Read an Excerpt
The Ultimate Betrayal
Is There Happy Meat?
By Hope Bohanec, Cogen Bohanec
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Hope Bohanec
All rights reserved.
The Ethics of Betrayal
There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
At the grocery store, products stretch from floor to ceiling with colorful packaging and enticing images. You can base your dizzying variety of food-purchasing choices on price, taste, quality, brand, and an assortment of other factors. Recently though, a new kind of shopper can be spotted roaming the grocery aisles and farmers' markets. These buyers take into account factors other than their personal needs and desires when making their food-buying decisions. These conscientious consumers think about the world around them and how their actions affect others. They have discovered that each product has a story, a narrative with potential impacts mixed in with the ingredients, and problems blended in the processing that touch lives beyond themselves and their families. These ethical shoppers examine each purchase, as each item has a power that can potentially cause suffering, destroy the environment, or harm life. They read labels. They pay attention. They care.
For many, shopping is a monotonous chore requiring little thought beyond lists, coupons, and prices. It is extremely admirable for someone to recognize the influence that purchasing power has on the larger world, on the animals that were part of the process, and the environmental effect of the product. This new way of consuming brings meaning to the mundane and is a significant way to shop. People aware of the potential impact of their consumer dollars recognize that money spent can either be funding suffering and destruction or casting a vote for something new—a more compassionate world of wholesome choices and a healthy environment.
These caring consumers deserve to know the whole truth about the new alternative animal products emerging on the market. Seeking humane and ecologically friendly choices are noble pursuits, and those who are willing to dig deeper in their wallets have the right to know the reality behind the labels. This book can help people to analyze the most ethical choices so that their time, effort, and desire to help alleviate suffering in the world will not be wasted. But before we analyze the details of alternative animal production and labeling, as will be explained in comprehensive detail in chapters 2 and 3, let's first examine the larger question: Can there really be happy meat, milk, or eggs?
Considering the proven capacity for animals to feel pain and experience emotional complexity, as discussed in the introduction, we may expect that when we become caretakers of domesticated animals, whether they are dogs, goats, or chickens we are leading these animals to believe that they can trust us. As with any relationship involving trust, there is an unspoken promise. These animals, as highly emotional beings, come to expect us to care for them, to make them as comfortable as we can, and to nurture them throughout their life stages. When we consistently feed them, give them water, and administer proper medical attention, they come to expect this humane treatment and develop a capacity for trust that can be truly astounding. This trust can lead to a sense of intense loyalty that is so strong it can be described as love.
But when the human guardian has an ulterior motive of self-interest and is all the while plotting to ultimately kill the animal companion for her flesh, this sacred bond of trust is completely violated by the human's treacherous motive. A violation of trust of this magnitude, when one individual depends on the other for her very life and every aspect of well-being, can only rightly be termed betrayal—the greater the degree of dependence, the greater the degree of trust, and the greater the bond of trust, the greater the magnitude of betrayal. Because these animals are so dependent on us, so trusting of us, and the violation of this incredible bond is an act so egregious, we have chosen to call it "the ultimate betrayal."
In the same way, abuse of children, the developmentally disabled, and the elderly is particularly egregious. These classes of individuals are dependent upon those who are responsible for their care, as their very survival depends on others. These groups of dependents would suffer gravely without the guardianship of individuals with greater capacities, abilities, and resources. And because the consequences of lack of care would be more severe, a violation of this trust constitutes a larger betrayal. Therefore, the degree of betrayal is a function of the degree of trust and dependence.
This brings us to the question of responsibility. A commitment to personal responsibility, above and beyond what is required by the law, is essential to the functioning of a peaceful and healthy society. Responsibility is proportional to need and resource; the greater the need of the object of responsibility, like a child or animal, and the greater the resource capacity of those capable of care, like a parent or guardian the heavier the burden of responsibility. Based on this formula it is when children are in infancy that they are most needy and thus when the parents' responsibility is greatest. It is when the elderly are frail and ill and the younger generation is experiencing the height of their independence and autonomy that their responsibility for care giving is at its upmost. It is when malnutrition is rampant and another class of society has a comfortable circumstance that responsibility to share is greatest.
