Hog wrestling in Wisconsin

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This is the time of year where “county fairs” are popping up all over the United States.  These community events almost invariably center around animal exploitation, with 3/4 of the attractions in some way animal-related (not even including the food element).  I suspect that if animals and animal products were removed from most county fairs, you’d be left with a few rickety rides and a cotton candy machine.

The other day, Chad posted a link to this slideshow over at the Food Fight Blog.  It’s from a “hog wrestling” event in Wisconsin.  The following image is the first one displayed in the slideshow.  I’m showing it here in its original size to be sure it sinks in.

pig-wrestling

(Justin Connaher, Sheboyganpress.com) 

This picture’s been on my mind since I first saw it.  To me, it illustrates how far so many people are from the reality of animal suffering.

The event has its own web site at eldoradohogwrestle.org.  It’s sponsored by the Eldorado (Wisconsin) Fire Department/Lions Club and is “a timed competition where four person teams enter the “watery/mud” arena and try to catch-a-pig.”  Each pig is “used” one time and “treated humanely,” ensured by three people in the arena that “guarantee that no harm will come to the pig.”

The site then snarkily adds, “(At least not until it is taken to “market” on Monday morning.)”  Because as long as you treat them humanely while wrestling them for sport on Sunday, it’s OK to slit their throats come Monday.

Really, it’s pretty amazing how they go out of their way to describe how well the animals are treated during the event:

Hog wrestling is a timed competition where four person teams enter the “watery/mud” arena and try to catch-a-pig.  The goal is to catch, control and then carry the pig to the center of the ring, and then lifted up onto a padded barrel in 60 seconds or less.  Each hog is only used once!  Sixty teams try to “ham it up” in one way or another; but it is the slippery pigs that are the center of attention.  The porkers are clearly in the element, the competitors clearly are not.  The pigs are treated humanely; otherwise the entire team will get disqualified! We have two officials and a “hose man” in the arena with each team to guarantee that no harm will come to the pig.  (At least not until it is taken to “market” on Monday morning.)  The hogs immediately get hosed down with water, walked back to a shaded area to rest, which is more than our contestants get!  The whole thing ends up being a tremendous amount of fun as thousands of people look on under the blazing sun and temperatures (and beer) that make most people sweat like er, well..like pigs!

I don’t know about you, but to me, the picture above doesn’t depict a “humane” event.

Is it humane to drag these animals into an “event” that they obviously didn’t agree to?  Is it humane to confuse, scare, and hurt the pig by letting him be attacked and wrestled to the ground by groups of four (with names like “Team Deliverance” (pictured above), “P.E.T.A.” (how much you wanna bet that’s short for the oh-so-clever “People Eating Tasty Animals”), and “Bringing Home the Bacon”).

The picture above depicts a scared animal being tackled violently to the ground with what looks to be a bruised or bloodied leg.  Children and their families look on, smiling at this “silly” event.  To them, it might as well be a “kiss-the-pig” contest because, hey, the pigs are “in their element.” Yet, I doubt a single one of them could provide any reason why an event like this is either OK or necessary.

This is not a victimless event.  This is not fun for all.  This is not entertainment.

(Since my entry on hog-dog rodeos several years ago drew a slew of idiots, I’ll state right now that when the hog wrestling defenders arrive, any comments I deem trollish will be deleted.  Period.)

The Most Sentimental Man

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I don’t read very much science-fiction, but every so often I’ll pick up something by Asimov or an older book of short stories.  Recently, I read a story titled "The Most Sentimental Man" from the Asimov-edited anthology, The Last Man On Earth.  Predictably, the anthology’s theme is centered around being the last surviving human on the planet.

"The Sentimental Man" was written in 1957 by Evelyn E. Smith and originally appeared in the August edition of Fantastic Universe that same year.  The story begins with the main character, a man named Johnson, seeing off the last ship of passengers from Earth headed to their new home.  Earth has become uninhabitable, but Johnson has chosen to remain behind and live out his final days on the planet he grew up on.

What’s interesting about Johnson’s character is the way in which he seems to be considering the rights of the animals or "lesser" beings.  During a discussion with a particularly annoying young officer on the ship, Johnson criticizes the concept of man’s right to conquer that which is less intelligent:

"Sounds charming," said Johnson.  "I too have read the Colonial Office handouts… I wonder what the people who wrote them’ll do now that there’s no longer any necessity for attracting colonists–everybody’s already up in Alpha Centauri.  Oh well, there’ll be other systems to conquer and colonize."

"The word conquer is hardly correct," the commander said stiffly, "since not one of the three planets had any indigenous life forms that was intelligent."

"Or life forms that you recognize as intelligent," Johnson suggested gently.  Although why should there be such a premium placed on intelligence? he wondered.  Was intelligence the sole criterion on which the right to life and to freedom should be based?

