Saturday, August 28, 2010

Would Witnessing an Animal's Murder Create More Vegans?

One tactic that the animal-agribusiness industry advises to combat the animal-rights movement is to show the public how animal ag works. In other words, farmers, invite people into your facilities.

Animal ag claims that the animal-rights community is made up only of city folk who don't know anything about "raising" animals. (They must never have heard of Harold Brown or Howard Lyman.)

I'm wondering what result this tactic would have.

Earlier this week Chicago Tribune food writer Monica Eng brought her 7-year-old daughter to a farm in a county near mine to watch a pig being slaughtered. Other children were present.
All of these kids were cool cucumbers compared with Miranda, who sat nervously on my lap squeezing my hand and asking: "So first they'll shoot him in the head, right?"

"Right," I said, just as a shot rang from the knock bolt and pierced the pig's skull. The body continued to twitch as Sam Clark, the butcher, carried it over to a pit and sliced its neck, releasing a flood of red.

Miranda covered her eyes. One of the children gasped, "Oh my God."

As the animal was bled, skinned and eviscerated before us, the children watched closely — all except Miranda, who wept into her hands, stole quick glances and turned her gaze to a group of concerned donkeys nearby.

When she finally returned her full gaze, she saw Clark lifting the carcass off the cradle as a last gush of blood fell to the ground. He headed for the cooler.
I'd first heard of Eng in 2008 when she got a Chicago restaurant to create a dish for her designed as roadkill. (It's no longer on the Trib site.) So I'm a bit biased against her.

Initially when I discovered that Eng had done this to her child, I was almost shaking with disgust. What parent would think that this was ok? Either the child reacts by crying or sitting in stunned silence, or the brutal murder doesn't affect the child at all. The latter, of course, would frighten me.

From the animals' point of view, though, maybe it's good for children to witness this horror. As disturbing and scarring as it is, hopefully the image will stay with the children and they'll decide in a few years to go vegetarian.

Although she claims to be "conflicted," Eng continues to eat animals. This despite having watched each species she eats die in 2008.
I didn't want to see a pig get killed. Heck, I don't think anyone does.

But I felt like I couldn't continue eating meat if I didn't. So this summer I embarked on an unpleasant pilgrimage to bear witness to the death of every kind of animal I ate. And in some cases, to kill the animal myself.
Hopefully the kids who recently witnessed the pig's murder have more empathy than she does.

I don't actually advise parents to put their children through such a traumatic event. But if their children ask them where their "meat" came from, parents should at least be honest and tell them that an animal had to die.

I think my sister dances around the issue of my veganism with my 5-year-old niece. I doubt she says, "Tracy doesn't eat meat because she doesn't want to be part of an animal's death." Or something like that. Instead she likely says, "Tracy doesn't like meat." Or something like that.

But if parents are too uncomfortable to be honest with their children, then maybe they shouldn't be feeding their kids "foods" whose origins make them cringe.

Scare tactics

In a recent interview Sarah Hubbart, the communications coordinator of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a pro-Big Ag group, echoed the advice of inviting the public to view one's "farm." Although I doubt she was referring to slaughtering animals during a "farm tour."

Interestingly, Chuck Jolley, an animal ag writer, used scare tactics to begin his piece.
I bet you're looking for the usual picture of the person being interviewed. You won't see it and that's a decision I made for security reasons. Sarah is a perfectly normal human being who should be able to drive home at the end of the day without worrying if someone tampered with her car or booby-trapped her front door.
Yes, Jolley wants to protect Hubbart from dangerous animal advocates.

But, Chuck, have you ever heard of Google? It took me two seconds to find a video of this young woman.

Her photo is also on AAA's staff page. They don't seem too worried about animal advocates knowing what they look like, nor should they be.

Ironically the beings who should -- and do -- live in fear are the ones owned by the people Jolley and Hubbart protect, people whose livelihoods depend on the suffering and slaughter of farmed animals.

I can't begin to imagine the horror felt by the pig Monica Eng and those children watched being murdered, or the horror felt by the other (billions) of animals killed for their flesh each year.

