” flesh, eggs, and milk isn’t sustainable. They have to believe it, and they have to make their customers believe it. If they don’t, one of their strongest arguments for allowing them to profit off bird wings and cow ribs evaporates; and these people bank (literally) on getting other people to swallow the myth (literally).

Finally, this notion that “humane farmers” have some kind of connection to the land, to the natural world, is dangerous. It’s also patently absurd. What’s natural about a “meat bird” who has been systematically bred to have fat breasts and thin skin? What’s natural about modern cows who were “domesticated” thousands of years ago by imprisoning aurochs and then breeding them into what we now call bovines? (The original aurochs, by the way, were driven extinct by humans after living peacefully upon the planet for millions of years.) What’s natural, for that matter, about drinking the mother’s milk of another species (or, indeed, your own once you’re a few years of age)? What’s natural about the machinery and technology these “connected” people use to “harvest” the flesh, eggs, and milk from their animals – I mean, their family members?

A full discussion of what is natural and what is not, at this point in human evolution, is far beyond the scope of a simple blog entry, and in fact no one really knows what’s natural any more, even when they spend volumes upon volumes trying to define it. Suffice it to say, however, that domestication is not natural.

Just like the terms “love” and “sustainable,” “natural” is one these people shouldn’t get to use to support their pursuits — not without an argument. There is nothing natural about what they do, and if they feel connected to the land, I can assure you that the land doesn’t return the good vibes (nor do the animals they plop down upon said land).

Why spend so much time dismantling a few simple words? Because these words have seduced far too many people into thinking there are reasonable ways to exploit, hurt, and murder other animals. These words have lured ethical vegans back to being flesh consumers. These words have manipulated even animal rights activists into thinking that the people who flout them are somehow an improvement upon the people who operate factory farms. But all these words are lies when used to support the practice of animal agriculture, no matter how it’s dolled-up to look like something shiny, pretty and new. Because it’s not. It’s the same old torment wearing a different dress.

Don’t allow anyone to lie to you. Think about the ways “humane farmers” and their customers throw these words around, and look below the surface to discover what’s really going on. Don’t be fooled into forgetting that eating a plant-based diet is the only ethical, sustainable, cruelty-free choice for humans at this point in our evolution. And don’t think you have to stay silent when confronted by these people. They are harder to argue with than factory farmers, for sure, since the latter know full well they aren’t in it because they love animals or because it’s some sort of ethical choice. But we must argue back. We must bear witness for the animals who are living under the yoke of the “humane farmers,” and work to ensure that this practice comes to an end before it takes root more than it already has.

Be a locavore, sure — but make sure you’re a vegavore.

12 comments to Dangerous, Dangerous Words

  • It is propaganda which a few questions exposes.

    If you are a dairy what happens to the babies bred so the cows have milk for you to sell?

    Where are the beloved animals slaughtered? How do they get to the slaughterhouse? What is the record of the slaughterhouse? How many animals are “processed” there every day?

    Have these humane farmers spent a day in truck and a day in the slaughterhouse? Have they filmed the “humane” ride and the unloading and the conditions while animals wait for slaughter? Have they filmed the kill and hoist up sometimes before the heart stops?

    How many days does it take to drive the cows to the slaughterhouse? Are any sent to Muslim or Jewish slaughterhouses where animals are alive when pulled up by their hind legs to have their throats cut?

    When those cows and pigs are not put on a truck for a horrific ride without food or WATER to a horror filled slaughterhouse to be electrocuted, dragged with broken bones, and sometimes skinned alive, then you can talk about humane treatment of “meat” (read animals) done right.

    Same thing for cage free chickens. Get the facts — yes it is better than the life a factory farmed animals but it is all rotten and filth.

    Still, I was glad to be able to buy cage free for my dying mother who wanted her eggs. Glad the big supermarket carried them. But I did not delude myself.

  • And that Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck) and other so called whole food stores and co-ops like Willy St in Madison WI, are filled with this overpriced so called humane crap tells us they are no different than the greedy corporate profiteers that have destroyed our environment. People who started these food co-ops are sick with grief at how those who manage them now have betrayed the founding principles. We should have known when the owner of Whole Foods came out publicly against single payer health care. Our co-ops care about health like vultures care about dead bodies.
  • Nancy
    Whether “humanely” raised, organic or “factory farmed the road to the slaughter is the same.
    We accuse necrovores of cognitive moral dissonance yet it is rampant with so called “animal” rights groups who think that “happy meat” and ovo lacto vegetarians are more compassionate or heading in the right direction.
  • CQ
    One of your best blogs, bravebird.

    I wish I could send it to friends who, alas, don’t seem ready to examine the facts or their hearts, but would only see me as condemning them.

    Your thoughts and those of Greenconsciousness and Nancy remind me that:

    “It is not goodness to be better than the worst.” ~ Seneca (Roman statesman, philosopher 4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.)

  • bravebird
    Thanks for the feedback, all. I love that Seneca quote. Perfect.

