Friday, August 27, 2010

Houses of Laughter, Houses of Slaughter

The carnival was in town this week. I rode the thunderbolt again and again until I felt so close to vomiting that I resolved to stumble home.

Earlier this week we went to an organic dairy farm. That also nearly made me vomit. A former DDR collective farm, the operation is now a private one that sprawls across 1,700 hectares. Their immense herd spends some time in pasture, but is often in confined feeding barns. Even though the operation goes beyond the EU's animal welfare laws, I felt a deep sadness as I watched the animals lean through the bars and eat their organic, closed-system silage. The barns smelled foul. There was a parallel system for these humble bovine to be fattened up for slaughter.

It all is entirely unnecessary. We often hear this same argument from vegetarians: about how a huge amount of arable production going to animal feed could much more efficiently go to feeding people plants directly. The same is absolutely true for dairy. But somehow the rejection of animal exploitation cannot overcome cravings for animal fats. Cheese and butter compel us, regardless of its necessary intertwining with meat systems. Moreover, dairy extraction operations are at least as tragic in and of themselves.

It wasn't just that farm either. The next day we visited another certified organic facility, this one at an establishment training adults with handicaps. I saw the same tragic scenes, smelled the same awful smell, and could feel the subtle stress of the mama cows as they shuffled around on cement floors.

Although heifer husbandry doesn't appeal to me in any fashion, I can definitely see when it would be appropriate. As accessories to arable systems, large ruminants can really help soil fertility. Many farms have fine systems of free-roaming cattle. What really turns me off is a system that is clearly exploitative. The industrial model, no matter how 'organic' it claims to be, is devoid of the essential element of intimacy. I refuse to support the treatment of animals as production systems. When any organization industrializes, our diverse and incommensurable values are dominated by production motives. This is not healthy for cows, children, and other living things.

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