Saturday, October 29, 2011

A new system of taxonomy

Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms.  Animals are divided into the smaller, more recognizable groups phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.

Another way we could classify animals is by the various ways humans abuse them. Most would fit into one of following phylum: Poisoned by humans.  Clubbed by humans. Captured by humans. Caged by humans. Shackle-hoisted and stun bolted by humans. Hunted by humans. Consumed by humans, though this category would of course overlap with the captured, caged, shackle-hoisted and stun-bolted categories.

Each of the above phylum can be divided into smaller classes.

Poisoned by human can be divided into the sub-categories, poisoned for human comfort and vanity, i.e. cosmetic testing, and poisoned because humans find their presence annoying (e.g., rodents).  Hunted by humans can be divided into the sub-categories, hunted for pleasure, hunted for money, hunted out of fear.  Caged by humans can be divided into the sub-categories, caged for viewing pleasure and caged for consumption.  

Consumed by humans is of course the largest phylum, comprised of billions of farm animals each year. But there’s hardly an animal on the planet that doesn't suffer some form of abuse, usually culminating in torture and death, at the hands of humans. Taxonomists would have to burn the midnight oil getting them all straight.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slaughtered with dignity. Consumed with gratitude.

The animals grazed placidly, majestically, almost pre-historically…
The more an author rhapsodizes over a grazing animal, the more certain you can be the author will soon be eating that animal for dinner.

This author is describing a buffalo hunt he witnessed.  Like many compassionate carnivores, he takes great pride in his willingness to “see where his meat came from.”  He records the “harvesting” of the buffalo with a weeping pen.  He talks about the other buffalo bowing their heads in grief.
I felt the ache of witnessing death.  I wasn’t alone in my sadness.  As the rancher knelt over the buffalo and hoisted it by chains with the bucket of a loader, the rest of the herd drew in close and lowered their heads. The sight of animals mourning … humbled me to my carnivorous core.
Does "the ache of witnessing death" inspire the author to consider giving up meat?  No, it inspires him to get out his thesaurus and use up every word listed under honor and dignity.

“I slit the animals’s throat because I was fucking craving a big juicy steak” sounds way too profane, so the compassionate carnivore dresses things up with the noblest human impulses.

In Michael Pollan’s 36-hour dinner party “Mike wants to ‘honor the goat’ by wasting as little of it as possible."

Then there’s Katherine Friend’s letter to the lamb.
Tomorrow morning when we load you onto the trailer for your trip to the abattoir, we will be thinking about the life you’ve lived on this farm – running around the pasture at dusk, sleeping in the sun and grazing enthusiastically for the tenderest bit of grass.  We will say aloud, "thank you."
 The compassionate carnivores are always thanking and praising and honoring the animals they kill, as if the animal knew how hungry they were and, in a moment of selflessness, decided to offer up its flesh. 

By making the act of slaughter more than mere slaughter, by transforming it into something ceremonial, the compassionate carnivore is able to convince himself that subjecting animals to the most gruesome fate imaginable is a morally praiseworthy act.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conscientious, Compassionate, Cash-earning Carnivores.

Let’s see we’ve got Conscientious Carnivores and Compassionate Carnivores.  So don’t want to offend, you know, but it’s hard to keep the two of them straight.  They both shed crocodile tears over the plight of farm animals and chatter endlessly about their personal conflictedness as they chow down on the remains of said animals.  But there must be differences. Is it like belts in martial arts? Does a conscientious carnivore work his way up to becoming a compassionate carnivore?  Who gets first dibs on the shank?  Maybe the compassionate carnivores came first and the conscientious carnivores were an offshoot.  They had doctrinal differences, split off like the Lutherans.  Or maybe it was a naked power-grabbing move.  The conscientious carnivores were sick and tired of being in the shadows while the author of Conscientious Carnivores, Catherine Friend (as in with friends like this animals don’t need enemies), was out doing the talk show circuit, getting reviewed by the NYT, hobnobbing with Michael Pollan.  Michael Pollan could tell them both there’s plenty of money to be made off all those hungry progressives out there, salivating for a juicy steak and a good rationalization.  Why don’t the two of you join me? Michael Pollan would say.  All three of us can be Cash-earning Carnvivores.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dinner with Trina and Mike, compassionate carnivores

