Less suffering and abuse is still suffering and abuse

I enjoyed reading about Arthur Morgan School's (AMS) "Pick Your Own Poultry Workshop" (Small Bites, May 26), where kids "have the opportunity to choose then kill and dress their own chickens." As AMS Admissions Director Meghan Lundy-Jones noted, "If you're going to eat meat, you might as well know what goes into it." I agree, and think this optional program should be required of all meat-eaters. I wasn't surprised to read that it leads some kids to become vegetarians. Children have a natural affinity for animals, and faced with the reality of their food choices, they'll often make compassionate decisions.

The AMS website includes the following: "Students and staff honor the Quaker values of simplicity, responsibility, service, personal integrity, nonviolent conflict resolution and respect for self, others and the environment." Where is the respect for the chicken, and where is the nonviolent conflict resolution? Seems like the lesson here is "might makes right," plain and simple.

I encourage those who think that animals raised on small farms are treated humanely to watch "FREE RANGE: A Short Documentary" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMF5ZW2QvYg. The family farmer profiled "specializes in turning vegetarians into meat-eaters" and "believes in treating animals with respect." While he doesn't subject the animals he raises to some of the more egregious cruelties they systematically endure on factory farms and at commercial slaughterhouses, he didn't convert me. Less suffering and abuse is better than more, but I don't find what he does to be at all respectful. Webster's New World Dictionary defines humane as "having what are considered the best qualities of human beings: kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, etc." Can robbing animals of their lives to satisfy a culinary preference to eat their corpses ever be called humane, or does using the phrase "humane meat" distort the very meaning of the word?

— Stewart David
Asheville

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14 thoughts on “Less suffering and abuse is still suffering and abuse

  1. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Mr. David, I understand your compassion for treating animals humanely, and I often agree with you, especially about “factory farming”—but carrying that compassion so far as to castigate people who eat meat rather than strictly vegetarian diets is compassion and castigation seriously misplaced.

    I grew up on a farm and still live on a farm, and what I see is this. With every acre harvested for vegetarian food, thousands of animals die. Year after year the children in our community follow the harvesters to try to rescue rabbits and other animals (field mice are a favorite) with habitats destroyed, legs cut off, bodies mangled and killed—and those obvious animals are only the visible tip of the food chain.

    With every harvest to put vegetarian meals on your table, please know that thousands and millions of beneficial mammals, insects, snakes, frogs, mice, butterflies, birds, etc., have been treated “inhumanely” for the sake of your food. You just do not see the slaughter unless you have spent time out there in the fields.

    Is the slaughter of one steer raised on an acre of grass really more heinous than killing thousands and millions of other smaller living things to produce an acre of vegetarian food?

    If the sheer numbers of animals do not compute, then what is the value system by which you make your judgments about which animals should live or die in order to feed you? Size? Species? Cellular structure? Fur or skin or feathers or scales or….. what, exactly?

  2. Stewart David

    Betty,

    I don’t think I castigated anyone. I ask people to take an honest look at where their food comes from and make decision based upon their own value system, not mine. See my last letter, “Test your behavior using your own ethics, not those of animal-right activists,” at http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2007/test_your_behavior_using_your_own_ethics_not_those_of_animal-right_activist/

    The video link in my current letter does a good job of exposing the “humane myth.” Everyone draws a line. I want people to draw their line based on good information, not myths and propaganda.

    You use the example of killing a steer raised on an acre of grass. Grazing animals is very land-intensive, and we could only support a tiny percentage of meat-eaters using this methodology. Few people own the large quantity of acreage required to feed themselves this way. Some can afford to pay others to do it for them. I’ve done the math, and we’d need to clearcut the entire planet to be able to feed the current quantities of meat consumed to even a small portion of people. The message: the rich can eat meat, the poor must be vegetarians. Rather than take an elitist approach to food production, I think we need a paradigm shift in the way we try to feed the world.

    Yes, I’m well aware that animals die in crop production. I know a good bit about farming, my grandparents owned a family farm. Most human activity causes animal suffering and death. Driving cars, building a house, you name it. We can live consciously and take steps to reduce the suffering or we can look for excuses. We can’t recycle everything we use, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our garbage into the creek.

    Over 95 percent of Americans eat factory-farmed meat. That means that they contribute to the massive growing of crops to feed these animals. As I am sure you are aware, it takes as much as 15 pounds of plant food to produce a pound of meat. Animals use most of the calories fed to them to live their lives, and mostly we get back feces and urine in return for the food we feed them. So eating meat not only causes the death of the animals consumed, but also many, many more who die as a result of massive crop production, as you so eloquently stated in your comments. We can address this as a society by moving towards vegetarianism. Or affluent individuals with the resources can look for loopholes.

    I hope that answers your questions. I probably won’t return to this forum to continue the conversation. Soon the hate-mongers who hide behind fake names and monikers will be adding their vitriolic comments, and I have no time or patience for them. If you want to continue the conversation, I’m easy to find and would be happy to talk to you one-on-one. Thanks and best wishes.

  3. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Mr. David, perhaps we should strive to take a more symbiotic view of the interconnectedness of all life on earth, both universal and local, and try not to further upset the natural balance beyond redemption. Advocating a singular line of thinking in regard to manipulation of the food chain is counterproductive, and so is applying macro-agri-business arguments to small-farm operations and individual food choices.