When I read that piece, I immediately thought of the reasoning we often use when justifying our use of animals for food, clothing, testing, or entertainment.  We use this idea of them being "stupid" animals to make ourselves feel better for the conditions we put them in and the way we treat them so that we can make them useful.  But, like Jonathon Balcombe pointed out in Pleasurable Kingdom, we tend to judge animals intelligence against a human standard, which is ridiculous.  Of course a cow looks stupid when compared to a human–it’s not good at being a human.  However, we’d make pretty crappy cows.  And pigs.  And chickens.  But those respective animals do a mighty impressive job at doing what they’re made to do.

Of course, this short passage doesn’t necessarily mean that Smith was trying to allude to animals’ rights.  Perhaps she was making some other social commentary about US foreign policy or maybe it was all just part of her vision of this fictional apocalyptic future.  But later in the story, after the ship has left and Johnson is left to start the remainder of his life alone on Earth, he describes the cats he sees around the city:

The streets were empty, except for the cats sunning themselves on long-abandoned doorsteps or padding about on obscure errands of their own.  Perhaps their numbers had not increased since humanity had left the city to them, but there certainly seemed to be more–striped and solid, black and gray and white and tawny–accepting their citizenship with equanimity.  They paid no attention to Johnson–they had long since dissociated themselves from a humanity that had not concerned itself greatly over their welfare.  On the other hand, neither he nor the surface car appeared to startle them; the old ones had seen such before, and to kittens the very fact of existence is the ultimate surprise.

Later, he starts pondering his food situation:

He had even provided himself with a heat-ray gun and a substantial supply of ammunition, although he couldn’t imagine himself ever killing an animal for food.  It was squeamishness that stood in his way rather than any ethical considerations, although he did indeed believe that every creature had the right to live.  Nonetheless, there was the possibility that a craving for fresh meat might change his mind for him.  Besides, although hostile animals had long been gone from this part of the world–the only animals would be birds and squirrels and, further up the Hudson, rabbits and chipmunks and deer… perhaps an occasional bear in the mountains–who knew what harmless life form might become a threat now that its development would be left unchecked?

Sure, he’s not exactly vegan, but let’s cut the guy a break: it’s the future as of 1957 and he’s the last person on the planet.  The fact he’s still thinking about other creatures’ right to live when his own survival is at hand shows that there is indeed some ethical consideration going on, despite what he thinks.

The story’s final line a page later refers back to this paragraph:

There was plenty of room for the bears too.

It struck me that Smith devoted this much time talking about the animals left on earth after everyone had left even though the story itself is only a few short pages.  We may wonder whether earth and its non-human inhabitants would be better off without us; Smith seems to thing they would be.

I was unable to find very much information on Smith (aka Delphine C. Lyons), who died in 2000, and certainly nothing linking her explicitly to vegetarianism or animal rights, but I am curious to check out some of her other work to see if this theme repeated itself in any of her other short stories or books.

TAFA

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I spent part of Sunday (and, yes, it’s taking me this long to blog about it) at the Taking Action for Animals conference in DC. I didn’t attend any sessions, as I was just there to help Josh out at the Herbivore table (did I meet any of you there?). Nevertheless, it was hard not to hear about the hubbub surrounding the presentation by humane farmers like Neiman Ranch who were brought in by the Animal Welfare Institute. Reportedly, these farmers showed slideshows that featured photos of cute animals that were all raised oh-so-well. Noticeably absent were photos of these animals meeting their demise. Needless to say, it angered a lot of people in attendance.

What surprised (and disheartened) me most, though, was that nearly half of the crowd at that presentation was ooh-ing and aah-ing at the pictures and stories of the animals, completely falling for the whole “humane meat” thing.

Should we be demonizing farmers who raise their animals in a more humane way than their factory farm counterparts? I’m not into demonizing. But should we be inviting them to speak, unchecked, at an animal rights conference? Should we give them a free pass by clapping and openly praising them? They make their money directly from the slaughter of animals, so I’d say, “Probably not.”

At the very least, we should be inviting these folks to be part of a panel discussion where they can be challenged. A short period of open questions after a presentation isn’t nearly enough.

The AWI argues that TAFA isn’t an animal rights conference and that we shouldn’t “close our minds” when it comes to hearing such presentations. The thing is, these farmers presumably were paid for their appearance. Since they were unchallenged aside from a few audience questions, it amounts to animal advocates paying someone who financially benefits from the slaughter of animals to come and do a marketing spiel.

That’s not too cool with me.

I’d love to hear some more about others who may have attended TAFA, particularly that presentation. After doing a quick blog search and checking in at a few vegan forums, I saw almost no post-discussion of the conference, which surprised me a bit. This is something we need to talk about.

I’ll close with a picture:

Vegans Eating Meat
SCANDAL: Vegans standing in front of a seafood/chicken restaurant in DC.