TRINA:  There's an exciting movement out there.
MIKE:  Bigger than organic, bigger than buying local.
TRINA:  Compassionate people concerned about the suffering of farm animals. 
MIKE: Factory farms are hell on earth.  The manifesto of the compassionate carnivore is we reduce animal suffering by only buying our meat from family farms. 
TINA:  Some cynical people out there say to us, if we're so concerned about animal suffering, why don't we stop eating them?  Mike, why don't you set these cynics straight.
MIKE: The thwing aboo compashwon is it’s a tfo we seet.
TRINA: Sorry, it’s hard to understand Mike when he’s got a mouthful of meat.  He said the thing about compassion is it’s a two way street.
MIKE: We’re compassionate to the animals so they need to show us a little compassion in return.
TRINA: The way they do this is by letting us eat them.
MIKE: Believe me, we have so much appreciation for the compassion these kind animals show us. Yummy juicy juicy meat.
TRINA: It’s one big, harmonious circle of compassion.
MIKE: Chew, chomp, yum, chewy, juicy.
TRINA: Mmm, yum, pink, juicy fleshy yummy meat
MIKE: Compassion is all about empathy. Relating to the needs of someone other than yourself.  When these poor farm animals live in a dark crate in a factory farm, it’s like I’m living in a dark crate.
TRINA: You are so compassionate, Mike.
MIKE: So are you, Trina. Yummy delicious flesh.
TRINA: Mmmmm! Chewy, delicious, juicy flesh.
MIKE: We empathize with the animals by not wanting them to suffer more than necessary.
TRINA: And they empathize with us by understanding how much pleasure it gives us to eat their flesh. Mmm, so rare, so pink
MIKE: Delicious blood running down my chin
TRINA:  Put down the napkin, Let me lick it up, oh, tasty, heavenly blood
MIKE: Lick it up, lick it up.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All slaughter systems must protect against distress or discomfort

For a meat producer to earn the Certified Humane label…
All slaughter systems must be designed to ensure livestock are not caused unnecessary distress or discomfort.
We know a shattered skull and pierced brain don’t constitute unnecessary distress or discomfort to the folks at Certified Humane.  Maybe they mean stepping on the steer’s hoof or something. 
It is required that producers use processors who follow the American Meat Institute guidelines for processing cattle.
 These guidelines were developed by PETA Proggy Award-winning slaughterhouse designer and McDonald’s consultant, Temple Grandin.

Her “Interpretation of the American Meat Institute Animal Handling Guide” details what animal producers must do to pass a welfare audit. Here’s a sample from the FAQ section.  (If the question is frequently asked, safe to say it describes a frequently occurring event.)
Question 12.  A plant employee starts to skin the head of an animal that has blinking eyes.  Is the audit failed?
[Temple Grandin’s] Answer:  This is an automatic audit failure.  The guideline states, there is zero tolerance for beginning any procedure like skinning the head or leg removal on any animal that shows signs of return to sensibility … Animals with eyes that do spontaneous natural blinking are sensible.
She has zero tolerance for head-skinning and leg removal of still-sensible animals. No wonder PETA awarded her the Proggy for innovative and animal-friendly achievements.

But for those meat producers who worry Temple Grandin’s being unfairly rigid, relax, here’s another FAQ.
Question 11. A pig squeals when it is half way into the restrainer or stun box due to an electric prod.  Does this count on the vocalization score? [A high vocalization score can result in audit failure.]
Answer:  No.  The pig’s rear must be past the restrainer entrance to count.
Pig squealing in horror is only half way in the stun box.  Audit passed.  Certified Humane.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Certified Humane. Because Certified Insane was already taken.

They didn’t settle on the name Certified Humane right away.  The first and most obvious choice was Certified Insane.  It was much more descriptive of the people they hoped to appeal to:  people who, without the aid of psychotropic drugs, had such highly developed self-delusional powers they could convince themselves shackle hoisting and a brain-piercing captive stun bolt is “the best way to help farm animals.”  But Certified Insane was overused.  They wanted something more distinctive.  So they went with Certified Humane instead.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Animal Welfare Approved vs. Certified Humane. The new McDonald’s vs. Burger King.

The humane certification market is exploding.  In co-ops and natural food stores across the country, compassionate carnivores are searching for the tastiest conscience-easing meats. This means big opportunity for humane certification labels but also fierce competition.

So who are the big players best poised to reap the bounty of the compassionate carnivores? An analogy is helpful. Animal Welfare Approved is McDonald’s. Certified Humane is Burger King. There’s also the Global Animal Partnership, though they don’t yet have the cachet of the big boys.  They’re more of a Jack in the Box or Sonic – a regional upstart but not one to take to take lightly.

Certified Humane has come out swinging. “Don’t be fooled by similar sounding programs,” they say on their site.  “Certified Humane is the best way you can help animals.”  Animal Welfare Approved plays it more like McDonald’s -- above the fray.  They don’t deign to acknowledge, and thereby legitimize, the competition.  They stick to more quietly confident statements like, “Continuously ranked as the most stringent of all third party certifiers.”

