Animal and Plant Cruelty

Are these chickens life forms, or just a commodity?

Are these chickens life forms, or just a commodity?

I’ve always had a very logical argument as to why I am not a vegetarian.   Vegetables are living entities just like animals.  They feel in different ways, experience the world in manners we cannot comprehend, but they are life forms just as we are.  Since in the animal kingdom it is natural for creatures to eat both plants and animals, there can’t be anything inherently wrong with eating meat.   A cat could never become a vegetarian and survive, for example.  As long as we do not over-indulge, eating other living entities, plant or animal, is natural.

Lately, though, I am rethinking my argument.   Not that I’m doubting the logic, but there is another factor to take into account: corporate farming.   Consider:  In the Laura Ingalls Wilder book Little House in the Big Woods, Pa butchers a pig that they have been raising for some time.   Every part of the pig is used, Laura and Mary even use the pig bladder as a balloon.   Plants are sown and reaped, tended to by the family.   In one book a locust attack ruins the harvest, such were the risks of life on the frontier.

In the US genetic modification has become standard for corporate farms

In the US genetic modification has become standard for corporate farms

That seems a healthy relationship between humans and nature.  You may eat the plants and animals you raise, but you raise them with care.   Certainly you should not be cruel to them.   The food tasted better too – most of us will never know just how good natural food tastes.

This year many things are changing in my life, I feel like I’m entering a year of personal transformation.  One change is to stop closing my eyes to ramifications of how I eat.   I plan to think about where the food comes from, buy local, and move away from fast foods and the chemical laden processed foods that are so easy and convenient.

Fed chemicals, special foods, these pigs may as well be cogs in a machine

Fed chemicals, these pigs may as well be cogs in a machine

I was thinking about this as I walked through my local grocery store, seeing the packages of meat and vegetables, processed and ready for sale.    Everything designed to entice you to buy; packages with idyllic farm scenes or products labeled “organic.”   The bananas had a sticker that said “no cholesterol.”   I’m glad they told me!   It’s all marketing.

Then I look at the shoppers, behaving much like I have always behaved.   Looking at different foods, picking them up, dropping in them in the cart.    The intercom switched to the song “King of Pain” by the Police.    I forced an ironic smile.

When I teach about the rise of fascism in Germany I try to explain it in a way that most people in the class end up admitting that if they lived in Germany in 1936 they’d probably have supported the Nazi government.   The reason you can get something like fascism is that the culture accepts as natural and mundane that which should be condemned.   It’s normal to eat genetically modified food.  It’s normal to eat animals who have lived in ghastly conditions, genetically manipulated to increase profits.   Assembly line cars, assembly line chickens.   The fact they are alive is irrelevant, profit comes first.

How cruel are we to the plant kingdom when we manipulate every crop, altering the very nature of the environment.   Farming itself is a violent act, taking the free form of nature and forcing an order to it in order to feed ourselves.   But that’s the same kind of violence that a lion undertakes when he cuts down and devours a zebra.   It’s part of who we are, it’s what we need to survive.   We have brains that make it natural for us to move beyond hunting and gathering.

Of course, if corporate farmers get their way images like these may be illegal

Of course, if corporate farmers get their way images like these may be illegal

I can’t help but think that in a generation or two people will look back and see us as barbaric and ignorant.   They’ll look at how factory farms treat animals, the way big corporations play with plant genetics and our penchant to not give a damn about nature if we can make money by manipulating it.     They’ll wonder how we could have been so brutal.

But to us it’s normal.   We don’t think about it.  We’re good consumers, programmed to spend and to believe that Monsanto’s main goal is to end world hunger and that the chickens who will make up our McNuggets are happily scampering around the coop as a loving farm girl throws them seeds.

So I’m going to shift towards farmers markets, local food, and try to stop my long running contribution to the cruelty being undertaken against plant and animal.    There are many family farms struggling to get by, working hard and treating their animals right.    I want to give them my business, as much as possible.

Ultimately, that cruelty is really directed at ourselves because everything is connected.

Such is our culture – close our eyes, mock those who think differently and see the world as full of objects to use for our own self-interest, no matter how much damage it does to the planet – to the humans, the animals, the plants, the atmosphere, the land and sea.   But I believe we are connected.   Every bit of cold cruelty that we engage in or enable comes back to bite.  And every bit of love we share or show returns in time to empower.

