Have you ever been in so much pain that you thought you were going to die?
Have you ever suffered so much that you wanted to die?
Every year, many unseen individuals in the U.S. do suffer to death. Slowly. Excruciatingly. Pigs, transported hundreds and hundreds of miles in open trucks without food or water, freeze to death. Chickens raised to be “meat,” genetically manipulated to grow unnaturally fast, have their legs break under their own weight, leaving them incapacitated and unable to get to food or water.
It can be shocking to learn that, even before they have a chance to reach slaughter, modern agribusiness is so inherently brutal that it will cause countless individuals to die agonizing deaths. As Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times:
More than any other institution, the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. Here in these places life itself is redefined — as protein production — and with it suffering. That venerable word becomes “stress,” an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution, like tail-docking or beak-clipping. Our own worst nightmare such a place may well be; it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs, into the brief, pitiless life of a “production unit.”
For a growing number of people, these facts compel them to stop eating chickens, pigs, ducks, cows, and turkeys. More and more people are making a daily, public statement against the breathtaking viciousness behind meat production.
For me, being a vegetarian is not the conclusion of an impartial set of utilitarian calculations, nor the endorsement of “animal rights.” Rather, being a vegetarian is a statement about the person I want to be. I could not live with myself if I were to be a part of such cruelty to thinking, feeling individuals.
But of course, not everyone makes this choice. With factory farms concealed, slaughterhouses hidden, and society structured around consuming faceless, disembodied, sanitized “meat,” we can easily ignore reality and just go along with the crowd. And if confronted with the hidden realities of modern agribusiness, we can seek out the “less bad” and call it good.
Michael Pollan, quoted earlier about the horrors of big ag, isn’t a vegetarian. In fact, he actively mocks the “moral certainty” of vegetarians. He fabricates fantastic fantasies to continue to justify eating animals. For example, he says that thinking in terms of individuals is human-centric, and that instead, we need to think in terms of species’ interests. Of course, this is exactly backwards. “Species” is a human construct, an abstraction that inherently can’t have interests. Only individuals have the capacity to experience pleasure or suffer pain and thus have interests. To argue that we should eat the flesh of our fellows to advance the “interests” of a species is so absurd, such a complete inversion of reality, it is truly stunning that a seemingly intelligent person would be willing to put forth such ludicrous nonsense. Pollan is the perfect example of Cleveland Amory’s observation that people have an infinite capacity to rationalize, especially when it comes to something they want to eat.
This may seem an unnecessarily harsh condemnation of a man who at least is willing to write about factory farms. But Pollan not only mocks vegetarians via laughable straw-man arguments, he even endorses the brutal act of force-feeding geese to create foie gras! This level of repulsive rationalization should be exposed for what it is. Pollan’s unwillingness to honestly consider vegetarianism, combined with his firsthand experience of “our own worst nightmare,” leads him to praise “happy meat” from “humane” farms. Having had the time and resources to investigate the various farms, the pinnacle of Pollan’s praise is Polyface Farm, where “animals can be animals,” living, according to Pollan, true to their nature.
So what is Polyface like? Rabbits are kept in small suspended wire cages. Chickens are crowded into mobile wire cages, confined without the ability to nest or the space needed to establish a pecking order. All year ‘round, pigs and cattle are shipped in open trucks to conventional slaughterhouses. Seventy-two hours before their slaughter, birds are crated with seven other birds. After three days without food, they are grabbed by their feet, upended, and, without any stunning, have their throats slit.
This is the system that Pollan proclaims praiseworthy. While mocking vegetarians, he argues that we should ethically and financially endorse Polyface’s treatment of these individuals.
But really, how can we expect better? In the end, Polyface’s view is the same as Tyson’s: These individual animals are, ultimately, simply meat to be sold for a profit. It is logically and emotionally impossible for there to be any real respect — any true, fundamental concern for the interests of these living, breathing, thinking, and feeling individuals — when they are being raised only to be butchered and sold for maximum profit. If we insist that we must consume actual animal flesh instead of a vegetarian alternative, it is naïve, at best, to believe that any system will truly take good care of the animals we pay it to slaughter.
