Thursday, February 21, 2013

Good Hodgkins

Here's a conversation that is becoming pretty common nowadays.
"I saw something on the news last night about what they do to those poor animals in factory farms."

"Oh, I know. It's awful. I can't even watch. That's why we buy humanely raised meat."

"Oh, so do we! Well, we do when we can. I just want to know that the animal had a good life, you know?"

"Exactly. At least it was happy. The humane stuff costs a bit more, but we buy less meat now, so it all works out and we're spending the same amount as before."

"Right? And it's a lot healthier too. All organic. No pesticides and no hormones."
I say this dialog is common because it's one I proudly took part in many times. And it's one I hear repeated.

To begin, I think it's interesting that we call the animals in question "it." It's much easier to purchase and eat an "it" than a "he" or "she," but that is exactly what we're buying. Beings. It brings to mind the chilling scene in Silence of the Lambs, when Buffalo Bill (the serial killer) lowers a bucket with lotion to young woman he's holding prisoner in a pit and says, "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again." When she begs to be let go and cries that she misses her Mommy, he gets very affected for a moment, but he pulls himself back by telling her "It puts the lotion in the basket!" He even begins to make fun of her screams. We can do whatever we want to an It, and feel no remorse. We can even make jokes about its fate. But a He or She? That's completely different, isn't it? It makes sense why so many farmers refuse to name animals. (So often I'll see a picture of a pig posted in a non-food way on facebook and someone will always, and I mean always, comment, "Mmmm.. bacon!" It's chilling to me that people do that and also disappointing because it's so incredibly unoriginal. But often people's first reaction is to make fun of the animal by labeling it as an It to be eaten.)

The reason I bring up the outlined conversation above is that I heard it the other day between two women in the supermarket and it reminded me of something, but I couldn't quite remember what. Like it was on the edge of my brain but I couldn't bring it forth.  Some funny situation.

And then it came to me today. Factory farm animals vs. humanely raised animals.  It is just like that scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm with the "good" Hodgkins and the "bad" Hodgkins. If you haven't seen it, the main character on the show is just this outrageously obnoxious person who is a complete ... ninny. (There's another word, but I am striving to keep this blog PG.) Anyhow, in this scene he claims that there are two forms of the disease and that one is "good," in that the chances of survival are greater. Everyone keeps remarking to him that it's not really good, just slightly less bad. Take a peek below.

Is humanely raised meat better than factory farmed meat? Technically, I suppose, it is better in some ways, but just barely. Though a few things need to be cleared up about humanely raised animals. (I wrote a post about this word humane, because I find it so distasteful.) First, they all come to the same grisly end. Most are, in fact, sent to the same exact slaughterhouse as their factory farm brethren. Some of these animals, though, may have enjoyed a few more inches of space. A rare few enjoy that idyllic farm we all daydream about and which always seems to be plastered on all the humanely-raised meat labels. But overall, the animals still get treated very badly, and receive the same "standard practices." (Beaks, feet, tails, horns, testicles, ears, and teeth are cut off without anesthesia, for example.)

But just for fun, let's suppose for a minute that humanely raised animals all do get raised on beautiful farms. They have wonderful food. They get to go out to green pastures or peck for bugs in the warm sunshine. People affectionately clean them and name them. Ahhh... Heaven.

Then one day a truck comes to take them away to what we would all deem a living hell. Some may say that's alarmist talk. But what would you call it if it were you going to be slaughtered? I've seen a lot of footage of this and there is simply no other word for it. It's hell. (There goes my PG rating.)

I had one friend tell me they knew of a person who had a truck come and they did the slaughtering right there on the farm in the truck. As though that blew any theories about inhumane treatment out of the water. But to that I say, "That's humane?"

When I ate meat, I drew comfort from knowing that an air bullet thing went through the animals' skulls, which knocked them unconscious. "At least it's quick," I used to tell myself. The unfortunate truth is that when that air bullet is blown into some of the animals' brains, it very often doesn't do the job. The animal goes through processing alive. This is frighteningly common. (And for goodness sake, when is an air bullet going through one's brain good?)

If we were talking about slaughtering humans, would there be factory farm meat and humanely raised meat?
"This humanely-raised human had a great life. We fed it well and it had a safe place to sleep. We let it out during the day to enjoy the sun and the company of other humans. We protected it from harm so that its life was never threatened by predators. Sure it's sad that in the end we have to cut its throat, but that's the way of the world. It's a symbiotic relationship. We feed the lesser humans and protect them, and in exchange, they give their lives to us so we can continue to live. It's natural." (Creepy eh?)

This kind of argument I'm putting forth will certainly raise the hackles of some, who might shake their heads and say, "Well come on now, humans are different. These are animals! You can't make that comparison." But what is the difference really? Intelligence? There are many humans who have lower measured intelligence than some non-human animals due to different brains. Do we kill them? Are they less deserving of life?

Maybe it's that we're more moral than non-human animals. But again, turn on the news and I'm sure you'll find plenty of cases of people not being moral. (I find, actually, that non-human animals are much better examples or moral behavior, at least as I define moral.) So maybe moral behavior isn't how we distinguish who does and doesn't get eaten.

We all have the same or similar organs that serve the same functions. Eyes, ears, skin, feet, legs/fins, mouths, and reproductive organs. We all have nerve endings. We all experience fear and we all know the feelings of sadness and grief. What makes a non-human animal's fear or pain less than ours? Think about it. Why do we think we are so much more important or deserving? What's the damned difference? (PG-13)

Humane meat is a bunch a malarkey, just as is good Hodgkins. I invite you to ruminate on this. How would you feel having your leg hoisted up by a chain and then facing a knife? And why would a non-human animal's reaction be less deserving of sympathy than yours? Just think about it.

If you made it this far, thank you for doing so. And I hope -- boy do I hope -- it might make you think on humanely-raised animals differently. I hope that when/if you buy packaged meat, that you remind yourself that that animal was not an it. It was a he. Or a she.

And maybe you'll look into a non-human animal's eyes and realize that there is no difference in our collective desire to live.


  1. So well said, Katrina. Like you, before I went vegetarian I would buy "humanely raised" meat, dairy, and eggs. I thought I was making a difference by doing it and felt that the extra money was worth it so that the animals were treated well before they were killed. Then I learned two things: First, there's no regulation on "humane." It's all self-regulated. And like you said, the standard practices of tail docking and removing testicles without anesthesia stay the same regardless. The second thing I realized was that I wasn't REALLY buying so-called humanely raised meat, dairy, and eggs all the time. When I went to restaurants, I was almost certainly getting factory farmed animal products. I finally had to ask myself, does it matter or doesn't it? Because if it matters, then I should be consistent. It was that realization that ultimately lead me to going vegetarian and then vegan.

    1. I'm really glad you brought this up, Cadry. There's so much that is awful about the humane label and you bring up two excellent points. I had put off this post for a while because the issue was so huge and I feared I wouldn't do it justice. (Another post I've been putting off is one about fish -- just as big and overwhelming.) I knew I was neglecting other parts of "humane" when I wrote this, and you hit the nail on the head. :)