The heresy of Meatless Monday: Tweet for meat

Meatless Monday merch – click image

The gnashing of teeth. Charges of heresy. Outrage…sputtering outrage. In a heinous affront to the beef industry, the U.S.D.A. suggested–suggested!–that folks dining at the agency cafeterias–(brace yourself)–go meatless on Mondays. Oh the humanity!

From the New York Times: The message seemed innocuous enough, coming as it did from the federal agency tasked with promoting sustainable agriculture and dietary health: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias,” read a United States Department of Agriculture interoffice newsletter published on its Web site this week, “is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.”

Certainly, we assure ourselves, the U.S.D.A., though faced with stiff industry opposition, staunchly defended its reasonable sugges…no, wait, what’s this? “U.S.D.A. does not endorse Meatless Monday,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. The newsletter, which covered topics like the installation of energy-efficient lights on the Ag Promenade and recycling goals, “was posted without proper clearance,” the statement said.”

Sigh.

Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa (the nation’s factory farming capital with the ag-gag muscle to keep the cruelty well hidden), tweeted, “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.”

Given the results of the Harvard red meat study, perhaps he will also have the double coronary bypass, not that we wish him ill. But it does seem likely that all that animal carcass has addled his thinking. We’re talking the Department of AGRICULTURE, for crying out loud; last time anyone checked, agriculture included growing vegetables and grains. “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation [about] a meatless Monday,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted. “This is a reminder to USDA that it’s supposed to advocate for American agriculture, not against it,” Sen. Grassley later said. Geez, Iowa, chill. Don’t have a cow, man.

Huffington Post – click for story

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), not to let Iowa outdo Texas in bombastic indignation, said, “In some of the toughest times they’ve seen in recent memory, Texas cattle ranchers and farmers deserve an Administration who works with them, not one who undermines them with boneheaded decisions from bureaucrats in Washington.”

Cornyn and Grassley celebrated their own “Meat Monday” with a lunch order that included “a total of 52 orders of barbecue beef sandwiches, brisket, sausage and ribs…” and posted a picture of the fleshy feast on Facebook. Yes, there’s Old Glory looming over the laden table, lest anyone forget that eating meat is a patriotic endeavor.

It’s possible that mere semantics is the culprit–it’s that “meatless” moniker that’s so offensive to the Livestock Overlords since it suggests, well, foregoing meat one day of the week while gorging on it for six. U.S.D.A. needs to try again, this time calling it what it is rather than what it isn’t. Perhaps Macaroni Monday will slip by without protest, or Miso Monday (um, ixnay to that one). Muesli Monday? Minestrone Monday? Yeah, that’s it, minestrone. Lots of vegetables and pasta made from grain, products of agriculture all (recipe here and here).

Lost in the blather, as always, is the meat in its former, living state, which is to say, the state of misery. And that’s before the trip to the slaughterhouse:

“I mean, it’s a necessary process.” No. Intentionally causing suffering is never necessary, and that goes for the elective violence of slaughter. Slaughter is elective because the appetite for meat is elective. Now we’ve walked it back to consumer demand and laid it at the feet of people who are generally good and often as not say they love animals.

It’s only fair to acknowledge that generations of clueless consumers have been sold a bill of goods about the necessity of meat and dairy products–have been manipulated by corporate animal-exploiting industries with slick, crafty ad campaigns appealing to tradition and the “critical need” for animal protein in human health, all the while keeping well-concealed the “violent, bloody and difficult things to watch.”

But now we know. We know about increased cancer risk and coronaries; about overuse of antibiotics and mutating pathogens; about environmental destruction and unsustainability; about animal suffering–oh god yes, animal suffering times ten billion.

The Meatless Monday campaign (and Meatout Mondays) is a simple way to enter the consciousness of a disconnected public that loves animals but continues to eat them because they always have. And where’s there’s a Meatless Monday, there can be a Compassionate Tuesday (I’m throwing off the tyranny of alliteration!) and a Justice Wednesday. And indeed, isn’t that exactly what the livestock industry–and the legislators who work for it–are afraid of?
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Addendum: Subway recently offered up three vegan sandwich options in test markets in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. A review (written by a vegan) is in the Washington Post. Compassion Over Killing will help connect you to Subway decision-makers who could take it nationwide.