    I wanted to mention another response that can be helpful when folks extol the virtues of free-range or cage-free eggs, which is to educate (or remind) them about what happens to all of the roosters who are born when breeders create all the hens for such operations. They still haven’t figured out how to birth only girls, so most of the boys are either suffocated in garbage bags or put through wood chippers — most of the rest are used as packing material when the babies are shipped to individuals, feed stores, small operations, and so forth. There’s always a hidden casualty.

    I think the reference to Whole Foods is extremely relevant, too, as a reminder that what can appear to be a step in the right direction can often be yet another way people can feel good about horrible choices because they don’t want to make better ones. Speaking of steps, check this out — such a perfect example of what’s wrong with this stuff:

  • victoria figurelli
    I h read the article in Regards to Whole Foods adopting the 5 step welfare progarm labeling on there meat I belive it starts in November. I guess for all the so called animal lovers who still eat meat . It more the likely makes them feel less guilty and I guess they are willing to pay double maybe triple the prioe for the clear concious. But do they ever keep in mind that this animal is slaughtered the same way , and chickens still have bavy blue eyes when there short lives are taken.
  • victoria figurelli
    Sorry about my spelling.above comment
  • bravebird
    No need to apologize about spelling for sure. ;-)

    And YES — this is EXACTLY what they are doing — paying more to give themselves a clear conscience (which of course they should not have, but that is exactly the mechanism at play here)….

  • Hi bravebird – About 3/4 down I was about ready to say that you and big meat sound the same regarding the small, “romantic” farms – But you knew that already!

    I troll some of their forums and it’s always interesting to note the infighting that occurs when one of the small “harmers” touts their idyllic scenario next to a meat giant who promptly puts them in their place. It is not sustainable. And of course the “love” they have for their victims is just a figment of their warped imagination.

    Thanks for pointing all these relevant facts out – And for condemning animal killing no matter how “nicely” it’s done.

  • bravebird
    Bea, you are right, such things can be very unsettling. I remember way back in the day (hahaha) when the fight against snuff and other non-consensual porn, sex work, etc. made a seeming unholy alliance between radical feminists and fundamentalist xtians. And in fact, that SEEMING alliance was used as a weapon against us radical feminists — because we were fighting on the same side as the fundies, said detractors, then clearly we were wrong.

    But of course the REASONS why we were both on the same side differed dramatically, as did our respective “solutions” to the problem — and that is the real heart of the issue. If you dismantle small flesh farms for big-factory reasons, you will end up with a radically different world than if you do the same thing because you are vegan.

    As a side note — LOVE the word “harmer.” Love it.

  • anita
    So, taking the backyard farming (or organic farming for that matter) a bit further….I thought I would bring this moral issue to your attention. You probably are already aware of it but I doubt most consumers are, and this is the dilemma that has been driving us nuts.

    Okay, so now……we are genetically altering — or perhaps, only selectively breeding — a breed of chicken that is essentially the chicken version of the couch potato. It lives to eat, will eat 24 hours a day if you leave the lights on in the hen house. It doesn’t like exercise, it won’t pick like other chickens, and it doesn’t have the energy to catch bugs or scratch.

    It is the quintessential couch potato of the animal world. Left to its own devices, it doesn’t reproduce easily, or at all….sometimes a young bird will accidentally produce offspring, before it gets too fat. In its “natural” state, this bird sits in one spot, moving only occasionally and only a few feet at most.

    Clearly these birds have been bred and raised to conserve calories and pack on the pounds. On the off chance that one of these birds decides to go for a stroll, they risk bent legs or broken leg bones due to the extreme weight load (and no, I’m not kidding).

    This is wrong on so many levels. We are stunned that people who believe in organic ‘sustainable’ farming think that buying chickens who can’t even reproduce, each year from a chicken farm, is natural or okay. I know someone with a small organic chicken farm who thinks they are being humane because they turn the lights off at night so that the biological imperative to eat gets a rest.

    Not being facetious here — but given that the poor birds are biologically designed to eat 24-7, isn’t it cruel to leave the lights OFF?

    See what I mean about this being wrong on so many levels?

  • bravebird
    It’s cruel all the way around. The factory farms have been doing this for a long time, actually. It makes economic sense because the birds are killed at 6 weeks old, long before the real problems set in. Of course, many of the chicks can’t walk after a very short time, and often die trying to get to water and food in the chicken houses. Their genetically identical siblings have to walk around and over their dead bodies until they are dragged off to slaughter.

    When they are rescued, these “broilers” (as they are called) are indeed prone to all sorts of health issues. There are no really good ways to care for them. Keep them on a very restricted diet and they gain an extra year of life plus tend to avoid the problems you mention (lameness, etc.), but they are hungry ALL THE TIME. Allow them to eat all they want and they aren’t hungry all the time, but generally can’t walk once they are a few months old, plus risk other issues just like humans do when they are obese.

    Plus, these poor birds are bred to have extra thin skin since that’s what humans want to eat, so it tears very easily.

    The only possible ethical solution to any of this is to go vegan. One can’t kid oneself into thinking that “organic” farmers or “free range” locavore types will ultimately care any more about non-human animals than the factory farmers, since they are trying to make a living off their very bodies. Since, in any case, flesh and other animal products are unhealthy for humans and extremely non-environmentally friendly (yes, even the locally produced crap), there is no reason whatsoever to continue these horrific practices.

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