In modern times animals have virtually no ability to control their environment, while humanity has been experiencing unrivaled hegemony over all other creatures as well as the very conditions of life on the planet. Now is the time for us to exercise our responsibility toward the less fortunate creatures that we share our planet with. If we, as humans, ever awaken to the ethical obligations that are an inherent function of the enjoyment of privilege, instead of selfishly asserting our traditions and desires at the expense of the welfare of other beings, then we will have achieved a society that will enjoy unprecedented harmony and peace with nature and with each other.
The word humane is commonly defined as being characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed. This definition is completely antithetical to the act of treating animals as commodities instead of as sensitive and emotionally complex individuals. It is impossible to reconcile the principles of humane treatment with the inherently inhumane act of sending animals to slaughter, irrespective of how "good" a life they may have had. If one were to treat a person well and then murder him, the preceding "humane" treatment would do nothing to exonerate the killer of the crime, either morally or legally. At best the perpetrator might receive a sentence that is slightly less than that for a criminal who was guilty of murder and torture. But he would still receive a severe punishment for the killing. Imagine a defense attorney in a murder case making the argument that because the defendant treated his wife well before he killed her he should be acquitted of the horrendous crime. What would the jury say? What would you say? The perpetrator would still be guilty of murder, irrespective of how the victim was treated beforehand. Of course, it would be worse to be tortured and then killed, but nonetheless, there can be no benevolent killing, whether the victim is human or otherwise. And killing is the more severe criminal act. Taking a sentient being's life for one's own interests can never be considered humane.
To look at it from another perspective, imagine if you were dependent on someone for your very survival. He is there in the early morning, providing your breakfast. He is there in the afternoon, tending to your living space. He comes back in the evening with more food. You are completely reliant on this person for your sustenance, your shelter, your very life. Like a child, you are dependent on his power to care for you. Now imagine that one day he comes to kill you and all your family and friends, or he ships you off to a death camp where you and your companions will be cruelly and thoughtlessly killed. Can you imagine the confusion, the sadness, the fear, the sense of betrayal? Would you thank this person for his past kind treatment, or would you curse him for his callous betrayal? The gravity of the betrayal would be so severe that you would not even feel a modicum of gratitude toward this person. You would realize he had simply been pretending to help you, while in fact he was only doing it for his own selfish motives. The magnitude of betrayal in the slaughter of animals is so great that it precludes any consideration of previous assistance provided to the animal. And because this assistance was not for the actual motive of helping the animal—rather, it was a means in the pursuit of self-serving intentions—these previous actions cannot be considered humane at all. More accurately, they were in the self-interest of the perpetrator, simply as a way to achieve selfish ends, that is, to have a "high-quality" meat product and make a profit.
Farm Sanctuary is a rescue and rehabilitation center, founded in 1993, where farmed animals who are injured, ill, or abused are nursed back to health by a caring and compassionate staff of employees and volunteers. The animals are allowed to live out their lives in peace on serene farms. Farm Sanctuary has three locations, with hundreds of animals in their guardianship and thousands more that come through for care and are adopted out. While you would assume that all the animals at the sanctuary come from the worst-of-the-worst abuse in large-scale, industrial factory farming, we found out that this is not the case at all.
This is the pattern among many so-called humane operations—they are not humane for the animals' sake; it is a marketing strategy to appease the conscience of consumers and to lure them into a false sense of confidence that no animals suffered for the product. If the producers were genuinely concerned about animals, they would not be in the business of killing animals. Ultimately, much of their "caring" is about appealing to a niche market where they can charge higher prices—they care about their bottom line.
It is curious that people will show great concern for how farmed animals are treated when alive and yet do not seem to be troubled by their slaughter. This fact seems to demonstrate a general inability to appraise the various gradations of moral transgressions, with killing being at the furthest end of the spectrum of immorality. Especially with respect to animal slaughter, there is a general tendency to ignore gradations of violent and harmful actions.
