Saturday, November 03, 2012

To Barbeque or Not to Barbeque: Eating Our (nonhuman) Animal Brothers & Sisters

I can’t join Al Brophy at The Faculty Lounge (where I’m guest-blogging this month) in his celebration of barbeque, an enthusiasm for which I suspect is shared by not a few Faculty Lounge readers, barbeque being but the culmination of a barbaric ritual that commences with the industrialized slaughter and sacrifice of nonhuman animals. There are sundry religious, ethical, ecological, health, and economic arguments against the eating of animals and thus for adopting vegetarianism or veganism as an alternative diet (I’ll leave it to Professors Michael Dorf, Sherry Colb, and Neil Buchanan to argue for the merits of veganism over vegetarianism). A sample of some of the arguments are found below:
  • Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum, 1990.
  • Adams, Carol J. Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.
  • DeGrazia, David. Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Fox, Michael Allen. Deep Vegetarianism. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999.
  • Linzey, Andrew. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Midgley, Mary. Animals and Why They Matter. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
  • Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2004.
  • Salt, Henry S. Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Social Progress. London: Centaur Press, 1980 (first published in 1892).
  • Schwartz, Richard H. Judaism and Vegetarianism. New York: Lantern Books, revised ed., 2001.
  • Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: The New York Review of Books, 2nd ed., 1990.
  • Sunstein, Cass R. and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
For Buddhist perspectives, see Shabkar.org, “a non-sectarian website dedicated to vegetarianism as a way of life for Buddhists of all schools. The site takes its name from Shabkar Tsodruk Rangdrol (1781-1851), the great Tibetan yogi who espoused the ideals of vegetarianism.”

For a Christian perspective, see the works of Andrew Linzey (above), the Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

For an Islamic perspective, see Islamic Concern.com.

One of my favorite blogs devoted to ethical and legal topics concerning nonhuman animals is Animal Blawg, “a blog [that] focuses on animal law, ethics and policy. It provides a forum for community and collegiality as well as debate and the exchange of ideas. Founded by Pace Law School professors, David N. Cassuto, Luis E. Chiesa and law student, Suzanne McMillan, the blog is now maintained by David Cassuto. Contributors include academics, practitioners, and law students, as well as other interested members of the animal advocacy community.”

An early version (2008) of my bibliography for “animal ethics, rights, and law” is found here.

Finally, I just read a compelling review in the Atlantic of Timothy Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale University Press, 2011), a sample from which follows:

“The comprehensiveness of his [i.e., Pachirat’s] experience makes Every Twelve Seconds especially valuable, considering the meat industry’s campaign to stamp out precisely this sort of research. Iowa and Utah have already passed laws making it a crime to gain employment at a slaughterhouse for the purpose of documenting abuses and code violations; similar ‘ag gag’ bills [link added] have been proposed in other states. It is easy to imagine the uproar that would ensue if the restaurant industry, which is a model of hygiene in comparison, were to demand comparable protection from whistle-blowers. When it comes to the meat supply, however, America appears none too troubled by the prospect of its blindfolding; the nation would rather take its chances with E. coli than risk channel-surfing into a slaughterhouse. Though ‘foodie’ writers occasionally show interest in the act of slaughter, they prefer to witness it outdoors, on some idyllic farm, the better to stylize it into a time-hallowed, mutually respectful communing of man and beast. Readers are left to infer that their local meat factory is merely maximizing the number of communings per minute; the media fuss over Temple Grandin, a purportedly cow-loving consultant to Big Beef, has an obvious role to play here. But all this wishful thinking fails at the slaughterhouse door. Barring recourse to the inducements the animals get, it would be hard to coax average Americans inside even for a minute. As George Bataille once wrote, in a remark that leads off Pachirat’s first chapter: ‘The slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a boat carrying cholera.’ [….]

The most interesting aspect of Pachirat’s book is its discovery that our slaughterhouse workers are themselves deeply uneasy about the cruelty they are forced to inflict. This runs counter to the PR line according to which everything runs wonderfully humanely except when some psychopath slips into the system. Evidently there is no uncruel way to kill a large and terrified animal every 12 seconds, the pace now set by industry greed. Just moving the cattle along the chutes leaves employees feeling shaken and ashamed.

The cow struggles to right itself, but with the narrow passageway and downward slope slick with feces and vomit, it cannot get up … Fernando inserts the rings through the cow’s nostrils, clamps them shut, and attaches them to a yellow rope, which he jerks heavily … Finally, the men pull so hard that they rip the cow’s nostrils and the nose rings fly out, hitting Juan in the hand. ‘Fuck!’ he screams … With electric prods Gilberto and Fernando push the remaining cattle over the downed cow, and they stomp on its neck and underbelly trying to escape the electric shock. Leaning against the wall, I look at Richard, who says shakily, ‘Man, this isn’t right, running them other cattle over this cow like that. I’m not going to take part in this. I’m not going to stand and watch this.’

Small wonder that some estimates put American slaughterhouses’ annual employee turnover rate at more than 100 percent, or that a high degree of euphemism characterizes even their internal communication. Live cattle are referred to as ‘beef,’ the animals as having ‘come in to die,’ while the employee who must fire the bolt into each quaking cow’s skull is a ‘knocker.’

Pachirat writes about how even abusive workers shrink from doing the ‘knocking.’ When Pachirat says he wants to try, a colleague replies, ‘Nobody wants to do that. You’ll have bad dreams.’ A woman in quality control feels the same: ‘I already feel guilty enough as it is … Especially when I go out there and see their cute little faces.’ Pachirat samples the work anyway, much to another colleague’s dismay:

When I tell Tyler I shot three animals with the knocking gun the day before, he urges me to stop.

‘Man, that will mess you up. Knockers have to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist or whatever they’re called every three months.’

‘Really? Why?’

‘Because, man, that’s killing,’ he says; ‘that shit will fuck you up for real.’” [….]

Addendum (4 November): I’m curious what readers think of this proposal by Jeffrey Leslie and Cass Sunstein: “Animal Rights without Controversy.”

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