UPDATE:  The comment from La Kaiser below suggests that my post may read as too broad.    There are a lot of family farms here — the Daku dairy farm just up the road, Sandy River Farms that have their own store, and Marble Family farm, to name a few.  These are the good guys!   People struggling to produce quality food.  I’m concerned about the mega-corporations that look only at the bottom line and are removed from the process.   I hope that the practices shown in those images are more rare than common, but I fear that as the mega-corporations grow, it’ll be all about money.

  1. #1 by merbear74 on January 7, 2013 - 20:00

    When I was younger, one day I woke up and decided I didn’t want to eat meat. The thought disgusted me. I was a vegetarian for about 2 months. When I really think about it, maybe that was my body telling me something. I have been thinking about it again. I feel a repulsion for bacon and pork products now, but still enjoy a good steak. Food for thought.

  2. #2 by Nell Nichtern Erb on January 7, 2013 - 20:46

    Scott…growing up on Grandpa and Grandmas farm we ate chicken that they raised, eggs from the chickens, milk from their cows, carrots, potatoes, and every other vegetable known grandma grew in the garden. We never butchered cows. Grandpa couldn’t do that. We bought the meat. I would eat carrots right out of the ground…dirt and all. (Remember, I also ate mudpies.) Food was what we now call organic back then. Who knows what’s correct? Those were good days tho.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on January 7, 2013 - 20:50

      I bet that food tasted better than what we get now too! I think most Americans still have a vision of farms being like that, not the large corporate entities they have become.

  3. #4 by Misty Beck on January 7, 2013 - 21:00

    I’ve been gradually moving to a more local, organic, and plant-based diet — without ever calling it that. Joining CSAs has been part of my transition. But this year, screening “Walkabout” for my FYS (“Reading the Wild”), I was moved and haunted by the images of the aboriginal youth killing and butchering various animals interspliced with supermarket butchers performing much the same actions, and a later sequence with white big game hunters. I’ve seen the movie a few times now, but this year something clicked, and I decided to become more intentional about avoiding supermarket meat. I’m not a purist (my neighbor gave me the most awesome ham bone for soup stock!), but I feel a lot better physically and spiritually by what I do most of the time. As a matter of scale, my individual choices won’t matter much to the system, but they do matter to me. Good luck, Scott!

  4. #5 by lee1978 on January 7, 2013 - 21:42

    I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 yrs. I confess I did it because of health conditions that run in my family and it is really only in the last 8 to 10 yrs that I have been truly repulsed by the way we feed ourselves in this country. I buy organic when possible, avoid genetic mods when I know about them and wish more of us could live more lightly on the earth.

  5. #6 by elizjamison on January 8, 2013 - 06:22

    I know what goes on, but those pictures are painful to look at still…thanks for the post. You always come up with the most interesting ideas. Yet another post I can share with students when we do a unit that covers this issue or when we do our argument papers.
    Today’s our first day of school so I’m meeting a whole new set…eeeek! Those first-day jitters never go away.

  6. #7 by lbwoodgate on January 8, 2013 - 06:54

    Probably one of the best documentaries I have ever seen on this subject is Don McCorkell’s film, “A River of Waste:The Hazardous Truth About Factory Farms. It’s chilling to watch but I highly recommend it to everyone.

  7. #8 by GiRRL_Earth on January 8, 2013 - 08:24

    Scott! You are my hero!! Thank you for posting this and what timing as I wrote a post yesterday encouraging people to go Vegan!

    I’m going to re-blog this.


  8. #9 by GiRRL_Earth on January 8, 2013 - 08:26

    Reblogged this on GiRRL_Earth and commented:
    If I can open just one person’s eyes to the egregious cruelty of farm animals – convincing one person to choose a vegan lifestyle, well then I have the ability to influence more people.
    I have been following Scott’s blog for some time now and today he brightened my day with his post: Animal and Plant Cruelty. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

  9. #10 by Norbrook on January 8, 2013 - 09:09

    I’d suggest this article about GMO’s, Scott. One of the things that causes me to seriously roll my eyes about people complaining about “manipulating plants” is that every plant we currently eat has been genetically manipulated. Not by “science,” but by farmers. Corn and wheat ares not “natural” plants, they’re a hybrid of a couple of related species, which were then selected for various traits. Most tree fruits we eat are clones.

