Why don’t we choose compassion?

“Eat This Vacation,” a food story in the Feb. 7 Xpress, is a glaring example of the disconnect that most humans have about food. The article was accompanied by a photo of a very young lamb and mother. The writer remarked about how lucky she was — while visiting East Fork Farm — to experience “hanging out with day-old lambs” whom she described as “snow-white fluff balls on their wobbly little legs.” But then, with no obvious awareness of the incongruity of her statements, she gushes over East Fork’s pepper-crusted lamb chops.

There are numerous daily examples of this disconnect. Dog and cat rescue organizations hold fundraisers where people who claim to love animals eat some species in order to save other species. When a cow escapes from a slaughterhouse and the media takes notice, sensitive viewers cheer for her to escape death and then they casually eat a hamburger. Parents take their children to see the movie Chicken Run and clap loudly when the chickens are saved from being killed. And then they unthinkingly take their children out for chicken nuggets.

Eating animals and their byproducts is a habit. So why do we rationalize and justify this unnecessary and violent habit? Why don't we choose compassion? Why do we refuse to see the cognitive dissonance of loving animals and yet allowing our habit to cause them to be killed? How can we alleviate this disconnect and move toward a more peaceful existence? Sociologist Melanie Joy provides insightful answers to these perplexing questions at http://www.carnism.org. I urge readers to open their minds and hearts and hear what she has to say.

Then eat more veggies and leave the snow-white fluff balls alone.

— Zia Terhune
Rachael Brownlee responds: It's not a contradiction to appreciate a lamb’s cuteness while enjoying East Fork Farm’s lamb chops. The article intended to bring these two facts into congruence. If you revisit the article, I hope you will see my excitement for re-establishing a long lost disconnect between food and its source. You are right to be opposed to mindless eating. Your examples are good ones. My goal is to make eating more mindful, even if it means looking a “cute” lamb right in the eye. The folks at East Fork Farm are good shepherds, and for me, this is a worth celebrating.


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8 thoughts on “Why don’t we choose compassion?

  1. normanplombe

    You’re right! It’s wrong to eat animals. Their lives are as significant and important as our own. But why stop there? Do plants not have a right to exist without fear of becoming food for other species? Should we not respect their lives as precious? On tonight’s menu: Soylent Green!

  2. Rachel Brownlee

    I will respectfully ask a question of those opposed to my advocation of knowing where your food comes from: Is our human perception of cuteness the standard for valuing life? Is the life of a fish equal to that of a lamb, despite the fact that it does not have a soft wool coat? Let us be cautious that in making a statement about valuing animals, that we do not rationalize compassion only for those we deem adorable. Compassion should be an unconditional act, unearned by those who receive it.

  3. Brook van der Linde

    I grew up eating meat, yet with little regard to what that meat was, where it had come from, or what it taken for it to become a part of my meals. Then, I moved to Africa-to a hut made of cow dung in rural Kenya. Here, I was responsible for helping in the raising, slaughtering, and preparing of the livestock around me. This experience did not lead to vegetarianism, indeed the opposite. I developed an absolute appreciation for the animal life that sustains my own. Now, living in sweet North Carolina, I am grateful to the farmers in my area who treat their animals with compassion. I believe I can enjoy the sweet sight and sounds of the cows which neighbor our home, and at the same time, feed my family (with gratitude and mindfulness) a warm, nutritious beef stew. Thank you Rachel for helping mend this lost connection. Your dedication to local, sustainable, and conscientious eating is what inspires me.

  4. Dana Nagle

    It is an ancient practice of most earth based peoples of the world to admire, respect, and in some cases worship animals, and then eat them. I believe that loving and caring for animals is a basic and beautiful part of human nature. After all, we as humans are, by scientific definition, part of the animal kingdom. I also believe that it is a basic and natural part of human nature to be omnivorous, and eat animals among other things. The vast human spectrum contains many paradoxes, including the capacity to both respect and eat the same thing. As much as we would like to wish or believe it otherwise, we are subject to the laws of nature as much as the next species. In order to live, we must consume life. We, in turn, will be consumed someday, whether it be by a predator high on the food chain (not likely because our human habits are killing them off) or by critters and microorganisms when we are 6 feet in the grave. It is entirely possible to be a loving and compassionate person, acting out of deep humanity, and adore a newborn lamb and later that day, eat its brother. To learn more about the animals’ natural histories and lives is a way we can be mindful about the choices we are making, whatever they may be. If you can’t find it in yourself to eat an animal, then don’t, and that is noble. If you can’t love and care for animals and eat them too, do it respectfully. And please, for the love of god, judge yourself and not other decent citizens.

