Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows
There is something that has always amazed me. Many of us, no, most of us love animals. There are a few people who don’t, but the vast majority of us love the dogs, the cats, and the wildlife that add richness to our lives.
Many of us have companion animals. We call them pets, we treat them like part of our family, we pay for their food, we pay for their vet bills, we let them sleep on our beds, and we cry when they die. The relationships we have with them enrich us deeply as human beings. Why are we so touched? Why are we so moved? Is it because our animal companions have entered our hearts and nurtured a sense of connectedness that is precious?
I am grateful that we, as human beings, can create such meaningful and fulfilling bonds with creatures who are members of other species. I think our capacity to do this is part of our joy and part of our beauty in being human. But I have a question that burns in my soul: Why is it that we love our companion animals so much, animals that we call “pets,” and get so much deep human value from those relationships, but then we turn around and call other animals “dinner,” and by virtue of that semantic distinction feel entitled to treat those animals with any manner of cruelty as long as it lowers the price per pound?
This is what we do, literally. There are laws in all fifty states prohibiting cruelty to animals. The laws vary from state to state, but not in one respect: In every state, the legislation that prohibits cruelty to animals exempts animals destined for human consumption. In every single one of the 50 states, if you are raising an animal for meat, for milk, or for eggs, you can, without restriction, subject that animal to conditions, which, if you did that to a dog or a cat, would land you in jail.
The result is that we have a system of industrialized animal food production, a system of factory farming, which is under no legal compunction not to torture the animals in its “care.” The standard operating procedures in the industry are not designed to be cruel. That is not their goal or their intent. They are designed to be cost effective. But if it turns out that it is cost effective to confine animals in conditions that actually resemble Auschwitz or Dachau, then that’s what will happen. And that’s what has happened.
It is hard to effectively describe how terribly farm animals are routinely treated today. The industry knows that people love animals, and so makes every effort to keep the public from finding out what goes on in the windowless warehouses where hens are kept by the tens of thousands, living in cages that are so cramped they can never, in their entire lives, lift a single wing, their beaks cut off so they don’t mutilate and kill each other in their fury at how they are forced to live. The industry doesn’t want you to know how the animals live as they are prepared for slaughter. It doesn’t want you to know that dairy cows are kept in massive concentrations on crowded dry feedlots, hardly able to move, devoid of a single blade of grass. So the industry gives you ad campaigns telling you that “great cheese comes from happy cows,” and showing images of cows grazing contentedly in beautiful, pasture land.
We have happy cow ads, happy chicken ads, and it’s all a lie. It’s totally dishonest, but it’s not illegal. You can do anything you want to an animal whose flesh or milk or eggs you intend to sell, and you can lie about it all you want, because we have made this semantic distinction between some animals and others. Some we love, others we not only butcher, we torture.
And somehow we rationalize this, forgetting that all of these creatures have something incredibly important in common. They all draw breath from the same source as we do. They are all parts of the earth community. “All God’s critters,” someone wisely once said, “have a place in the choir.”
We need to restore our connection to animals of all kinds, not just for their sake. This isn’t just about animal rights. It’s about human responsibilities. Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I don’t think he meant by the way some of its animals are treated. I don’t think he meant only those that are our pets.
Reprinted with permission of Red Wheel Weiser from Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy, Ph.D. ©2011. Available at any bookstore or through the publisher at email@example.com or 1-800-423-7087.