    • #11 by Scott Erb on January 8, 2013 - 12:05

      True, they don’t even know how corn came into being, the Mayans were pretty advanced. Still, the level of manipulation via science and its impact does concern me.

      • #12 by Norbrook on January 8, 2013 - 12:20

        (sigh) The level of manipulation is actually far more targeted than in the past. Here’s something for you to think about. Let’s say that, for whatever reason, I decide I want to develop a bright blue raspberry. I take a bunch of raspberry seeds, blast them with radiation, hit them with mutagenic chemicals, and then plant them to see if any produce a blue raspberry. A couple of them do, so I breed them together to make sure the trait is stable, then go ahead and market my bright blue raspberries. I have no idea of what else changed, but I know I have blue raspberries.

        That was the way things were done, and you know what? You don’t have to do a single safety test to put them on the market. That’s the way the law was written. Now, I can splice in a gene for blue coloring, which only changes the color, which is far and away safer. But, in order to bring it to market, I have to do a huge amount of safety studies.

  10. #13 by La Kaiser on January 8, 2013 - 11:00

    Too many people are many generations removed from the farm and therefore think of farming in terms of the photos you showed in your blog. I cannot say I have ever seen a farm like your photos imply, though, they must exist. We are incorporated, thus we are a cooperation farm but the reality is we are truly a family farm that because tax laws strongly favor corporations, we legally changed our title for financial survival. Likewise, the same is true for the majority of farmers in my region. I am not sure which part of farming you improperly projected should be refuted first. Rather, I am guessing this needs several lengthy installments. During the past 24 years of being a partner to my husband of the family incorporated farm, we have raised dairy and stock cattle, hogs, crops including wheat, corn, oats, and many other things such as hay for the feeding of livestock, plus the garden for fresh produce and canning. Husbandry of livestock and land requires many hours of labor each day, and that includes weekends. The only way to have a day off, is to have someone do your work that day. I will guess that in the past 24 years, my husband allowed himself maybe 20 non-farming days, less than one day per year. There is a troubling trend of giant corporations getting into the farming portion of the food chain to increase their bottom line. I am guessing this is where one will find most of the farming practices implied by your photos. If one is concerned about their food supply and do not wish the entire food supply to originate from factory farms, my suggestion is to get to know your local family farmers. Perhaps we can continue this discussion at a later time.

    • #14 by Scott Erb on January 8, 2013 - 12:04

      I don’t at all think your kind of farm is the problem. I plan to do more shopping at places here that sell products from local family farms. We have a few here (one I guess sells organic milk and their own ice cream), plus there are CSAs. I am completely for helping family farms and small family corporations like yours survive and thrive. From what I can tell chickens and hogs are the most ill treated. I am exactly talking about the huge giant corporations that are trying to take over everything and focus only on profit.

      I sincerely apologize if my criticism was too broad and poorly worded and thus seemed to imply that all farms are the problem. I will update the post to try to make that more clear.

    • #15 by Scott Erb on January 8, 2013 - 12:13

      I have added the update. Again, I apologize for making the criticisms too broad or sweeping. Larry’s posts calls them “factory farms.” I’ll change some of the wording in the post to indicate that more explicit kind of place.

      • #16 by La Kaiser on January 8, 2013 - 18:24

        OK, Scott. Thanks. You have a very broad topic here. What you essentially are addressing is the symptom, not the cause. Farming will respond only to what the market place supports. As the market wants cheap food, the farmer will find the most efficient way to produce. The Laura Ingalls Wilder farm disappeared with the dirty thirties. If the market place wants organic food, the farmer will produce that. But you cannot have inexpensive organic food. It does not have sustaining living wage value for the majority of food producers. Considering the success of Walmart, I cannot forsee farming going any way but bigger, more corporate, more factory farming, because the market has a very hard time supporting the family farmer. Going vegetarian or vegan (which I do not object to) will not save the family farm or traditional farming practices. To survive, we will continue to have to do more with less and get bigger. We have been the last dairy in our county for probably 10 years. Should my children want to continue dairy farming, it will have to be a 2000 to 10,000 head dairy vs. our 100-200 head herd. We have been able to continue only because our equipment is old and paid for. Is the family farm in crisis? Of course, and it has been for decades. The family farmer is about to retire. There is some young blood out there, but they will be bigger than us to survive. Yet only the land owner/farmer truly understands how to sustain the land so that it can provide for the future. The mega-corporate farmer only understands the shorter time profit margin. Keep these things in mind as congress debates the next farm bill. (Which just the fact that it isn’t settled yet has probably put more young farmers out of business that you think…)