  5. Megan Sommerville

    I believe one of the most important things to recognize in all complex conversations about this topic, as well as other similar issues, is that there is no ” right” answer. As humans we cannot speak or act in absolutes, nor deem to know the final answers on any subjects, no matter how important or controversial they are. Once we begin to make these types of claims, dictatorships follow, and oppositional views become marginalized and eventually criminal. Instead we must look at issues with a more democratic eye; using intelligent, critical thinking to destinguish sound thoughtful behavior from the reckless and unconscious kind is of the utmost importance.

    The issue at hand, as far as I can tell is not one of vegetarianism vs omnivorism, but of consciousness Vs unconsciousness. As stated above, humans have gained sustenance from both plant and animal matter, as many other species do, for our entire existence. There is no question that in recent history much of the consciousness around eating meat has been lost, and the author’s point is to guide those who are paying attention back to more aware behavior.

    Recognizing both the beauty and vital life giving qualities inherent in animals is an extremely important practice for those humans who choose to eat meat. I believe this type of awareness should be applauded by both vegetarians and meat eaters alike. The distinction between the kind of localized meat consumption that Rachel is discussing and the consumption of reconstituted pink chicken parts from McDonalds cannot possibly be looked at through the same lense. Likewise, within vegetarianism there are many dichotomies. Is it better to eat soy products which are GMO stuffed, hard to digest and toxic to the planet than to eat a local grass fed Lamb? I don’t know, but I don’t think the answer is black and white.

  6. Walter Harrill - Imladris Farm

    This is, as most of us are aware, a difficult issue that has dominated Mountain Express opinion pages for years. It seems to me that given the fact that we as a community represent at least two very different viewpoints (I refer to the “meat as murder” viewpoint and the “ethical treatment of meat animals” viewpoint, though there are plenty of others), we have a choice to make. We can choose to recognize the issues on which we do agree (the inhumane practices common in conventional meat production come to mind) and work together to address those issues… or we can choose to view each other as evil incarnate and refuse to have any interaction. The beauty of the former is that while we work together to fix commonly recognized problems, we come to better understand each others perspectives on the issues we don’t agree upon. That’s not going to cause us to change our mind (generally), but it leads to a more effective (and more civil) conversation on those tougher problems.
    I celebrate Rachel’s presentation of an alternative to the factory-farmed meat most commonly available today, and her courage in making the effort to meet, in person, the animals that provide her sustenance. I, personally, would like to see more folks making that trip to the farm to re-connect to the concept of meat as a product of a living, breathing, feeling animal. In many cases, I think such an exposure would lead many to Zia’s path of vegetarianism, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. In most other cases, I think people would find that their meat consumption would become more “mindful”, recognizing the sacrifice involved in our survival, and celebrating the wonder of this natural system that provides so well for us.
    I also congratulate Zia on her concious decision to avoid meat. I truly respect someone who has gathered the data, considered the options, and made a decision in a way that I can’t respect someone who hands me the “You grow your own meat? That’s awful!” line while Big Mac juice stains their shirt.
    We know what the challenge is. How would you as a community prefer to move forward?

  7. Julianna

    I want to thank Rachel for attempting to connect people to the food they consume. I myself am a Vegan and choose that lifestyle for my family, but I realize that it is not a choice for everyone. From the beginning of time, humans have consumed meat, it is our connection to those animals, that we have lost. There is something very different between eating a hamburger from McDonalds, that’s production has killed thousands of acres of rainforest, and consuming an animal that was treated with love and compassion. I have several friends and family members that are farmers, who raise both animals and vegetables, and I have never met a group of people more connected to the earth and all living
    things on it. Love and compassion for all living things is what we should all strive for as human beings, and I only pray that one day everyone who consumes meat has as much respect for the animal that Rachel does.

  8. Zia

    If eating animals is a “choice” then why do most choose not to perform the slaughter themselves? Cleaner to just pay someone else to do the dirty work? Some choice.

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