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Deconstructing the Myth

Rational thought and rationalization can appear to be confusingly similar. Likewise, objectivity and emotional disconnection can, at first glance, be mistaken for one another.

This article raises troubling questions about the logical inconsistencies and dissociation in the words and deeds of "humane" meat advocates. On the one hand, the author makes compelling statements about the impressive intelligence, social bonds, and even moral virtue of various animals he encountered during his childhood on the farm. On the other hand, he makes numerous snide comments about how much he now enjoys eating the body parts of these same sorts of animals, stating for example, "To this day, when tucking into a pork chop, I always feel as if it is my intellectual equal."

Do the dramatic contradictions expressed in this article -- not just in tone, but also in message -- reveal an underlying struggle to overcome the guilt associated with complicity in the harm and killing of others? Are they evidence of healthy adjustment, or signs of lasting damage done to a young boy who was required by his family to participate in the killing of individuals he respected, and even admired?

When we claim to know and appreciate nonhuman animals as individuals, and even claim that we believe these animals have rights, and at the same time, promote consumption of the "right kind" of animal products, are we coming from a place of integration and balance or are we operating under the influence of a delusion?

When we recognize the rich interior lives and social connections of other animals, and thereby claim to be deeply disturbed about the methods being employed to use and kill them, yet at the same time, raise no significant challenge against the use and killing itself, are we making sense intellectually, or emotionally?

When we need to see ourselves both as good people and also as the rightful dominators of those in an oppressed group, is it not inevitable that our minds and hearts will become dysfunctionally divided against themselves?

For those directly caught up in exploitation, and even for well-intended justice advocates involved in developing and promoting "compassionate" methods of using and killing animals, rationalization and emotional disconnection begin as simple coping mechanisms, but over time, can become deeply ingrained distortions with far reaching consequences. Can we hope to realize our full potential as human beings, as responsible citizens, as role models, as educators and activists, if our thoughts, words, and deeds are not in harmony with each other?

For an alternative perspective from a former farmer who had similar experiences but came to a different conclusion, see Harold Brown's statement on this web site.

"One cannot violate the promptings of one's nature without having that nature recoil upon itself."

--Jack London


Nicholas D. Kristof

A Farm Boy Reflects

Do the dramatic contradictions expressed in this article reveal an underlying struggle to overcome the guilt associated with complicity in the harm and killing of others?

Source: NEW YORK TIMES by Nicholas D. Kirstof   Jul 2008   7/31/2008
Click here for direct link to source

In a world in which animal rights are gaining ground, barbecue season should make me feel guilty. My hunch is that in a century or two, our descendants will look back on our factory farms with uncomprehending revulsion. But in the meantime, I love a good burger.
Livestock rights are already enshrined in the law in Florida, Arizona, Colorado and here in Oregon, but California's referendum would go further and would be a major gain for the animal rights movement. And it's part of a broader trend. Burger King announced last year that it would give preference to suppliers that treat animals better, and when a hamburger empire expostulates tenderly about the living conditions of cattle, you know public attitudes are changing.
I'm a farm boy who grew up here in the hills outside Yamhill, Ore., raising sheep for my F.F.A. and 4-H projects. At various times, my family also raised modest numbers of pigs, cattle, goats, chickens and geese, although they were never tightly confined.

Our cattle, sheep, chickens and goats certainly had individual personalities, but not such interesting ones that it bothered me that they might end up in a stew. Pigs were more troubling because of their unforgettable characters and obvious intelligence. To this day, when tucking into a pork chop, I always feel as if it is my intellectual equal.

Then there were the geese, the most admirable creatures I've ever met. We raised Chinese white geese, a common breed, and they have distinctive personalities. They mate for life and adhere to family values that would shame most of those who dine on them.

While one of our geese was sitting on her eggs, her gander would go out foraging for food -- and if he found some delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Sometimes I would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up -- but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.

Once a month or so, we would slaughter the geese. When I was 10 years old, my job was to lock the geese in the barn and then rush and grab one. Then I would take it out and hold it by its wings on the chopping block while my Dad or someone else swung the ax.

The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms.

Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.

We eventually grew so impressed with our geese -- they had virtually become family friends -- that we gave the remaining ones to a local park. (Unfortunately, some entrepreneurial thief took advantage of their friendliness by kidnapping them all -- just before the next Thanksgiving.)

So, yes, I eat meat (even, hesitantly, goose). But I draw the line at animals being raised in cruel conditions. The law punishes teenage boys who tie up and abuse a stray cat. So why allow industrialists to run factory farms that keep pigs almost all their lives in tiny pens that are barely bigger than they are?
Perhaps it seems like soggy sentimentality as well as hypocrisy to stand up for animal rights, particularly when I enjoy dining on these same animals. But my view was shaped by those days in the barn as a kid, scrambling after geese I gradually came to admire.

So I'll enjoy the barbecues this summer, but I'll also know that every hamburger patty has a back story, and that every tin of goose liver pâté could tell its own rich tale of love and loyalty.
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