Ask someone where their meat comes from and they may look at you funny and answer, “The grocery store” before changing the subject. People do know that meat comes from live animals. It’s just that the process is one most of us try and avoid, whether vegetarian or not.
Where does our food come from? It’s a question that provokes a great deal of debate, not because we don’t know, but because the truth disturbs so many. Livestock means living animals, or stock, raised for some practical purpose. Livestock includes cows, chickens, goats, horses, or any other animal that lives to provide humans with something, be it meat, milk, fur or monetary compensation.
Livestock and slaughter often go hand in hand
Whitney Hillman of Concordia, Kansas High School knew this, coming as she did from a rural agricultural community. Just the same, when asked to kill a chicken she’d raised for a class project, she stole the chicken from its cage and ran out the door. She sent “Chiclet” into hiding and is unapologetic about her refusal to kill her class project. (Donald Bradley)
Whitney Hillman’s reaction was perhaps understandable and to be expected. Most people, even those who are not vegetarians, are uncomfortable with participating in the actual killing of livestock. We all know that chicken comes from a farm, but most feel distanced from the death involved. Packaged meat looks very different from a living animal.
Whitney Hillman’s animal science and food production class sought to teach students the process of raising and butchering livestock. In effect, it was a lesson in where our food comes from. Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns finds the idea barbaric. “We submit doing this to chickens is unforgivable and inexcusable, and the same goes for the students,” Davis said.
The question is, doing exactly what is inexcusable?
If one is a vegetarian for moral or ethical reasons, slaughtering animals is wrong. Non vegetarians may not agree, but the perspective makes the feeling understandable. However, if one is not a vegetarian, what part of this is wrong?
Treating an animal like a pet and then slaughtering it as livestock is a harsh introduction to animal husbandry. In this case, the students were told to name the chickens. This creates an unnecessary bond. Although livestock should be treated well, not poorly, before slaughter, naming may be a step too far. However, it does reinforce the understanding that livestock animals are living entities, worthy of care and respect. Therefore, “inexcusable” is too harsh a word.
Perhaps the inexcusable part was in demanding students take part. To believe this, one must discount the fact that animal sciences includes livestock study. The spirit of the assignment was well intentioned and well placed. Consumers and students should understand where their food begins and ends – with livestock and ultimately, slaughter. There is no cruelty in treating livestock well before slaughter. The only wrong here was, perhaps, in not informing students of class requirements.
That leaves the slaughter aspect. Despite claims by some vegans and vegetarians, there is no evil intended in eating meat. Vegetarians who insist that people who eat meat do not respect life only create an “us vs them” mentality that is fatal to a meeting of the minds. What is inexcusable is the assumption that students of animal sciences, vegetarian or not, should have no involvement in livestock slaughter. The true evil is in the ignorance and apathy.
Leaving out the “live” in livestock
Many prefer to pretend there is no correlation between the death of livestock and their own consumption of meat. Others don’t care or would prefer not to know. This is why factory farms and extremist animal rights activists are the two most visible entities in arguments about livestock. The people in between, the average consumers, try hard to avoid the facts and stay out of the line of fire. The reality is that livestock would never meet with the slaughterhouse if not for a thriving market. Every consumer promotes livestock slaughter each time they purchase meat. Direct education in exactly where that meat comes from makes sense.
Is livestock cruelty inherent in serving meat at table?
Meat consumption is not inherently evil. Or if it is, we’ve got about 35 thousand years worth of evil in human history. The raising of livestock can be practiced without obscene cruelty. Unlike the factory farms featured in The Meatrix, Nature’s Harmony is one farm that chooses humane ways of raising livestock. Consumers need to know this is possible, and perhaps to experience it in a direct way. Vegetarianism is not the only answer to perceived livestock abuses. Some vegetarians choose not to listen to arguments involving small family farming and methods of ensuring livestock is treated well. Again, ignorance and apathy.
If you can’t take the heat…
However, if consumers have no stomach for any process by which livestock comes to the table, perhaps they should come to a different decision concerning their diets. Either way, the issue is personal awareness and responsibility. Although Whitney Hillman garners sympathy for her attachment to the livestock she raised, her reaction is indicative of a widespread problem. That problem is not vegetarianism or eating meat. It is the shunting of responsibility by choosing not to know. Enjoying meat is one thing, but running from the facts of where it comes from is both cowardly and irresponsible.
Just ask the vegetarians and family farmers.