I rarely get to talk to adults about current events, so I figured I'd write a few "adult" posts when I actually had some time. Why not! Also, I realize that, to each their own, a post that deals with animal cruelty and factory farming is going to piss people off. This is my opinion. You are also entitled to yours.
So, in case you don't watch American football or don't even know what the NFL is, apparently over the last 2 days, Quarterback Michael Vick (formerly a Philadelphia Eagle) has been signed to a one year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This, if my Facebook feed is any indication, has ignited a firestorm of controversy. (Funny enough, it seems more of my girlfriends are football fans... either than, or my guy friends just don't care to post about this!)
When Vick came to Philadelphia, there was also controversy. From his Wikipedia bio: "In April 2007, Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring that had operated for five years. A federal judge noted that he had promoted, funded, and facilitated a dog fighting ring on his property, and had engaged in hanging and drowning dogs who did not perform well. He also had failed to cooperate fully with police. In August 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement." We're Giants fans in this house, so whether or not Philly had a criminal on their team (and let's be honest.... I'm betting all teams have some pretty nasty skeletons in their closets, the NYGs too) meant little to me. We weren't rooting for them in general. That being said, I didn't have any love for the guy. As a former veg and animal rights activist for seven years (many of our prekid days), I thought he was a dirtbag and was "sorry" because he got caught. But, truth be told, is that really my business? He plead guilty; he served the time he was issued; he lost his finances and filed bankruptcy. He lost public opinion and he's vilified wherever he goes.
What he did was awful. It was terrible. But it is also a symptom of something else. When asked about why he would engage is something so horrific, he talked about growing up and seeing similar. While yes, as an adult, he knew it wasn't right, it was also a part of who he was. We know the issues of children of abusers; they have a high rate of becoming abusers themselves. Children who are molested... tend to become molesters. It doesn't clear them of wrong doing and it certainly isn't an excuse; but it does tell us a lot about the human mind. Even knowing that what he was doing was both wrong and illegal, Michael Vick continued to participate in an event that he had seen and had been raised around his entire life. He is to blame for his adult decisions; but who is responsible for molding the mind of a small child to make them think that, on some level, that type of behavior is still somehow acceptable? (On that note, Vick lobbied for H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which would establish federal misdemeanor penalties for spectators of illegal animal fighting and make it a felony for adults to bring children to fights.)
As my Facebook feed filled up with "I'm no longer supporting the Steelers" and "this is terrible" and a feed of other things, I mentioned to Peter how interesting it was that, of all that's going on in the world, this is what people are really pissed about. He raised an idea that, honestly, really resonates with me.
Excluding the legality of animal fights, what is the real difference between something like what Michael Vick did and factory farming? (I'm choosing to link to a Wikipedia article verses the more pro-animal articles, but after the things I've watched and read, I do think that the Wiki article is far more lightweight than some of the data available- but that is my opinion.)
As a society, we have chosen to value cheap meat. For example: I can go to the grocery store and get a large, roasting chicken that has been raised in deplorable conditions, fed hormones, mistreated, scalded alive, and a battery of other details, for about $5; I can go to Whole Foods and buy one that is still farmed in not-awesome conditions but maybe not "abused" for about $10; also, at WF, I can buy a free range, non hormone, better raised chicken for about $15; or, I can buy it from my local farmer, who lets his chicken run wild, slaughters only what he sells, and does so as humanely as possible, for about $22. (I had to actually check the label to get an adequate cost; our farmer charges $5 a pound.) Notwithstanding that the taste of all these things are different (and they really are), but we're talking about a $17 difference; the farmer clearly will sell less and the factory farm will sell more. They sell so much more, in fact, that factory farming is a booming business. Think it's just about meat? Think about eggs. I can pay $1.20 for a dozen of bleached white shelled eggs with yolks that look like a light yellow; or, I can pay $5 for dozen of multicolored, freshly picked eggs with yolks that are nearly as orange as a mandarin. (In fairness, we get our eggs either from a farm where we do pay or, when we are lucky, from a friend who has an overage and shares the wealth with our family for no charge, and this latter helps our food budget since eggs play a large role.)
In my area of PA, I can get drive by about a half dozen sites within 20 minutes; we see the big "meat" trucks on the road. We've had to explain to our children what those "farms" are, when they are so used to the model of farms that we do purchase produce and meat from. We can hear the animals screaming and crying; we can smell the animal on top of animal defecation. All farms smell; that's the nature of the beast. But it is a different smell. An awful one. One that makes you roll up the windows a mile in advance and put the air on recirculate until you get a mile beyond.