Readin’, writin’, and artificial insemination

Evolve! campaigns – click image

Remember a typical high school day? English: work on Hamlet essay. Civics: meet in library. Art: finish perspective drawing. Algebra: test, chapter 7. Ag-education: artificially inseminate cow.

Wait, what?

That’s the gist of an article in a recent Missoulian (Missoula, MT): animal husbandry ain’t what it used to be. Sure, it still involves mucking around in manure, but increasingly, it also means turning to science to engineer ever more production out of animals–in this case, commandeering the reproductive systems of individual cows.

“The point is not to manipulate Mother Nature,” says a teacher at Missoula County Public Schools’ Agricultural Center, located on a 100-acre farm. “The point is to find excellent genes in cattle and then produce more of them.” Creating “genetically superior animals saves resources and produces better, more bountiful food,” the article instructs.

Even though “bodily integrity” is a concept that never applies to animals in a human-dominated world, this goes far beyond the crude confinement of gestation crates and battery cages and into a brave new realm of intimately aggressive managment. Genetically superior cows are induced into estrus and super ovulation with hormones, causing them to produce anywhere from five to 50 eggs. Semen from genetically superior bulls is used to artificially inseminate them (if you’d like to see how that works in a one-minute dairy cow video, view here, or in a longer, more instructive video, view here). The inseminated eggs are then removed from Super Cow, frozen, and later introduced into younger, more durable recipient cows in a process called embryonic transfer.

“Instead of supplying six to eight calves over her lifetime, a healthy cow can produce 50 or more offspring using embryonic transfer,” according to the article. This idea was delivered factually and dispassionately, but I read it with sadness. I imagined the lives of these cows–robbed of their natural life rhythms, invaded by plastic-sheathed arms inserted in their rectums, embryos later flushed from their uteruses; recipient cows–they have to be the “right package” to put the embryo in–who submit to “an epidural block at the tailhead to prevent straining. The loaded transfer gun is carefully passed through the vulva and the cervix then guided into the uterine horn on the same side of the ovary with the active corpus luteum…”

Anyone who has read Lisa Kemmerer’s Sister Species: Women, animals and social justice will instantly recognize the institutional exploitation of female reproductive means central to the book’s message.

Does this manufacturing approach to calf creation affect how students relate to animals? Do they tend to see cows less as sentient individuals and more as objects of production–objects whose product is born to die?

No, says their ag teacher in a 10-minute interview on Montana Public Radio. He maintains that (paraphrased), Some might think that raising livestock would desensitize students, make them uncompassionate, but in reality it’s the opposite; when they raise these animals they become more compassionate toward those animals and other people–“it has a nurturing effect, raising livestock.”

His students agree. A male student says (paraphrased), People come out here thinking it’s raising animals to kill them but that’s not our goal at all. People spend so much time with them, working on them, caring for them, they do get attached and feel a lot of pain for them at that point. And a female student: Everyone gets really attached but when you take them to the fair, it’s business and you know that’s what has to happen.

Of course, that isn’t what has to happen. It’s a choice that’s been made–by everyone from these students and their teachers right on up to our meat-eating society as a whole. If we truly felt “a lot of pain” for animals, wouldn’t we just admit that raising them to kill and eat is unnecessary–that it’s an elective appetite–and stop doing it?

Folks will argue ’til the superior cows come home as to whether programs like 4-H desensitize kids to killing. It’s harder to argue a claim presented no less than three times in the relatively short Missoulian piece: that creating superior cattle will feed a hungry planet. “The world needs food, and no matter what, the important thing is to get people fed. And this new technology is allowing that,” asserts a high school Junior.

But even genetically superior cattle are still cattle who require resources. According to a recent Scientific American, reducing per capita meat consumption is one of five solutions to feeding the world and sustaining the planet. “Tragically, 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, much of which is in the form of feed fed to animals that will be eaten by well-to-do consumers,” says Jeremy Rifkin, writing in “There’s a bone to pick with meat eaters.” He continues:

A footnoted Viva! Guide, “Feed the World: Why eating meat is a major cause of world hunger and going vegetarian is a solution” makes this claim: “If animal farming were to stop and we were to use the land to grow grain to feed ourselves, we could feed every single person on this planet. Consuming crops directly – rather than feeding them to animals and then eating animals – is a far more efficient way to feed the world.”