Pictured: Gary (from Animal Writings), Deb (from Invisible Voices), and Josh (from Herbivore).

There’s another photo with me in it, but this one’s better.

Why we need to rethink welfare

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My opinions on animal welfare campaigns have definitely changed over the last year or so and articles like this high-blood-pressure-inducing piece from Food and Wine illustrate the main reason my position has changed.

Let me start by stating what should be obvious: I’m not against better conditions for animals.  Welfare improvements are fine and dandy in theory because, hey, “less bad” is better.  But many times, as with “free range” eggs, the supposed welfare gains are nonexistent.  Instead, what we get is consumers feeling ethically better about their choice to eat eggs and an industry that can charge more money for their products.  You can bet the industry is making more profit, too, or they wouldn’t be making these changes.  We’re doing the industry’s marketing for them when we tout these supposed welfare improvements as “victories.”  The industry looks better for supposedly treating animals better, consumers feel less guilty about their consumption, and it does nothing to convince people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of eggs.  Yes, they may buy a few fewer because of the cost, but their fundamental thought process about animal products isn’t being challenged.

I used to think getting people to eat free range eggs, organic milk, etc. might be a “stepping stone” to veganism.  These days, though, I’m becoming more and more convinced that they’re steps backwards as we see more and more former vegetarians going back to meat.

Even former vegetarian cookbook authors are jumping the grass-fed, free-range bandwagon:

Even chef Mollie Katzen, author of the vegetarian bible the Moosewood Cookbook, is experimenting with meat again. “For about 30 years I didn’t eat meat at all, just a bite of fish every once in a while, and always some dairy,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been eating a little meat. People say, ‘Ha, ha, Mollie Katzen is eating steak.’ But now that cleaner, naturally fed meat is available, it’s a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet. Somehow, it got ascribed to me that I don’t want people to eat meat. I’ve just wanted to supply possibilities that were low on the food chain.”

This is infuriating on so many levels.  For one, people are going to read this and think, “Wow.  Mollie Katzen, former vegetarian cookbook author, is eating meat again.  I guess vegetarianism isn’t that necessary of a goal after all.”  Trust me, Mollie, I’m not saying, “ha ha” at this.

Also frustrating is the implication that a vegan diet is “incomplete” when she says, “[N]aturally fed meat is… a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet.”  We don’t need dead animal on our plate to be complete and as a vegetarian cookbook author, she should realize this.

It’s bad enough when people that are considering vegetarianism or veganism don’t go all the way because their moral sensibilities are sated by the promise of happy meat, but it’s even worse when we have former vegetarians (and vegetarian role models — even though it pains me to type that phrase) backsliding and speaking out about it.

The article’s author, Christine Lennon, closes with this: “Convincing those people that eating meat can improve the welfare of the entire livestock population is a tough sell.”  Allow me to close with a response:

It’s a “tough sell” because it’s cop-out reasoning that’s used to justify the consumption and commodification of animals for our tastes.

What is the solution?  Should we put an end to all welfare campaigns?  I don’t have the answers, but I know I won’t spend my own time or resources promoting such ideals.  I spend enough time already trying to counter the message that too many people are taking from these campaigns: that welfare alone is enough.  It’s not.

Mitt Romney is an idiot

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Thanks to Chris for pointing out this puff piece on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In it, it describes Romney packing up the family for a summer trip:

Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family’s hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon’s roof rack. He’d built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

I echo Chris’ sentiment of “WTF?”  Who the heck puts their dog on the roof of their car?  And we’re supposed to be all “Wow, he’s so caring about his dog!” when he builds a windshield for the carrier?

Here’s some news for Romney: dude, your dog isn’t a piece of luggage.  If the family were to get into a car accident, the dog wouldn’t stand a chance.  At least inside the car he has the protection of the vehicle’s frame.  What if the carrier came loose and fell off the car?  Again, the dog has no chance.

This is just another example of “animals as property” that so pervades our lives.  To Romney, the family dog isn’t worth space in the car.  Having him dangerously perched on the roof as they fly down the roads at 65mph is a risk that’s reasonable to him.  Would he consider that same risk with his kids?  Of course not.

Want another example of how Seamus gets treated as property?  OK.

A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who’d been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

Animals rarely get much respect from the oval office.  Sure, President Bush’s dog Barney gets a nicer home page than most people have, but he’s also used to create stupid White House promotional videos.  Then, of course, there’s the debacle that is the presidential turkey pardon at Thanksgiving.  But if Romney were to become president, Seamus would be the worst-treated First Dog since Warren G. Harding’s lab named Seat Cushion.  (That last sentence was said in a manner imitating Jon Stewart.  Imagine me looking coyly at the camera.)

How you treat animals is usually a good indicator of how you treat people.  Perhaps we should keep that in mind when looking at presidential candidates.