Does Old MacDonald need a Shrink?

    SoulFish
    by
    Does Old MacDonald need a Shrink?
    Recently I watched a video; it was one of those exposé films about factory farming. Much of what I saw were the typical images one sees every time, piles of carcasses, beaks being burned off, animals being flayed while hanging upside down and bleeding out, kicking because they aren’t dead yet. Images that are shocking to be sure but those weren’t the images that stuck with me the most after the particular video I watched. Despite how disturbing the more typical imagery was, the video I watched also had a section depicting the farmers acting despicably. To be clear from the beginning, I am not suggesting in any way whatsoever that ALL farmers are like the ones depicted so let's not get our knickers in a twist. If anything, my hope is that what is depicted is the exception and NOT the rule. That being said, the farmers depicted in the video were ridiculous.


     
    There was video of farmers punching cows in the face as hard as they could, over and over. One farmer bragged about how he had once beat a cow so bad about the head that the entire head of the cow became disproportionately swollen. They were stabbing the cows in the sides with pitchforks and cattle prodding them in inappropriate places. For the smaller calves they would knock them onto their sides and then stomp on their heads, repeatedly, with their boots. Despite the fact that the scenes with the farmers were slightly less bloody, I found them the most disturbing of all. These men, somehow, shockingly, a part of the same species as myself and so many others with more common sense than a hockey puck, actually got off on punching cows and stomping on their heads.
     
    I came across the video at some website I don't even remember now. Someone had posted a link to the video and the title, the “Best Speech you will Ever Hear” caught my eye, I love a good speech, so of course I had to see what that was all about. The speech was given by a passionate vegan activist called Gary Yourosky who makes some pretty valid arguments for his cause. I remember that on the board behind him was a quote comparing German concentration camps to today’s farms and I remember thinking at the time that he was pushing it a bit. I’m not a little “Susie Save the Snails” type and while I am a compassionate person I had just made assumptions regarding how farming was done and how the less desirable aspects of the job were carried out. I had assumed, despite knowing better perhaps, that aspects such as slaughter and alterations to the body like castration and burning off those beaks were done as quickly and painlessly as possible. I pictured efficiency, all of it part of a necessary evil that I had no control over.

    I have spent a good chunk of my life as a vegetarian and it wasn't for some moral purpose, it was just a diet that worked better for me physiologically. I don't pay much attention to anyone’s agenda and don't have one of my own, I know how unattractive a vegetarian pushing an agenda can be. I have made the occasional exception in my diet though not necessarily enough for the hard-core veg-heads to be climbing their all natural soap boxes. The bottom line is, I don’t eat for them, I eat for me. The Yourosky video however, got me digging again into the truth behind the food supply. To be honest, much of what he was saying was not news to me. I have known many an activist in my day and have heard all the arguments. Still, that one part of the video stuck with me. I still don’t understand how these farmers were actually getting off so much from bullying and physically abusing cows. The psychology buff in me had all sorts of theories humming in my brain, none very flattering to the farmers, while there was another part of me that was just disgusted. What got to me the most was that the people who made the video said that those actions were taking place on a farm that was considered “humane.”

    Everyone knows it’s all just words, “All Natural”, “Cage Free” or “Free Range”, “Organic” and other such terms can be very misleading. "All Natural" could include the blood and puss found in milk as easily as anal secretions or cockroach parts. My experience with vegetarianism and “safer” products usually stemmed from living in areas where good food was easy to come by. I had neighbors who grew lovely organic vegetables and would trade them to me for working in their gardens. I had friends who had chickens whose homes I could clean in exchange for eggs. Some had chickens who produced so many eggs they just gave them to me because they had so  many. I knew where my food was coming from, from field to table I saw the process. Now my environment is different and I am asking myself questions that I never had the need to ask before. Fewer questions arose  when I was surrounded by Farmer’s Markets, Health Food Stores and abundant gardens.

    Now that I live in a situation where I have to get eggs from the store I try to find eggs from farms that are certified to be "ethically responsible" but what exactly does that mean? Again, it’s all just words but while reading egg cartons I saw that there are guidelines. The basic requirements are:

    -The animals are fed a nutritious diet with no antibiotics or hormones.

    -The animals are raised with shelter and resting areas.

    -The animals have sufficient space to engage in natural behaviors.

    As I read these requirements the Auschwitz comparison made a lot more sense to me, the prisoners there had those things too. A part of me finds it ludicrous that there would need to be guidelines for how to treat another being ethically, it should be painfully obvious. One simple phrase comes to mind, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or even just one simple word for the hippie set, "Karma." The above bullet point list is the tip of a very large iceberg. The Devil is in the details, details such as how much space is considered "adequate" and who defines what "natural behaviors" are? Those questions themselves are the tip of an even larger iceberg as each question brings up another one. The guidelines in place don’t seem to be set up with animals and their ethical treatment in mind but rather with how much farmers can get away with. I get why the activists are so passionate, they feel as though they are speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves. It's easy not to question how they know what those who cannot speak are saying, I mean, would you want to be pounded in the face and get a cattle-prod up the ass? Isn't it obvious what they would say if they could?

    I was looking for some kind of standard set of rules and couldn't find one with regard to farm animals. Of course even if I had found one the images of those soul deficient farmers  getting their rocks off on beating up cows would have come to mind anyway. Based on their actions, even if there were guidelines it is doubtful that a person who has a mindset where cow-bullying is somehow fun or necessary would understand them. I did come across a document entitled Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Nonhuman Animals in Research, which is a set of guidelines for psychologists to follow when using lab animals for experimentation. While a vast majority figures a non-human animal is just a thing to serve with a side of French fries or experiment with in a lab setting I see those words, "Non-Human" and think back to that reference in the Yourosky video. I think of Auschwitz and how those were the very same tactics applied by Adolf Hitler, who ironically, was a vegetarian. The main part of Hitler's campaign was to make people see an entire sect of the population as less than human or "non human" and then treat them as such without guilt.

    I am not to the extreme on either side of the issue though what I have learned in my research is that it shouldn't be a surprise. If a man pumps his cow full of hormones and chemicals and then eats his cow he might just become hormonally and chemically challenged. Why should it be surprising in the least that again, you are what you eat, alas, never has that sentiment been more horrifying than it is now. Thus, the cycle of life. When you see a full grown man, one who stands erect, doesn’t carry a club or have a prominent brow ridge and can form sentences, albeit very simple ones, punching the crap out of a cow, it is hard not to wonder what the hell went wrong, but simply look to his diet.
     
    To each his own though, people will eat what they enjoy eating. All this piece is meant to do is perhaps open the door to taking into account where your food is coming from. How is it being produced? The issue isn't black and white, there are a lot of things to consider when deciding where to get the food to nourish yourself and your family and there are a lot of choices, it's never a bad idea to make educated ones.
     

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