  11. #17 by Scott Erb on January 8, 2013 - 18:39

    There is a resurgence of smaller farms here, and a strong eat local campaign. But despite the fact this was Maine’s farmland once (hence the town name, Farmington), the farms are all small and make little money. I’m not sure how big the dairy farm down the road is, but they aren’t even as big as yours. I just know that I’m switching to buying from local farmers as much as possible. It isn’t enough to save anything, but I want to contribute less to the Walmarts. I want to support farms like yours not the mega-corporates!

  12. #18 by La Kaiser on January 8, 2013 - 19:26

    Niche markets are great, but most only provide supplemental income. The concern from my vantage point is the disappearing competitive market. I am too far away from population centers to market any effective way other than major buyers who are buying each other and therefore there are way fewer than 24 years ago. And this comment is way off the topic of the blog, yet related and part of the problem.

    • #19 by Scott Erb on January 9, 2013 - 09:46

      Yes and really my complaint that spans the four years I’ve had this blog is about consumerism and the way our culture puts profits and money ahead of people, nature, community and a sustainable society. Benjamin Barber wrote a book called “Consumed” in 2006 that really went into how consumerism and the nature of American capitalism was actually destroying competition and the benefits of capitalism, and harming society at many different levels. Big money controls the show, and usually doesn’t care about community and sustainability.

  13. #20 by Alan Scott on January 9, 2013 - 07:40

    Scott ,

    I do not disagree with you that some farming could be more humane . I only point out that raising animals for food replaced market hunting which wiped out whole groups of animals . We still basically market hunt our ocean fish which is not good for fish such as tuna . They are trying to figure out how to farm tuna .

  14. #21 by Titfortat on January 9, 2013 - 08:36


    I would highly recommend a book called “The omnivores dilemma”. It is a fascinating and enlightening read. 🙂

    • #22 by Norbrook on January 12, 2013 - 11:04

      It’s also full of “cooked” and misleading data to justify its conclusions.

  15. #23 by helenofmarlowe on January 11, 2013 - 23:19

    I’ve been vegetarian for oh, I guess about 25 years. I no longer think of meat as food. I don’t go by the meat section of the grocery stores, partly because nothing on my shopping list takes me in that direction, but also becasue, when I see those packages, I see creatures like us, creatures who wanted to live, creatures who have suffered horrible pain in order to entertain us. I don’t say to feed us, because that’s not eat. We dont’ need to eat animals. Those who do eat animals do it only for enjoyment, not for need. I hope we as a society can become more thoughtful about the cruelty the meat industry inflicts upon sentient creatures. I agree that some day, people will look back at this era, at what we do to our fellow creatures, and think, How could they do that?

  16. #24 by GiRRL_Earth on January 15, 2013 - 08:56

    I agree with @helenofmarlowe, animals should be off the table — that’s it, argument over. I don’t care if the animal is raised by a mom & pop operation or big Aggra — either way, the animal has to die. We do not need meat to survive, we can live healthier lives by choosing a vegan diet. I recommend watching Forks over Knives. The documentary is compelling. People are slowly killing themselves with food. Furthermore, I recommend watching (or reading) a very compelling speech by Philip Wollen. Which you can read here:

    Lastly, I read a post by someone recently who made the argument, what if an Alien species landed on this planet because they exhausted all resources on their planet. What if their food of choice was human flesh. What argument would you make to these Aliens to convince them to not eat you and your family, or to not take your children away to use them as a commodity. What would you say? How would you convince them? And here’s the clincher, they do not speak our language. Every time you open your mouth to scream in protest, what the Aliens hear is: Oink. Moo. Baaaaa. Bock. Bock.
    You get my drift?

  17. #25 by Cynthia on September 9, 2016 - 06:22

    I hope you’re joking by comparing non-sentient plants to the suffering of sentient animals. If not, then I seriously question your mental stability.

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