The Meat-Eating Goat Rescuer
A few months ago, I was working with the pigs at Poplar Spring during the Montgomery County Farm Tour. The farm tour brings in a lot of people that not only aren’t vegetarian, but don’t have any concept of an animal sanctuary or why a farm with animals would exist if not to make money. That event is an interesting opportunity to interact with meat-eaters and tell them things about food production they never knew.
While in the pig area on that particular day, one woman came up with her completely bored-looking husband. After I talked a little bit about the pigs’ history and how they got to the farm, she mentioned that she did goat rescue and brought the newest goat to Poplar Spring a few weeks earlier. She went on to discuss the goat slaughter industry and how it was tied to consumption of goat milk. I figured, ah, good, a visitor who “gets it.” Then, she said, “I guess you’re vegetarian?”
I replied, “Yes, vegan. You?”
She replied, “No. I probably should be, but I like the taste of meat too much.”
I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. Not only was I hearing the most annoying (but also the most truthful) reason, but I was hearing it from someone who should know better. It’s like hearing that someone that runs a farm sanctuary still eats meat: it just doesn’t add up.
She continued, “Plus, I could never get him to go for it,” pointing to her husband, who was leaning against a wall. A few seconds later, he asked, “Can we go yet?”
I decided to pretend I was Gary and turn this into an outreach opportunity. I told her, “There are so many great fake meats out there, it’s incredibly easy to transition to vegetarianism these days.”
She countered with, “Well, we know where our meat comes from. We had a cow that we raised for the meat, so when we look at our hamburger, we know where it’s from.”
At this point, I gave up. You see, it can be headache-inducing to deal with an omni that refuses to consider your position. But even worse, I think, is dealing with a person who announces that they “know where [their] meat comes from.” Like that’s some kind of good excuse for not being vegetarian despite knowing all the facts. I look at a person who “knows where [their] meat comes from” more critically than I do someone who buys the packaged stuff.
The “Pig Mother”
A couple of weeks ago, there was a frustrating article printed in my CSA’s newsletter. The brief piece was written by a woman on an “eco-friendly” farm that raises animals for meat. She starts the article off discussing how she was wished a “Happy mother’s day!” when a co-worker pointed out how her chickens and pigs were like her children.
The author also discusses her time at a farm where both meat animals and vegetables were raised. This, she explains, was where she became an “ex-vegetarian”…
… after spending a season helping raise animals from little ones, some from birth, to observing and some participating in the slaughtering, which took place on the farm, and with the knowledge of the good life they led and their importance in the farming system.
After discussing how she believes in naming the animals she raises and how she can tell them apart because of their individual personalities, she ends the article with an astoundingly heartless turn (emphasis mine):
I’m not a pig mother but a pig raiser who cares deeply for the pigs. It’s been an amazing and challenging experience from devising crazy tactics to get the pigs to stay out of their water trough or to get feed into their feed trough, worrying when a pig was not eating or acting a bit down, trying to stay standing as the pigs use me as a scratching post, and learning to always wear pants that can get dirty or are already dirty. I’ve loved raising them and will also love to eat them.
Here we have someone who names animals, recognizes their individuality, and was an ethical vegetarian, yet now feels just fine about killing an animal and eating it after it’s outlived its usefulness to the “farming system.” Pigs, to her, have become nothing more than edible cogs in a wheel.
To me, the cognitive dissonance here is even greater than with someone who buys their meat in styrofoam packages. To look into the eyes of an sentient being every day for months and then to have no qualms about killing her takes a special knack for rationalization. It’s a level of mental disconnect that I have a lot of trouble understanding.
Animals as Property
My CSA has also started a practice recently that really bothers me. For a while now, they’ve been selling the eggs from chickens that are kept on the farm. At the end of the season, these chickens were then sold off for meat. Now, though, they’re selling the chickens for meat throughout the season, increasing the number of chickens that are killed each year. The chickens are sold primarily to Vietnamese and Hispanic immigrant communities.
This really bothers me because I love my CSA and I love what it stands for. The people that run it are friendly and generous and the recipes they print in their newsletters are 98% vegetarian. But, there’s still this deeply ingrained view of animals as property to be bought, raised, sold, and killed for human use rather than as sentient beings with self-interest and a will to live. It’s frustrating, and I really don’t know the way around it. In one sense, they promote the eating of fresh, locally grown vegetables in such a way that probably reduces the amount of meat being eaten, yet they still benefit directly from the use and death of animals.
What to Do
I’m continually baffled by how to proceed with people who should understand (and generally do) about veganism and should logically embrace it, but don’t. Hearing phrases like “it’s all part of the natural cycle of things” ring in my ears as a giant cop-out and reading articles like the one mentioned above really dishearten me. It’s painful knowing that there are people that love spending time with the animals and appreciate their individuality, but still kill them. These are the people that should be our allies. But instead, they wear even thicker blinders than most.
I’d love to hear about your similar experiences and how you’ve dealt with them. What does it take to push someone that has all the information they need and exhibits the necessary level of compassion, yet still doesn’t take that simple, final step of actual action?