(ANIMAL WELFARE) Understanding the way we treat animals means moving one step closer to humane decision-making. Eating meat may be nearly impossible for some to give up, but once we recognize that our way of producing meat must be done differently, we’ll be able to reduce both meat consumption and our collective guilt. Read on to learn more about changing the way we treat animals. — Global Animal
New York Times, Mark Bittman
Until a couple of years ago I believed that the primary reasons to eat less meat were environment- and health-related, and there’s no question that those are valid reasons. But animal welfare has since become a large part of my thinking as well. And I say this as someone not known to his friends as an animal-lover.
If we want a not-too-damaged planet to live on, and we want to live here in a way that’s also not too damaged, we’re better off eating less meat. But if we also want a not-too-damaged psyche, we have to look at how we treat animals and begin to change it.
We can start by owning up to the fact that our system is industrialized. And as horrible as that word — “industrialized” — seems when applied to what was once called animal husbandry, it is precisely the correct term. Those who haven’t seen this, or believe it to be a myth perpetrated by PETA, might consider reading “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” recently published by Timothy Pachirat. (This isn’t a review, but the book is superbly written, especially given the grimness of the subject.)
You might think that “every 12 seconds” refers to the frequency with which we kill animals, but in a moment you’ll realize that that’s impossible: we process more than nine billion animals each year — hundreds per second. No, 12 seconds is the frequency with which the Omaha slaughterhouse where Pachirat worked for five months killed cattle, a total of around 2,500 per day.
Pachirat, whom I interviewed by phone earlier this week, took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence. Like others, he concluded that our isolation from killing allows us to tolerate unimaginably cruel practices simply because we don’t see them. But Pachirat emphasizes that it’s not only we — consumers — who are isolated from the killing, but workers: at his plant only seven people out of 800 were directly involved with live cattle, and only four with killing.
Not that the other workers have it easy: “Every Twelve Seconds” shatters any belief you might have about the system treating animals with a shred of decency. “The sheer volume, scale and rate of killing,” Pachirat told me, “the way the animals form a continuous stream rather than individual creatures, makes it clear the animals are seen as raw material. The cattle are called ‘beef’ even while they’re alive — and that not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.”
Our assertion of our right to treat animals as we do iron or lumber or car doors — to treat them as widgets — is not cannibalism, but it’s hardly consistent with our keeping of adored pets.
Meat-eaters may assert that this is somehow justifiable, because we “need” to eat meat — just not cats or dogs or goldfish — to live. And even though we don’t (in fact, there’s increasing evidence that too much of it is harmful; more on that later this week), we have more than two million years of tradition to point to, we have bodies that process meat well and even thrive on it in limited amounts and we have a love of eating animal flesh that for most of us may not go away any time soon.
None of which justifies egregious maltreatment. (Yes, vegan friends, I get that killing animals, period, is maltreatment. This ambivalence, or hypocrisy if you prefer, is for every ambivalent or hypocritical omnivore or flexitarian a puzzle, and scale is an issue.) That maltreatment must first be acknowledged in order for us to alleviate it.
And that acknowledgment is forthcoming. The allure — and habit! — of meat-eating may be too strong for most of us to give it up, but recognizing its consequences is a move toward a middle ground: a place where we continue to eat animals but exchange that privilege (that’s what it is) for a system in which we eat less and treat them better, one that allows our children to make more humane decisions. Because once we accept that farm animals are capable of suffering (80 percent of Americans believe this to be true), we might well wonder what they’ve done to deserve such punishment.
The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes “Every Twelve Seconds” different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, “that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself.”
At that point we might finally acknowledge that raising, killing and eating animals must be done differently. When omnivores recognize that our way of producing and eating meat reduces not only slaughterhouse workers but all of us to a warped state, we’ll be able to bring about the kind of changes that will reduce both meat consumption and our collective guilt.
Pachirat says he has changed as a result of his experience, becoming increasingly interested in what he calls “distancing and concealment.” He now intends to work on those issues as they relate to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing. And it’s because these connections make so much sense that we should look more carefully at how we raise and kill animals.
“I didn’t get into this to focus on animal issues,” he told me, “but my own relationship to eating meat has been transformed, and I now forgo it altogether. It’s just not worth the pleasure when you know the system.”
When we all know the system, we’ll be even more eager to change it.
More New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/