Doc Callahan—retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time front-porch pontificator—occasionally sends us a letter expressing his views about the latest barnyard banter. In this edition, he focuses on a contentious debate regarding animal welfare and the livestock industry.
I grew up on a farm, but we didn’t use sow stalls or chicken cages when I was a kid–our animals were so free range we used to pin name tags on them so they’d be returned after they escaped. We weren’t great at building fences, and we only had enough chickens to provide us with morning eggs and fresh fryers for special events.
So I’ve tried to follow the current issues about animal welfare. I’ve read magazine articles, online editorials, and even watched one of those afternoon shows that had a segment about eating “local and organic.” OK, I thought, it’s good for everyone to share opinions and work on logical, science-based solutions.
I like the Temple Grandin philosophy–she seems to understand things from the animal viewpoint, but she is realistic about economics and food. She’s practical, not radical. As she said, “The Internet magnifies the voices of radicals on either side of an issue.”
The Net is filled with propaganda from all sides (and also with some excellent, fair-minded videos), but three recent humorous videos got me thinking about the way folks slant issues:
1. This clip from a Portlandia episode satirizes the foodies who want to know everything possible about their meal at a restaurant. They find out the chicken’s name was Colin, and they wonder if he “had fun when he was raised, and if he played happily with other chickens.”
2. This clip is a parody of a satire. It sets the same scene but aims its barbs at the confinement industry. Its humor is darker, and it uses more inflammatory terms like “factory farms.”
3. The third clip is a short ad that spins off the “is it local” idea to sell its brand name. The pig in the restaurant is not going to order the “garlic pork special” no matter how humanely the hog was raised.
It was easier when I was a kid, but we did have some “is it local” situations. We slaughtered chickens in the yard, steamed off their feathers, and ate them at home–that’s local.
And even though we sent most of our feeder pigs off to the packing house, we did get to know three of them personally. Dad spotted three baby pigs that were weak and getting bullied, so he built a small pen in the back yard, and we three boys took care of them. Brother Tom probably remembers their names. I liked the cute little things, but when they grew older, they didn’t have a Charlotte the spider to save them. They may have been “some pigs,” but they turned into “some bacon” and “some pork chops.”
Farmers I’ve known have worked hard to be humane with their livestock, and I hope the whole food industry keeps working on these important issues. But I doubt if I’ll ever go into a restaurant and ask for a background check on the farmers who raised an animal. It’s only fair, because nowadays I eat a lot of vegetables and tofu–and I don’t ask the server if the tomatoes squealed when they were picked from the vine or if the tofu was processed by a soybean zen master who studied in Japan.
dan gogerty (photo from usda/ars)
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