    Vegetarianism vs. carnivorous eating by humans is not the crux of the matter. Balance is. Interrelatedness is. Interconnectedness is. Mutual viability should be our goal, and moderation in all things.

    Your letters always include terms such as human ethics, humanely treated, inhumanely treated, human choice, etc., which implies that the world’s living environments are human-centric, that the world revolves around humans. Ergo, your letters present a widely-held value judgment that decrees it acceptable for animals and plants to die in order for humans to live, but not conversely. Such human-centricity is a human construct, not a mandate from Gaia.

    The human-centric societies of the world, ours included, no longer live off the yields of the earth’s natural systems, nor are the earth’s natural systems valued by human-centric societies. Extreme plant and animal agri-engineering by humans has so disrupted, degraded, and destroyed the once interrelated ecosystems that natural food production is severely marginalized or even no longer functional in many places—and large-scale agri-business is a direct result of rampant human population growth, which is in itself a form of extreme agri-business.

    The animals and plants, though, whose habitats are being destroyed and whose lives are being sacrificed to feed the human multitude, would disagree with the prevailing human-centric perspective—and animal and plant populations have been known to revolt through plagues and famine and such.

    Making arbitrary either/or choices about vegetarianism vs. carnivorous eating (“drawing lines”) is injurious to the natural interconnectedness of all living things, and whenever human societies veer too far in any direction, we contribute to the further destruction of the natural symbiosis that holds all things in balance. Actually, the small percentage of people making diverse either/or distinctions is not likely to affect the entire balance, but rampant population growth in human-centric societies surely will continue to do so—until Gaia finally revolts.

    By the way, “massive crop production” is not necessary to feed grass-fed animals in small numbers on small farms, and the manure we get back from them is black gold in that it contributes to the natural interrelated ecosystems for both plants and animals, including humans. Millions of living things benefit from one grass-fed steer.

  4. xvelouria

    “Ergo, your letters present a widely-held value judgment that decrees it acceptable for animals and plants to die in order for humans to live, but not conversely. Such human-centricity is a human construct, not a mandate from Gaia.”

    Uhh.. so what’s your solution here? Stop reproducing, and then we can all eat grass-fed beef and return to some idyllic ‘natural balance’, because if we have 90% less human population we have that much more land on which to allow cows to graze?

    Who gets to have babies? Who decides?

    If you’re NOT suggesting population control as it seems like you are, then how do you suggest we provide enough land to raise enough grass-fed cows to supply the population of the United States ALONE with non-industrially-produced beef?

  5. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Gaia will ultimately “decide.”

    The history of humankind (a rather brief period of time, considering the age of the earth) includes numerous human societies that have built themselves up beyond their ability to sustain themselves, collapsed, and disappeared. Human societies come and go.

    The best we can do as individuals and as human groupings is consume no more than we ourselves can produce and sustain within the natural (nature’s) interconnectedness in which we find ourselves, and as a society not to knowingly travel down dead-end paths that offer no future, e.g. massive deforestation.

    The environmental balance is fragile, and humankind even more so—and we are far more expendable than most other life forms on this earth.

  6. Elaine

    After reading about the episode of the bear’s excursion to downtown last week, I couldn’t help but be amused of his intelligence in not only finding his way coming and going but his health
    conscious choice in selecting berries to curb his
    appetite.

  7. Piffy!

    Thanks for trying to spread a little logic, reality and sanity into an emotional-charged topic, Betty.

  8. JWTJr

    Natural Balance? When has that ever existed? Eden maybe. After that, everything on the planet, plant and animal, has fought for its very existence every day.

    The whole concept of natural balance is a hollow semantics discussion based in no historical fact.

  9. Johnny

    A large part (the lion’s share?) of “natural balance” is precisely that struggle for existence.

    Eating. Getting eaten.

    Goes round and round. Big deal.

  10. Cheshire

    There’s a simple solution your calculations overlooked, Stewart. Deer require no land be clearcut, need no tending other than natural wilderness. Hunting for food has been the working class’s meat solution throughout history, and more efficient and sustainable than gathering or farming.

  11. Betty Cloer Wallace

    ….. “natural balance” is precisely that struggle for existence. Eating. Getting eaten.

    Yes, that is natural balance: nature’s way, every day, every second, every millennium. Some species prosper and go forth and multiply…… and some become extinct….. and so on.

    The big question is how much of it is instinct for survival in the short term, and how much of it is knowledge and forethought, even in the face of likely extinction.

  12. JWTJr

    “The big question is how much of it is instinct for survival in the short term, and how much of it is knowledge and forethought, even in the face of likely extinction.”

    Bringing up “Likely Extinction” is like making a Hitler reference.

  13. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Hitler?

    Actually, as per Mr. David’s emphasis on Quaker values of humans treating animals with respect and nonviolent conflict resolution instead of might makes right, I was thinking more along the lines of species instinct such as lemmings to the sea and beached whales, honeybee hive collapse, and viral plagues, along with the aftermath of humans deliberate cutting of forests, draining of swamps, and spraying of herbicides and insecticides.

  14. JWTJr

    Betty, I’m with you now. The sentence sounded like you were talking about humans.

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