Applying human rights to food animal bodies: A problem of perspective?

4 thoughts on “Applying human rights to food animal bodies: A problem of perspective?”

  1. Your criticism of the video in question is not without merit, for as you point out it is essentially propaganda, unlikely to bring meaningful change nor support productive discussion. However, to my mind your own response is just as unproductive, and tellingly, internally conflicted.

    You speak of the inappropriateness of anthropomorphizing animals, while making a nod to ourselves as animals. Lament the habit of presenting an “equal playing field” between species, and offer an employee/employer analogy as a case for expected inequality. While certain historical cases may be exempted, I doubt many employees today would consider their hierarchical superiors are possessed of greater moral consideration or right to life than themselves. If we look at the fact that many humans who through mental impairment are plainly inferior to some other normally functioning species on a measurable level but yet are treated with far greater consideration, we can only call this – and your own apparent view – specieisim.

    There is always drawn a line where some being – be they human or non – is deemed worthy of consideration. As you acknowledge, various arbitrary characteristics have been used to draw this line and have direct ties to humans’ treatment of other species. There is and has long been argument over even the most basic of lines. Can non-human animals feel pain? Still some deny that they can, but then until the last century many medical doctors contended that human infants did not feel “pain” either, as we perceive it. If, however, one can acknowledge that other species are capable of suffering, then we should assure that we do all we can to mitigate that suffering. Too many people are content to remain blind to the production of the meat on their table and are in fact determined to remain wilfully ignorant lest it inconvenience their conscious. If videos like the one in question shock some of them into looking more deeply into what is going on (who knows, they might even end up here) then I say all the better.

    “But seriously, how often do we interact with other animals – specifically food animals?  How often have you – sitting at your electronic device reading this post – touched, smelled, stood next to a 1500 pound bovine?   A 15 hands tall horse? A 200 pound pig?  A dozen chickens?  Have you ever cared for one of these animals?  Helped move one?  Feed one?   If you did these things every day, would your perception of these animals change?” 

    I must address this directly, as it comes across as a bit presumptive, both in that the reader is assumed to have not done these things (admittedly likely correct in many cases), but also if they have, that their view would become more pragmatic and supportive of the utilization of non-humans. To be clear, I have personally done all of the above, as well as slaughter, butcher, and consume some of those species and many others. It did change my perception, to a more pragmatic conclusion that regardless of their species, these are individuals who experience pain, fear, and cry out over loss and death. Inducing these things needlessly, to satisfy an ever burgeoning appetite for flesh in a society where it is now consumed more than ever, is morally reprehensible.

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    1. I really appreciate this comment, and it confirms a lot of the realities/philosophies I am “internally struggling with,” as you say. I’m super aware of this. I am still trying to better articulate my thoughts, and I appreciate you bringing up analogies that did not work – namely my attempt to demonstrate that nuances exist (within species and between species) and how these videos can cause this nuance to flatten. This could have a very positive consequence, as you say. You write that it could encourage more consumers of dairy/meat to look into the industry and decide for themselves (nutritionally, otherwise) what to do with this information. This is great! I’m all for this as well. I guess what I was mainly responding to were the hateful messages targeted at *all* farmers, assuming all farmers are abusive, and all farm activities can be reduced to abuse. This has created some extremely hateful messages targeted at undeserving people – including messages to farmers to “kill themselves” because the cows will be better off anyway. This is a problem.

      This led me to my initial reaction/question to the video: is AI abuse? I want to say no – I can’t see AI as “sexual exploitation” or “sexual abuse” or “bestiality.” I also don’t think it’s the right question to ask – as I write in the conclusion. This goes to your “mitigating suffering” comment, and I think about suffering and writers on suffering a bit in my work (Haraway, Lynch, Scarry, etc.). I’m not sure just yet how to address suffering and AI. This was an attempt – not a fully engaged one though. Thank you for the suggestion.

      Finally – I am also one of those who has worked with animals at every step (worked often with mothers/babies, regularly feeding/caring/cleaning, but only helped slaughter and butcher once). I have also seen animals feel pain and show fear – but I hesitate to say it is the same as human, experienced in the same way as humans, or if these specific beings need to be treated “the same” as some activists propose (IE: release the cows, they’ll take care of themselves). I think this can get out of hand, particularly because cows can’t take care of themselves. That’s why I love that one tweet about “comfort” I posted in between paragraphs. Perhaps I am “speciesist,” but more because I feel the categories are helpful in understanding different bodies, bodily experience, and issues in food production (and yes, they are humanly defined and this assumes human superiority, no?). I think realistically they are different and need to be. Just *how* different remains in the air.

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      1. Well, it’s refreshing to find discussion rather than defensiveness, as I know many recoil at the implications both of us make as abhorrent and unacceptable.

        It all comes back to the line of consideration being drawn, and this is why it is so difficult to rationalize or discuss, because that line is often arbitrary. The anti-abortionist, for example, claims belief in the sanctity of life, and therefore equates terminating a fetus with murder, while typically having no problem with the slaughter of other species (so plainly then, believing merely in the sanctity of human life.)

        Interestingly the situation exist in reverse, where many of those who insist that the killing of non-human animals is murder, yet will support the right to a woman’s choice in the case of abortion. Now, one can rationalize that of course a fetus is “different” from an adult human in many ways, but it can also be described as similar and even clearly “inferior” in many aspects to the newborns of other non humans. So we can agree there is a difference, but does that make where we draw that line of consideration for their right to life anything more than an arbitrary decision based on our own prejudices? It doesn’t seem so. At that point, if humans are no different, why should eating them be such taboo? Meat is meat, right?

        As something of an absolute, I think once one has come to the belief that killing is wrong, the invariable words that follow – “except when…”, begin to sound increasingly hypocritical. It is wrong to kill, except when they are terrorists. It is wrong to kill, except when in self defense. It is wrong to kill, except when they’re not human. And of course we can’t ignore that throughout history enemies in war have been likened to animals or otherwise objectified in exactly the same manner to justify not only their murder but
        enslavement.

        As to your points… Yes, painting with broad strokes is an unfortunate habit of any movement, and I think most people who agree with the video need to understand that even if you take the most dispassionate stance, one should accept that economically, if not emotionally, it is in the farmer’s best interest to have cows who are well cared for, happy, and productive, making the shown examples of abuse outliers. Is AI “abuse” or “sexual exploitation”? You make the case that it needn’t necessarily be either, and while it is “unnatural” (and therefore often viewed as inherently negative), the entire system whereby cattle are today kept industrially is unnatural. So it is merely a small part of that landslide at the edge of perception – where does it end? Freeing all the cattle to roam as they please? If one agrees that war is bad, do you continue to support the military-industrial complex? At what level and why?

        It is tradition to mock the vegetarian for not recognizing our obvious evolutionary predisposition as omnivores. As humans, we are plainly different from other animals, but among those differences is that the killing of other animal species in order to survive is a choice, and has been for thousands of years. The normalcy whereby that killing is justified as requisite is a social, economic, and religious (indeed, as vegetarianism sometimes can be) institution, not a necessarily “human” one.

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