“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.