Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pet the dog, eat the cow: Our confused relationship with animals

My brother sent this article from The Philadelphia Inquirer. The article touches upon an interesting idiosyncrasy of humans and the animals we have stewardship over. Personally, I struggled with this issue about 7 years ago. After fouling up my system by following a poorly designed vegan diet, I concluded, for better or worse, that I am beef eater that somehow likes animals as well.

At the time, my uncle hunted. I asked him to teach me to hunt.Since I am to be a carnivore, I should at least appreciate what it takes to personally track, kill, prepare, and then eat the animal. It is an odd way of being able to look in the mirror and say "I now have more integrity because I don't simply consume factory produced flesh from a plastic bag." At least the animal I consumed had the luxury of living free and naturally until it crossed paths with my dinner plans. It should be mentioned that hunting, if performed in accordance with DNR regulations, is NOT shooting ducks in a barrel. It requires tons of time in the off-season tracking and studying the movement of the game you wish to hunt. One does not simply climb a tree one cold morning and expect a herd of deer to come by on schedule 30 minutes later and go home. You can spend days in the woods sitting quietly, having tracked your quarry, and they never emerge. As for poachers, which is basically anything that falls outside of the DNR regulations, there are enormous penalties and sentences. So you anti-hunters, rest assured the DNR is hell on enforcement and people go to jail all the time for violations. The game animals are far batter protected than the animals who provide the meat available in your grocery store. And since our ancestors exterminated all the predators, culling the herds are now our job.

It takes about 5 minutes of googling to find enough reliable information about factory farmed animals to nauseate and revile any normal person.
We have cruel testing practices on dogs happening right here in Atlanta in labs at Georgia Tech. When attempting to make a few changes with their circumstance, not even the local media batted an eye. Still, we bend over backwards to save one dog, while 3-4 million a year are euthanized because someone didn't bother to neuter/spay along the way, or someone was making a living running an awful puppy mill or raising dogs to fight.

Yet, we don't see volunteer groups rescuing a sow who has not touched the ground since being trussed up after having its first litter, being repeatedly re-impregnated and jacked up with every imaginable medication to speed the production cycle and enhance growth of the offspring. We do not see people turning their heads in disgust at the prospect of eating a lamb, which play organized games among themselves. Most people relish veal, the production of which is just a horrific practice. Would you lock your puppy up for 2-3 months in a pen with no light, then slaughter and eat it? No, but is is OK if it is a cow.

Then, one has to consider the inefficiency of the meat production cycle. A majority of effluent sewage contaminants and chemicals in the water supply result from all the run off from the treated fields, and the untreated sewage of the meat industry. The amount of grain required to raise on cow could feed somewhere around ten x the number of people with the grain as opposed to the resulting slaughtered meat.

The reality is these products taste good, fan our egos, and provide needed nutrition. Yet, as responsible people, it is good to consider where all of the bounty comes from, and what it had to endure to provide for our tables. For me, it means simply not overeating when it comes to meat, dairy, poultry, and fish. It means purchasing products from farms that respect the animals and not from corporate producers.

It means remembering to take full appreciation of the sentient entity that gave its life to give me sustenance and culinary enjoyment. It means learning how to prepare food to a higher level. After all if it died, one should make the very best of it possible. It is remembering to pray and thank the animal. Many native Americans do this.

Cherokees, when building a sweat lodge, would cut saplings for the lodge's construction. On the remaining stump, they would place a portion of tobacco, and thank the tree for giving of itself. Imagine a lumber company doing that!

Nonetheless, all living things are imbued with Spirit. When one fails to respect and honor Spirit, that can serve no good purpose.

Here is the article.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Benjamin Lynch <>
Date: Jul 28, 2007 9:33 AM
Subject: Pet the dog, eat the cow: Our confused relationship with animals
To: Bryan Grant <>

Pet the dog, eat the cow: Our confused relationship with animals
By Crispin Sartwell
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Article Last Updated: 07/27/2007 09:11:29 PM MDT

The Michael Vick dogfighting case, and all of the attention on dogfighting and its attendant practices, show one thing very clearly: As a society, we have no idea what we think about animals. We don't know how much we ought to take them into account, morally. We don't even know how to figure it out.
I watched cable news recently, and almost every anchor interviewed an official of the Humane Society, and all expressed horror, especially that Vick's indictment had accused him and his fellow defendants of executing dogs in ways apparently designed to be as cruel as possible: drowning, strangling, electrocution. One official compared the practice to child pornography.
Then I went into town for some lunch, driving past all of the franchises peddling ground cow for human consumption - the same ones you'll find on every American highway exit.
If killing dogs is the equivalent of child pornography, while eating cows is simply a way to put off mowing the lawn, we seem to be conflicted - or reeking with hypocrisy and confusion.
We have a set of intuitions, driven partly by our interactions with pets, that many animals can experience pain in a morally significant way, that they can suffer, or be used and degraded. Perhaps they have somewhat less of a claim on us than human beings do, but they make a claim.
But another set of intuitions is driven by our dietary habits or our experience of thumping squirrels and armadillos on the road: that an animal is little more than an inanimate object, and can be used in whatever way a human being sees fit.
Our moral evaluation of animals seems to vary with their proximity to ourselves - both their everyday interactions with us and their perceived similarity to us - so that by the time you're done attributing love, loyalty and inferential reasoning to your dog, you have recognized her as a de facto human being, a member of the family. It works both ways, and your dog recognizes you as leader of the pack.
Cows have big, sad eyes, but less personality of the sort that arouses our recognition. And these days, unless you're directly involved in the farming and food industry, your interaction with cows is limited to, let's say, the drive-through lane.
In practice, the moral claims of animals vary by species and track our sense of the animal's proximity - cognitive, emotional, physical - to ourselves. We become truly sentimental: We write memoirs with our dogs, talk baby-talk to them, let them lick our faces. But about other species we are as hard-nosed as possible. Essentially, we do whatever we feel like to them whenever we want.
But there is no rational justification for this distinction. Pigs aren't more stupid, or less emotionally complex or less capable of experiencing pain than dogs, but they seem to lack that certain something (well, all except Charlotte's Wilbur).
One might simply rest the problem with dogfighting on its effects on human beings - as in, "Dogfighting is debasing not to the pit bull but to the quarterback who participates."
But if we really believed cruelty to animals debased humans who participate, we'd have to accept that our massive, industrial-scale systems of cruelty to cows deeply debase all humanity.
If there were an argument for dogfighting, I suspect it would go like this: The dog is bred to fight; we admire its violence and participate in it; it is a primal and even noble enactment of our life here on Earth. Perhaps the dog would rather die than lose, like the world's greatest athletes or businessmen.
This resembles the animal-rights argument: It reads a dog's motivations as though they were human. But it has a different sense of what it means to be human.
We need to decide: (a) Do animals count? and (b) How, exactly, not as dwarfish, or four-legged, or stupid people, but as real things whose existence is, though connected to ours, profoundly external and different?
Until we grapple with these questions, our condemnation of Vick and our tender treatment of Beau the miniature dachshund are equally irrational.

CRISPIN SARTWELL teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.