It’s the end of a blog as we know it
It was a long winter. As trees blossom and bloom in Brooklyn today, I’m reminded that the last time I posted here was before the leaves turned color. So… where have I been?
In the midst of a crisis of relevance, I suppose. I admit I was getting a bit tired of the sound of my own voice.
The title of this blog also became problematic, because a significant part of the “dilemma” disappeared on January 2nd, when I stopped eating meat, even when it’s well-sourced. (I still eat fish, though rarely.) And I’m still eating eggs and dairy, so it’s not like the dilemma is actually gone. Those animals suffer in the factory farming system as much as those who are slaughtered for their flesh. My personal ethics are not consistent with my current behavior, but I’m still working on it.
Here’s another in a series of thought-provoking quotes, plus my two cents.
- For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the Earth.
- —Henry Beston, Naturalist
This quote was sent to me by Ceciley Bachnik Lowe, a woman I interviewed for a recent Best Friends Animal Society article. She’s an advocate for the hundred feral cats in her community, specifically for the “trap, neuter, release” policy, which is the only effective way to control the population.
Fresh is a great film about improving our food system. It’s more action-oriented than Food Inc., and has a more optimistic tone than, for instance, this blog. The film focuses on what many good, smart people are doing to affect change within our food system, and not on scaring viewers or bumming them out.
It also features lots of face time with some of the most important characters in the good food movement: Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, Will Allen of Growing Power, and George Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition.
I just ordered Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. I can’t wait to read it. Here’s the Publishers Weekly review:
Cooked cuisine was central to the biological and social evolution of humanity, argues this fascinating study. Harvard biological anthropologist Wrangham dates the breakthrough in human evolution to a moment 1.8 million years ago, when, he conjectures, our forebears tamed fire and began cooking… these innovations drove anatomical and physiological changes that make us adapted to eating cooked food the way cows are adapted to eating grass. By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids’ jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing.
My last name, Einhorn, means “unicorn.” Family lore has it that in the shtetl, pharmacies were marked by a sign showing a single horn, because horns were ground down and used as the base of powdered drugs. So either we’re related to pharmacists, or more interestingly, connected to mythical beasts. Either way, most of the Einhorns I know, including myself, collect unicorn figurines the way a 12-year-old girl would.
I thought more about horns when I met this sweet billy goat Gruff at Farm Sanctuary a few weeks ago. This guy got lucky: most goats, sheep, and cattle used in industrial food production are dehorned or debudded (horns start as buds, hence the expression “nip it in the bud”). This is done by restraining the animal in a head gate and using a hot iron to saw off the offending part.
My teenage niece and nephew, who may actually live in the world of Glee, just came to the city to see Wicked on Broadway. They turned me on to the soundtrack, which got me thinking about how great the book was.
Wicked is the backstory of The Wizard of Oz, specifically the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. Elphaba). It also turns out to be about animal rights! In Oz, Animals (uppercase A) are highly conscious beings who experience discrimination.
I just learned a new word: carnism: the belief system in which it’s considered ethical to consume animals. Whether omnivore, flexitarian, or vegetarian, the questions raised in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy, give one pause. In her book, Joy explores “why we feel affection and compassion for certain animals but are callous to the suffering of others—especially those slaughtered for our consumption.”
I heard Jeremy Rifkin, author of Empathic Civilization, speak at Farm Sanctuary’s annual hoe-down last weekend. Beside his interesting thoughts on empathy in humans—that we are hardwired for empathy but need to take it to the next level and extend it to the planet and all creatures on it, developing “biosphere consciousness”—he spoke about two movements who have reached a critical juncture.
The first is the environmental movement, which is about preservation of species and biosphere, a “top-down” approach. Reduce our carbon footprint, and polar bears will hang onto their habitat for longer. Reduce fossil fuel emissions and slow climate change.
The second is the animal welfare movement. I avoid using the term “animal rights,” “rights” being a loaded word that can be used to paint animal welfare activists as crazies who believe chickens should have voting rights and dogs should live in palaces. The movement simply fights against animals being tortured or neglected by humans—not so radical. But I digress.
I saw this big girl at Farm Sanctuary last weekend (the woman pictured is a stranger; I wanted her in the photo to show scale). I didn’t know pigs could be this big, then I learned that they’re usually slaughtered before they reach full size. This one is almost 1000 pounds, and gentle as a manatee.
We’re just back from Farm Sanctuary’s annual hoe-down (lots more on that to come). It took just under five hours to get up to the Finger Lake region of New York State from Brooklyn, and I don’t want to tell you how many it took to get home. The drive back was cursed from the very beginning, though, by something that happened 20 minutes after we left the B&B.
Here’s what you see when entering the “farm” area of Farm Sanctuary (as opposed to the “People Barn” and surrounding cabins). Ever see a sign like this in a zoo?
The animals at the farm have been rescued from unimaginable violence and neglect. They now live in a sanctuary, in the most literal sense of the word: a sacred or inviolable place of refuge. Here, humans get it right.
Children’s books versus reality.
When I’m not pontificating here, I write and edit books and magazines for kids. In 2006, as part of a preschool non-fiction series, I wrote My First Book About Farms, in which Professor Grover takes Elmo on a learning tour of farms, showing red barns, white fences, rolling hills, big haystacks, hayrides, hardworking farmers in overalls, and the obligatory photo of a cow being milked by hand. Grover even plays the role of “Old MacGrover” for awhile.
I did a few things right. I kept meat out of the picture, for the most part. I included information for parents about farmers’ markets. I explained how a lot of people work very hard to get food “from the farm to your plate.” I said that some cows were milked by hand but many are milked by machine. I included lots of big farm equipment like tractors and bailers, which kids—especially the boys—love.
But in general, looking through it now, knowing what I know about the reality of American farms, I feel I owe my readers an apology.
The Carnivore's Dilemma is a blog about what it takes to be an "ethical carnivore"… if that's even possible. It's written by me, Kama Einhorn. More →
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- Michael Pollan
- Author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Journalist and activist. Deserves a Pulitzer.
- Farm Sanctuary
- Works to expose and stop cruel practices of the "food animal" industry.
- Temple Grandin on Animal Welfare
- Dr. Grandin's work has improved the welfare of countless factory-farmed animals.
- Farm Forward
- Works to promote conscientious food choices and reduce farm animal suffering.
- The ASPCA and The Humane Society
- Both work to prevent cruelty to animals and improve their lives.
- Find a furry friend on this national clearinghouse for rescue groups.