What is it about dog fighting that really pisses us off? Is it that we are a society that loves our puppies like our babies? That we snuggle up to them and look into their eyes and see something close to human staring back? I'm a 'dog person'; I still mourn my pup who died shortly into Peter and I's marriage. I long to be able to adopt a rescue and we've discussed bringing a service animal into our home for Bobby, but I cant add the additional responsibility of care right now. I used to ride horses and I felt similar; I'd look into their face and see this empathy and understanding. Eating a horse? A dog? Even a cat? (I'm not a cat person... no offense to those who are but they are just not my bag of chips!). Eek! No! In fact, no deer (Bambi!) or bunnies (Thumper!) either- they are just.too.cute. Why would we eat them? Yuck. After all, we have chicken and turkey and fish- I mean, those things are kind of homely looking. I'll eat them instead.
Well, we don't have to eat pet animals. You're right- but who is to say who is a pet? My mom had a pet rooster as a kid. ( And, eventually, he got eaten. Broke her heart, but she still eats chicken.) I fell in love with a cow at the Farm Sanctuary; she was beautiful and kind and let me just hug and snuggle her. The baby pigs? They were adorable too; a sow had just delivered and we were able to sit among her and her new babes and they were so tiny and pink! Even the chicken and turkeys, running around and singing, their chicks playing together, had this happiness to them. I didn't want to eat them; I mean, they were so... cute.
I've been on the 'don't eat meat' side; I came very close to taking a job with PETA in Virginia. We had the bumper stickers and the t-shirts. I've seen the videos and nearly puked from the atrocity that I've witnessed animals put through for the sake of cheap meat.
And now, I do eat meat. We work hard to teach our kids where all our food comes from, how hard of work it is, and how we have a limited budget to make sure that our family eats well. Since we choose to spend it on roasting chickens that cost $22 (for about 2 meals when I factor in leftovers for just our family) instead of 4 chickens that would make at least 2 meals and maybe 3 because they are bigger, it makes things take a hit. It's impossible to feed a large family for free; when you are buying local and fresh, and you have to prep things because it's not as easy as processed, it takes your time and your money and it's hard. We, as a society, force people to make a living from killing- and not just killing, but doing it in a terrible way. We want to eat; we want to feed our children; we like our bacon and eggs and steaks and, when we have a budget- be it $100 or $300- we fit those wants and needs into that and, for many, that means cheaper, processed foods and factory farmed meat. I grew up that way (well, a combo... my mom grew a garden, we shopped at the farmer's market, my grandparents grew and canned, and we bought meat by the animal when we could, but she also scoured supermarket specials to make sure that there was dinner on the table.)
But, as we grow up, we decide where these things rank in our priorities. Can we eat whatever we want, with whatever consequence- be it animal welfare or the environment or farmers making livable wage- and be okay with it? Many people can. For many, it is a have or have not situation. For us, it is the same, but we choose the not. Peter grew up with meat at every meal; it's not that way anymore. We spend a fair amount of our budget on food and that means meat at about 3-4 dinners a week; he has leftovers for lunch and the kids and I are usually meat free for lunch. Breakfast is typically meat free, with bacon when we have it, because it's a huge hit here. We still have our not-so-awesome choices (Bobby loves hotdogs) but we try to do our best to put our ethics where we purchase. When we run out of fruit or veggies or milk or eggs, the kids don't expect that I'll go to the store and pick up more; they know we wait for the farm day. We are nowhere near where I'd love to be, but such is life.
(And, on another note, it ticks me off that people who are struggling and desperate to eat well are near forced to eat overly processed food because you can buy a cart of processed stuff for $50 and barely a bag of whole foods for that same amount. That's another post I need time for...)
But how does this compare to animal fighting? Eating meat and killing animals for sport are two different things.
They are. But both come from a common place: placing your want or desire over the well being of something else. Yes, you could take that argument all the way to the "don't eat meat at all" side. I think we all figure out where we land. For some people, eating meat is just that: eating. They don't really put much more into that. But trying for a moment to look at both animal fighting (and it's more than dogs, and it is far more reaching when you add in things like cock fighting, bull fights, sport hunting, etc) and animal eating in that same vein. It's not altogether comfortable.
Are you okay with an animal being electrocuted or drowned to death?
Are you okay with an animal being beaten and punched?
Are you okay with people yelling at and cheering around animals being executed?
These things happen in both animal fights and factory farming. (You can easily find pictures and videos for both... I'll spare you the images on here.)
Before we throw rocks at Michael Vick (who did serve his time and pay his fines), it seems we should think about the glass houses we live in. I know I have plenty of my own problems that are signs of the excesses of my culture and my desires. While I can continue to not root for certain teams or put my money elsewhere when it comes to players I don't care for, it seems completely unfair to throw Vick under the bus for this issue while we continue to let countless other players get away with murder (sometimes literally).