Our criminal justice system is based on the idea that punishment must be proportional to the crime, and we, as a society, have institutionalized varying gradations of punishment proportional to how serious we consider a crime to be. There is a general consensus that taking another's life is amongst the most serious type of crime.
In the United States, the death penalty is practiced in thirty-three of the fifty states and almost exclusively when the most horrible crime has been committed: murder. Even then, extraneous circumstances must have also occurred—pre-meditation, kidnapping, rape, etc.—to warrant the death penalty. The extent to which our society values the human animals' life is highly admirable. Why is a nonhuman animal not afforded the same consideration? While we are certainly not advocating a position where people who kill animals receive the death penalty or are treated as murderers, there are compelling parallels between killing animals and killing humans. An animal has the same will to live as a human does. And, as stated in the introduction, they have much of the same consciousness, awareness, and emotional capacity. Are they really so different?
In our tendency to deny farmed animals a place in our circle of compassion, we fail to properly assess the gravity of the act of killing and tend to exclusively consider the conditions in which an animal lives. There is a sense that it is okay to slaughter an animal as long as she has been treated well, the "one-bad-day" scenario. In this sentiment, we fall short of extending the same recognition to animals that is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system: that taking life is the highest transgression, much worse than any crime that allows for the survival of the victim. For example, would you rather have six months in a five-star hotel and then be executed or have a lifetime in jail? Most everyone would take the lifetime in prison, even if the conditions were harsh. Because animals share similar behaviors to humans regarding their will to live, it is safe to assume that they would share the preference for living as well. Life is an animal's most cherished possession and animals, like humans, will fight to survive. It is absurd to speak of humane treatment of animals when it comes to their handling, management, food, and shelter if you deny them the most basic right—to live out their lives—and condone or are complicit in their slaughter. Clearly, the killing of the animal is the most severe transgression, greater than any mistreatment that allows the victim to live. And because of that, our greatest concern should not necessarily be the treatment of the animal, though this is obviously very important; rather, the greatest consideration should be that the animal be allowed to live.
To propose another question: Would you rather be murdered or assaulted with a baseball bat? Even though being hit with a baseball bat would be very painful or potentially debilitating, most rational people, if faced with this horrible choice, would prefer to be victimized in a way that allowed them to live. Even if there is no assurance of full recovery (excepting cases where there is ongoing and irreversible suffering) it is preferable to live, because most people value life above all other considerations of well-being. This is a value that animals share, and it should be extended to them. To illustrate the point differently: Would you hit a pig with a baseball bat? Of course not, and it would be unacceptable for a rancher to do so, also. So why is it acceptable to inflict the greater violation—killing the pig? As a society we tend to consider the lesser infraction of animal cruelty to be a much greater moral wrong than the much greater transgression of killing, and somehow we find it acceptable to condone the killing of animals that are marketed as humanely raised. Labeling killing "humane" is as contradictory as calling the lifeless remains "happy."
The consideration that killing is the worst of transgressions is not limited to humans in our society. Our comprehensive anti-cruelty laws for companion animals also follow this logical progression. Captain Cindy Machado , Director of Animal Services for over twenty-nine years at the Marin Humane Society in Novato, California, has explained that the severity of animal cruelty has a bearing on the level of the charges against the person responsible for the crime. Captain Machado said, "In the maximum punishments we've seen, the animal has to have been brutally injured or killed. That makes a difference whether or not cases are charged at the felony level or just a charge of a misdemeanor." She added, "If an animal is killed as a result of abuse or neglect, the punishment is likely to be more severe." It is considered cruelty, so extreme that you could acquire a felony charge and jail time, if you kill a dog—but kill hundreds of cows a day, and you get a paycheck.
We have made farmed animals exempt from our basic moral understandings of the degree and severity of offenses and have somehow compensated for this nagging, unconscious compunction with the compromise that farm animals must at least be treated well while alive. This is a good first step in bringing to our conscious awareness the admission of their suffering, but the logical extension of this thinking is that we should not kill them at all, as killing is the worst of all the acts we can commit against one another.
Excerpted from The Ultimate Betrayal by Hope Bohanec, Cogen Bohanec. Copyright © 2013 Hope Bohanec. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.