Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Joel Salatin on the importance of making pigs happy before you slaughter them.

He may look like the villain in the latest James Bond movie, but he’s really Michael Pollan’s number one sidekick in the heroic struggle against industrial farming. Virginia farmer Joel Salatin rose to fame after Michael Pollan featured him in Omnivore’s Dilemna. The Guardian newspaper paid a visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm to talk about his role in the film, Food Inc. and find out more about this farmer so “admired for his outspoken articulacy on the horrors of industrial food.”

Joel Salatin offers up some of that outspoken articulacy...

Films like Food, Inc. are finally exposing the kind of corruption and evil when you don’t ask: how do we make pigs happy? .. the industrial food system is so cruel and horrific in its treatment of animals. It never asks the question, should a pig be allowed to express its pig-ness?

To summarize…

Evil, cruel, horrific = factory farms that shatter pigs’ skulls and slice open their necks without first taking into account the pig’s pig-ness and asking how do we make pigs happy

Moral, decent, good = family farms that take into account a pig’s pig-ness and ask how do we make pigs happy before shattering their skulls and slicing open their necks.

Sounds like a fair distinction to me. And if not fair, at least a money making distinction. After his starring role in Omnivore's Dilmena and Food, Inc, joel Salatin is in high demand. He’s got speaking engagements all over the country. His farm can barely keep up with all the new orders. He even had to leave the Guardian interview early to take a call from Oprah.

Joel Salatin lives and kills on Polyface Farm. (Polyface Farm maybe because Two-faced Farm wouldn’t do him and all his inconsistencies justice) The Guardian reporter is smitten with Polyface Farm. He rhapsodizes about the

...absurdly picturesque landscape … the rambling white clapboard farmhouse … and as if the children’s book looks were not enough, the roads have names like Cattleman and Sugar Loaf and Buttermilk Spring.

Guess he didn’t make it as far as Stun Bolt Drive and Carcass Lane. The reporter starts off the interview with a faux paus. He sees...

...the nicely treated hens, all happily pecking and glossy-feathered, and I’ve held one in my arms. Suddenly it makes little sense that this animal, whose welfare has been of such great concern, will be killed in a matter of days. Naïve, I know, and Salatin seems surprised when I ask if he ever considered becoming a vegetarian.

“Never crossed my mind,” Joel Salatin says. The problem is what he calls the “animals as people” movement.

You have to concede it, Salatin is right about that. Animals are nothing like people. People are unique. We have special abilities. For instance, we have the ability to slaughter other living beings because we enjoy the taste of their flesh while simultaneously perceiving ourselves as moral defenders of the animals whose necks we’re slicing open. A pig is simply not capable of such profound self-deception. That’s what makes pigs lower animals.

Self-deception is just one of mankind’s unique abilities. We also have the limitless capacity to rationalize our behavior. And some of us, like Joel Salatin, even have the ability to rehash trite truisms without realizing they undermine the very point we’re trying to make.

Joel Salatin thinks the way you treat animals is a reflection of the way you will go on to treat human beings.

Uhm, Joel, if that's true, since you kill and eat animals, is that a reflection of the way you will go on to murder and cannibalize human beings?

But the reporter doesn’t ask this natural follow-up since he’s still trying to make amends for naively getting the interview off on the wrong foot by asking Joel Salatin if he ever considered going vegetarian. Joel Salatin has now started to ramble and there’s nothing the reporter can do but hit the play button on his recorder and fasten his seat belt.

What happens when you don’t ask: how do we make pigs happy? Well, you view the pig as just a pile of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly human hubris can imagine to manipulate it. And when you view life from that kind of mechanistic, arrogant, disrespectful standpoint, you very soon begin to view all life from a very disrespectful, arrogant, manipulative standpoint. And the fact is we aren’t machines.

There’s got to be some explanation for this whacked-out meaningless random jumble of words. Joel Salatin doesn’t inject his animals with hormones before he eats them. Maybe he injects them with LSD. But he's back to his main theme again.

Respect for animals leads to respect for people. If we don’t care for our least, we can’t care for our most.

Sounds like something on the crocheted wall hanging above the Salatin fireplace next to the "Slaughterhouse sweet Slaughterhouse" needlepoint.

And yet, and yet… "Joel Salatin is admired for his outspoken articulacy against the horrors of industrial farms." Maybe he should be admired in business school seminars about capitalizing on moral concern for animal welfare to expand his business by creating a demand for higher priced free range meat. Maybe he should be admired by self-styled activists who want to proselytize for animal rights without giving up their chicken dinners. Maybe he should be admired by sadists who simply appreciate torture and killing. But who else could possibly admire him?

It’s hard to imagine opponenents of capital punishment honoring a death row warden because he spoke out against cramped jail cells and let the death row inmates stroll around the yard and served them a home-cooked dinner before he clamped them to the electric chair. But for some reason Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, Temple Grandin and all the others like them are considered important advocates for animals. With friends like these, farm animals really don’t need enemies.

btw, the Bond villain comparison was flawed. Bond villains are kind to their animals. We all know that chicken's neck was wrung the moment the photographer finished packing up his gear.