If, in the end, you see an individual as meat, you will treat them as such.
Of course, I applaud anyone who looks honestly at “our worst nightmare” and begins to take steps toward more compassionate choices; most people find it easier to go along with the crowd.
Yet for those of us striving to live a truly moral life, it is important to avoid getting caught up in rationalizations. In the end, we have to address the most fundamental question: Do we respect individuals, or do we support slaughter? Details aside, the bottom line is that meat is the flesh of a unique individual — an individual who had thoughts and feelings, friends and fears, and who struggled and fought to stay alive.
We can each recognize and respect these chickens, cows, ducks, pigs, and turkeys as the incredible individuals they are. We can recognize that rather than being food, if given the chance, they could each be a friend.
Frank Luntz is the conservative wordsmith behind some of the most successful Republican politicians and movements of the modern era. His book Words That Work (subtitled It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear) is an excellent lesson on how to shape language that actually influences people, while avoiding common traps that undermine our efforts at communication.
His top ten rules are:
- Simplicity: Use Small Words
- Brevity: Use Short Sentences
- Credibility Is as Important as Philosophy
- Consistency Matters
- Novelty: Offer Something New
- Sound and Texture Matter
- Speak Aspirationally
- Ask a Question
- Provide Context and Explain Relevance
This is in no way a perfect book (as examined here), but a very interesting one, replete with stories and examples. The book’s subtitle alone is one of the most important lessons that advocates can learn. Here is a fuller review, if you’d like a more extensive exploration of the ideas without (or before) reading the whole book.
Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign keeps our members up-to-date on issues where they live that pertain to farm animals.
For example, there is a new “ag-gag” bill in Arkansas – HB 1665 – that would make it illegal for anyone to expose brutal cruelty and food-safety issues on factory farms. Our Arkansas members have mobilized to pressure their state legislators to oppose this bill. Unfortunately, on Monday, the state House voted to approve it, but the fight to protect animals in the state continues. If you know any Arkansas residents, please forward this alert to them and urge them to contact their state Senators to voice their opposition to this dangerous bill.
In more positive news, our New York members are pushing to get an anti-foie-gras bill through their state’s legislature. As many animal advocates are aware, the production of foie gras is incredibly cruel. Birds, like Matisse and Monet above, are force-fed, for weeks at a time, and this produces a deformed and diseased liver that is then sold as a so-called “delicacy.” State Senate Bill S1559 would prohibit the barbaric practice of force-feeding ducks and geese. If you know anyone in New York, please forward them this alert!
If you’re not yet part of the Compassionate Communities Campaign and want to receive updates like these on issues in your area that affect farm animals, please sign up here!
A new book – Never Split the Difference, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz – picks up where Carnegie left off. Ostensibly a book about negotiation, it really is a book about dealing with others – how to read them, listen to them, and discern and understand their motivations.
While the entire book is interesting (also check out his organization’s blog), with lessons framed in the context of various negotiations, I found these excerpts to be particularly insightful for anyone who wants to open another person’s heart and mind to new ideas and possibilities:
[W]ithout a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally-driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.
Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment, and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done.
It’s emotional intelligence on steroids.
[T]he Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) … proposes five stages – active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change – that take any negotiator from listening to influencing behavior.
[A]s cardiologists know all too well, you more than likely haven’t gotten there yet if what you’re hearing is the word “yes” … the sweetest two words … are actually “That’s right.”
[W]hile innocent and understandable, thinking you’re normal is one of the most damaging assumptions in negotiations. With it, we unconsciously project our own style on the other side. [T]here’s a [big] chance your counterpart has a different style than yours. A different ”normal.”
[T]he Golden rule is wrong. The Black Swan rule is: don’t treat others the way you want to be treated; treat them the way they need to be treated.