This calm arrogance must drive Certified Humane nuts.  They want to attack!
They should heed the examples of their compatriots in other highly competitive industries. There’s a long history of commercials slamming the Other Guy. 

They could try a side-by-side compassion test, similar to the Pepsi Challenge.  Stop progressive carnivores in the compassionately killed meat section.  Hide the label.  Ask the progressive to sample the meat and guess which one has more compassionate pre-slaughter standards.

Or they could copy the classic Folger’s coffee commercials.
We’ve secretly replaced this Animal Welfare Approved steak with a Certified Humane steak.  Let’s see if people notice.
Hi, Sir, how’s the steak?
Delicious.  And best of all it was slaughtered with compassion.
Did the steer suffer?
No.  Animal Welfare Approved means animals get to “perform natural and instinctive behaviors.”
Surprise!  You’re really eating a Certified Humane steak.
You’re kidding.
Can you sense that extra pre-slaughter compassion? See, only Certified Humane guarantees that all animals are “kept in conditions that allow for freedom of movement” before they’re shackle hoisted and stun bolted.
I had no idea
So what humane label are you going to buy from now on, Sir?
I’m going to buy Certified Humane!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Proof that humanely raised and slaughtered animals are much better off.

You’re looking at what’s left of four steers.  Three came from a factory farm.  One was fortunate enough to be humanely raised and slaughtered by a compassionate family farmer. As you can see, it was much better off than the other three.  You can’t see?  Then you’re not looking closely enough. Look at the three on the right from the factory farm.  Three living, breathing, sentient beings who craved life as much as any person, now nothing but slabs of flesh scraped off a carcass.  Compare them to the fortunate humanely raised and slaughtered steer on the left.  Now you see the difference, right?  No?  Then you’re just being stubborn.  There’s an enormous difference. Otherwise the Animal Welfare Institute and Humane Farming Association wouldn’t give it their seals of approval.  This is getting frustrating.  Look again.  Okay? Yes?  You finally see one is much better off?  About time. Wait, you think the one who’s better off isn’t the steer, but rather the person who gets to enjoy a juicy burger without pangs of guilt?  Wrong again.  Wrong and so deeply cynical.  Will you please look at the humanely raised and slaughtered steer on the left.  Or is it the right?  Or one of two middle ones?  Now you’re getting me confused.  The point is, the free range, humanely raised and slaughtered steer had it much much better and the proof is right in front of you.  How can you not see it?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Animal Welfare Approved turkey

I can’t believe they picked me for the header of the Animal Welfare Approved site.  Now I can rest assured when I’m all chopped up and wrapped in cellophane and sitting in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods, there’s going to be an Animal Welfare Approved sticker on the other side of that cellophane.  That means the Animal Welfare Institute sent an inspection team to the farm to make sure turkeys like me have the opportunity to “perform natural and instinctive behaviors” before the humans perform their natural and instinctive behavior and slit our throats. I know, I know, I look so serious in this photo.  You can’t tell I’m bursting with pride.  Most of my fellow turkeys only get to fill human bellies.  But I get to do so much more.  I get to give humans a delicious meal and on top of that I get to make them feel a nice warm glow when they tell themselves my slaughter was pleasurable and painless.  What more could a turkey ask for?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Does Michael Pollan belong in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame?

The 2010 class is pictured above. What about this year’s class?  Does Michael Pollan have a chance? Purists will scoff.  He doesn’t have the big numbers like, say, a Hormel executive who slaughters millions of pigs a year. And what about Michael Pollan’s scathing indictment of factory farms?  The true greats of animal slaughter don’t have qualms about what they’re doing.  Hormel executives don’t know what to make of the public outrage over videos documenting sadistic cruelty at supplier farms.  But this is exactly why Michael Pollan belongs in the hall of fame. He does understand that outrage and also the guilt some people feel for continuing to eat meat, and he showed the meat industry how to use this guilt to increase sales in his best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The dilemma in a nutshell is people feel bad about eating food that perpetuates the atrocities in factory farms.  But, damn, meat tastes good. The solution:  eat meat from farms where you can convince yourself the animals lived carefree pre-slaughter lives. Michael Pollan has made conflicted meat eaters feel good about eating meat and for that he deserves to be in the hall of fame.  To use a sports analogy, just as Yao Ming brought millions of Chinese fans to NBA basketball, Michael Pollan has made countless self-styled progressives realize they can profess concern about the suffering of animals and still eat those animals. I say he’d better get busy writing his induction speech.