Sunday, September 28, 2014

Defending Beef

The Vegan Vine
There’s nothing I love doing more on a Sunday than watching football and reading the Sunday New York Times. But imagine my surprise when I reached for the op-ed section and came upon an article preposterously titled "Support Your Local Slaughterhouse." The article was written by Nicolette Hahn Niman, owner of BN Ranch in northern California, in defense of both her occupation—raising and slaughtering animals for meat—and her upcoming book, aptly titled, Defending Beef.

My initial thought was this woman must know someone at the newspaper to get a piece of puffery like this published. My second thought: of all the things on God’s green earth to champion, Niman can find nothing more worthy than the cruel and unnecessary slaughter of animals? Remarkably, she felt not only a need to rationalize her dubious and immoral career choice, but to actually write a book about it, too.

Some people stubbornly prefer to go down swinging. This is no exception for Niman, no more so than when she claims that small- and medium-scale slaughterhouses create a food stream trifecta “that is humane, ecological and wholesome." Apparently Niman is knee deep in her own deception and would like nothing more than for the public to join her. She went on to say:

"While it's painful to see our beautiful animals die, my husband, Bill, or our cattle manager has always accompanied every single one to the slaughterhouse stunning area. Being handled by a familiar person reassures the animals and guarantees that none is ever mistreated."

Can you imagine the betrayal these animals must feel when the people they’ve known and trusted all their lives suddenly turn on them and send them to their deaths? And for what, so the Nimans can make money? So consumers can get some sadistic pleasure from eating an animal’s tortured flesh? I guess, like most people, a mental state of cognitive dissonance helps Niman and her husband to sleep at night.

For starters, raising animals for food is not humane. While some animals on smaller farms may be treated better and have more room to roam, the outcome is the same as on any other factory farm and slaughterhouse—death! The Nimans, like other purveyors of animal flesh, are in business to make a profit, and the animals they bring in to the world for this purpose are viewed merely as a commodity to be exploited, no different than those on factory farms.

Breeding animals to be killed because there is a market for their flesh is not a moral justification for doing so, no matter how well the animals are treated prior to being slaughtered. It's like making an argument for child prostitution of which there also exists a market, albeit an illegal one. Would we excuse such an inhumane practice if those who exploit children insisted that the children are treated well, just like their own family, right up until they are handed over to their abusers?

Second, raising animals for food is not ecological. A World Watch Institute report found that animal agriculture accounts for 51 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. According to Heather Cooley, co-director of the Pacific Institute Water Program, domestic water use accounts for only five percent of water consumed in the US whereas animal agriculture accounts for a whopping 55 percent. One quarter pound hamburger requires over 660 gallons of water to produce, the equivalent of two months of one person’s daily showers. We don't have enough land, water, or resources to feed a meat- and dairy-centric diet to the current 7 billion humans who are on this planet and growing. Furthermore, the recent documentary Cowspiracy illustrated how small ranches akin to the Niman ranch, which raise fewer animals on more land, are even more unsustainable than factory farms because their animals use far greater resources over a longer period of time, and their system cannot be duplicated on a mass scale to meet the current demand for animal flesh.

In the film, Demosthenes Maratos, communications director at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, explained that currently half of all land in the United States is already dedicated to animal agriculture. So if we were to switch over to grass-fed beef, similar to the BN Ranch, it would require clearing every square inch of the US, up into Canada, all of Central America and well into South America solely to feed the demand for meat in the US. That figure doesn't even take into consideration that much of that land isn't suited to graze livestock so first we would have to level mountains, cities, etc. 

Third, raising animals for food is not wholesome. This is pure semantics on Niman's part. Her use of this ambiguous and pleasant-sounding term is a poor attempt at whitewashing something so cold, sickly and brutal. Eating animals neither promotes human health nor moral health. More and more people are waking up to the fact that the greatest contributor to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and most chronic diseases is animal products.

I realize Niman and her husband earn a living profiting off of the births and deaths of animals, so I expect no less than a self-serving argument for a livelihood predicated on the needless destruction of other living beings.

In her article, Niman acts as though she is the victim of the larger institution of meat production. When 8.7 million pounds of meat were recalled earlier this year, including meat produced by her own ranch, she called it “sacrilege.” This is precious coming from a woman who acts like a self-appointed god, determining when animals should live and die.

Meat recalls would be moot if Niman found a new line of work and if everyone adopted a plant-based diet. Sadly, the true sacrilege is her and her husband's irreverence for the lives of animals, treating them as disposable wares to be diced in cuts and quarters and sold to the highest bidder.

If Niman really wants to promote compassionate, sustainable, and healthy eating, she should drop her defensive stance and proactively advocate a vegan diet. If she did, she would find herself in good company. Cheri Ezell-Vandersluis and her husband Jim, who were both featured in the documentary Peaceable Kingdom, gave up their business as goat farmers and started the Maple Farm Sanctuary. Today they advocate a vegan diet and—in place of great sadness and suffering—work to bring joy to the lives of all animals. Now that’s something worth defending!  

Vegan Starter Kit


kmf said...

Slaughtering animals for food = bad. Slaughtering animals to make footballs = A great Sunday!

Bethany Cortale said...

You are wrong kmf. We don't slaughter animals to make footballs. It is the demand for animal foods alone that directly creates a surplus of skin used to make other imperishable items like footballs. Only by eliminating the demand for food products that come directly from animal-farming and slaughter will we be able to simultaneously eliminate the demand for the fungible byproducts that are part of so many consumer items like footballs. What do you think happens with all the blood, guts, bones, skins, and other animal parts left behind by the 60 BILLION animals bred and killed every year for food alone? Companies utilize it cheaply in other goods. I assure you that if there were no market for animal flesh, there would be no market for footballs made of animal skins. The sole reason we have footballs made from animal skins is explicitly due to nonvegans; they keep animal products in the consumer stream.