[Abigail Faith Snyder (left), 6, covers her eyes while Tribune reporter Monica Eng holds her daughter Miranda Zanca, 7, as they watch a pig getting [his] throat cut at Faith Farm in Bonfield. (Heather Charles/Tribune / August 15, 2010)]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Words Matter for Nonhuman -- and Human -- Animals

Recently a female animal advocate posted an item on Facebook about Heston Blumenthal, a British chef she dislikes. A guy commented on it, calling the chef a "cunt." I responded by writing, "Let's respect women, as well as animals, and not use the word 'cunt.'" He told me to "get real ok and wake up and smell the coffee!" The woman subsequently told me to "fuck off."

In the animal-rights movement we're told, "Speak your mind even if your voice trembles." When we encounter animal abuse or speciesism in any form, we are encouraged to speak up. But some of the same people who say this are those who criticize others for speaking out against sexism.

What one person considers sexist, another may not, and that's fine. But the discourse, if there's one, should be civil and respectful. People can agree to disagree. But it's not helpful if one person is ridiculed -- or worse -- when she chooses to confront what she sees as sexism.

Stephanie Ernst at "Animal Rights & AntiOppression" recently wrote about sexism and misogyny in the animal-rights movement. While I haven't experienced abuse like many who've commented have -- either firsthand or indirectly -- the exchange I had on Facebook is a minor example of some animal advocates not recognizing that women deserve just as much respect as any other living being, be they nonhuman animals or men.

Just as I no longer use animal terms as insults (e.g. "That guy's a pig"), I am against using female terms in negative ways. Calling someone a "cunt" or a "pussy" implies there's something wrong with vaginas and, by extension, with women.

The man's response to me touched on an argument carnists use against animal advocates. They accuse us of being idealistic, of not living in the real world. They say we're never going to get everyone on Earth to go vegan, so why even try? Of course, we see value in trying. Each day we see our world moving in that direction.

I really don't know what the man meant by his words. Perhaps he thought I'm a prude. Maybe he thought, "Sexism exists. Get used to it." But I refuse to accept sexism, just as I refuse to accept speciesism or racism, etc.

Dealing with 'It'

As a journalism major and former newspaper copy editor, "The Associated Press Stylebook" is like a bible. It's easy to navigate and answers whatever grammatical, style or formatting questions I have: Does "Ph.D." have periods in it? Should I write "Web site" as one word or two?

And I owe it an apology. Too often when reporters write stories about an animal, they refer to him or her as "it." I assumed it was because the AP Stylebook called for the non-personal pronoun. It does, but only in some cases.
Do not apply a personal pronoun to an animal unless its sex has been established or the animal has a name.
While I would prefer a personal pronoun ("he" or "she") were used in every case, I'm glad the stylebook calls for it in at least some cases.

If only reporters -- even Associated Press reporters -- knew that.

The most recent example I've come across of "it" being used incorrectly was in stories about the bull who escaped a burning truck in Indiana and now lives at Farm Sanctuary.
A group of children found the 2-year-old bull several miles away from last week's crash scene near Chesterton. It was taken to the Porter County Animal Shelter [...]
Bulls are males. This bull, who now has a name (Jay), should have been referred to as "he."

Reporters also usually refer to animals using "which" or "that" instead of "who" or "whom." Like the above rule, the AP Stylebook calls for the latter only if the gender is known or if the animal has a name. Still, reporters usually choose the former pair of words regardless.

Using "it," "which" and "that" implies the animal is an object, not a living, feeling being.

It's important to consider what implications a word has, not only for women and animals but for all groups in society.

(Image courtesy of Feminists for Animal Rights.)

Farmed Animals Can't Say 'Take This Job and Shove It'

Two unusual ways to quit one's job went viral this week: A flight attendant slid off a plane and a young woman announced her resignation via dry-erase board.

After a confrontation with a passenger Steven Slater, a flight attendant for Jet Blue,
grabbed the plane's intercom and made an expletive-laced speech, grabbed a beer from the galley, opened the door and slid down the emergency evacuation chute.
At the time of this post's publication, a Facebook page dedicated to him had almost 200,000 followers.

The second incident in which a woman supposedly told her co-workers and sexist boss she quit via dry-erase board turned out to be a hoax, but not until it had made its way around Facebook.

The popularity of both resignations shows how many people feel about their jobs (or former jobs). They feel disrespected, taken for granted. (By the way, this isn't why I found a new job.) It's a horrible feeling, putting in most of one's waking hours at a place where one feels unappreciated, perhaps giving years of your life to your employer only to be laid off.