And far kinder and more just, too–for animals, people, and the earth. If the student is right that “no matter what, the important thing is to get people fed,” why don’t high school ag programs give him and other kids like him the real tools to change the world?

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Wielding words for animal rights: Rapping, religion & blogging

Do you ever suffer from weariness of words? I do. Words piled on words. Remember when Polonius–attempting to determine if Lord Hamlet had gone mad–asked him what he was reading? “Words, words, words,” was Hamlet’s crafty reply. So many words. Too many words. Animals suffer; we write words. Animals die; we read words. We log on, post to Facebook, read blogs, write blogs, comment on blogs, link to blogs, blog about blogs…meh. At the end of the day I ask myself, “What’s been accomplished?” Animals are still suffering, still dying, and all I’ve done is shuffle words, words, words. Have they changed anything?

But still, what nonviolent justice-seeker doesn’t believe that the pen is mightier than the sword? And if it’s mightier than the sword, isn’t it also mightier than the captive bolt gun? Aren’t words (and their allies, images) stronger than the jaws of the body-gripping trap that crushes and drowns the beaver? More powerful than the bullet that slays the record book African lion? More relentless than the grinder that shreds alive the “worthless” male chick? More potent than the chemical that kills the unwanted companion animal? Wrote Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”

Does it ever seem to you that we–and our words–aren’t achieving our task?

When I weary of words, when they seem uninspired and ineffective, when I’ve written the words “speciesism” and “exploitation” for the umpteenth, stale time–when it seems that the pen actually isn’t mightier than the almighty dollar–I have to wonder: Are we just acting out the pop definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? What else can we do? Will changing our words change our world? (Text continues below screen.)

Photo: Rossella Lorenzi-click

Supposing we change the messenger? Much has been made of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s choice of the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Already the new Pope has singled out a sight-impaired journalist and bestowed a blessing–unasked for–upon his guide dog. Already he has offered words about protecting creation, and in that context, “respecting each of God’s creatures.” Each one! The hog in the gestation crate. The mink in the fur farm. The warehoused, debeaked chicken. The factory farmed fish. Sentient beings all, and all worthy of respect.

Last October, in yet another post comprised of words, words, words, I wondered “Which animals would St. Francis bless today?” Would he play it safe and stick to those companion animals brought before him on his feast day? Or would he bless the invisible, suffering billions in factory farms, too? Will his namesake usher in a new era of compassion (if not justice) for animals in a world where massive exploitation is largely hidden and blissfully ignored? With an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, couldn’t this be a game changer? Or is that just a pipe dream?

Except for its use of words to convey a message, a papal homily doesn’t have much in common with a hip-hop song. If the medium is the message, vegan artist IFEEL is delivering the brutal, rappin’ lowdown on why he does what he does, telling us, “I do it with a pen not a knife or a gun”:

Words, words, words. Your words, my words, holy words, hip-hop words. Words on protest signs and billboards; words in outreach brochures and letters to editors. Factual, revealing, compassionate, angry, gut-wrenching, persuasive, emotionally-honest words. Words that sadden, that shock, that inspire action. Words that can make a difference.

Being a long-time activist and purveyor of words, I want to–have to believe that this deluge of words will eventually reach critical mass and tip the balance. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Transcendentalist Theodore Parker, “but it bends toward justice.” Surely the substantial weight of our combined words advocating justice for animals will hasten the bend of that arc.

Understanding this, however, is of no use to the beaver struggling in the trap right now, nor to the cattle currently restrained in the stunning box, nor to the chick riding the conveyor to the grinder later tonight. It will mean nothing to the lion in the gunsight during tomorrow’s safari, nor to the dog who will look up and perhaps wag her tail as the needle descends to meet her vein.

This is the stuff that haunts. This is when words fail.
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Video: Captive bolt gun in use here.
Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.