Now imagine you could never leave that workplace, that you had to live there, in fact. That you had to depend on the very people you hated to provide you with food and water and medical care. It sounds like slavery, doesn't it? And there's more. Imagine being repeatedly raped and having your babies stolen from you after you gave birth. Imagine not being laid off, but actually being killed when you were no longer wanted.

This is the life of farmed animals.

Their lives are only as valuable as the money they bring in. (Any commissioned salespeople feel that way?) And often that money comes at the expense of the animals' lives. A "beef" cow or a male pig or a "broiler" hen is only useful after he or she has been fattened and sent to slaughter.

The worth of "dairy" cows is measured in milk production, that of "layer" hens in egg production.

Animal agribusiness doesn't consider the intrinsic value of each animal's life. They don't care about individuality or personality. To them these animals are objects, machines.

I'm sure most of you know what it feels like to be dehumanized, to be regarded as just another cog in your workplace's machine. It's awful. Now imagine how much worse it is for farmed animals.

For information on going vegan, please visit

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Swine Flu in Post-Pandemic Stage, To Be Part of Seasonal Flu Vaccine

The World Health Organization on Tuesday downgraded the worldwide "swine flu" outbreak, which first surfaced last year, to post-pandemic status.

This change means that the swine flu -- or H1N1, as agribusiness lobbied successfully for it to be called -- "has largely run its course."

However, the swine flu vaccine will be part of the 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine.
As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come.
In WHO Director-General Margaret Chan's virtual press conference she "also raised the specter of deadlier flu pandemics in future."
"Lurking in the background we still have H5N1," she said, a reference to the bird flu strain.
(Image courtesy of

Related Posts

Pigs to Get Swine-Flu Vaccine

Government to Press: No More 'Swine'

Health Organizations Cave to Pork Producers

Swine Flu Claims 1st U.S. Life As Agribusiness Whines About Media Coverage

A Disease by Any Other Name ...

Agribusiness on Defensive Amid Swine Flu Outbreak

Mexican Officials Trace Swine Flu to Smithfield Plant

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do Corporations' Political Donations Have Your Vote?

I'm sure you've heard the saying "You vote with your wallet." You try to buy items that jibe with your beliefs: organic, sweatshop-free, not tested on animals, not derived from animals' bodies, etc. And maybe you simply buy less stuff, to help the planet and your sanity.

One other consideration you should keep in mind is who you're giving your money to. What are the large corporations spending their money on? In an election year it's quite telling.

For example, Target recently caught heat for its donation of $150,000 to MN Forward, a group supporting Republican Tom Emmer for Minnesota governor. Emmer's opposition to same-sex marriage and other gay-rights measures angered people who support gay rights, including one Minnesotan whose son is gay. She videotaped her last trip to Target, returning $200 worth of merchandise and cutting up her Target card.

It's no secret that most businesspeople support Republican candidates. They place more of a priority on increasing their wealth than on social-justice issues. Target's CEO Gregg Steinhafel stated as much in an apology letter.
"While I firmly believe that a business climate conducive to growth is critical to our future, I realize our decision affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate, and for that I am genuinely sorry," Steinhafel wrote.
I don't believe Steinhafel was surprised about whom and what he was supporting. I do believe he was caught off-guard by the consumer backlash.

Best Buy and Red Wing Shoes are among other corporations that have contributed to MN Forward.

Another giant retailer -- this time Wal-Mart -- donated $50,000 to Illinois Sen. Bill Brady a couple of months ago. Brady is the Republican choice to run for governor. I first heard about him earlier this year after he sponsored a bill to legalize the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers to kill unwanted dogs (at shelters or animal-control facilities). The practice had been banned in this state last year. After criticism from dog lovers, he passed the bill to someone else to sponsor.

It's virtually impossible to avoid giving some of your money to corporations whose interests clash with yours. But having information about donation practices at least lets you make a more informed decision when you vote with your wallet.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Write in "Digging" for Best Blog

If you haven't had a chance yet to vote for the 2010 Veggie Awards, sponsored by Veg News magazine, you still have time. The survey closes at the end of this month.

If you're so inclined, please write in "Digging Through the Dirt" for your favorite blog.

You can complete the survey here.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank those of you who follow "Digging" either through Google or Facebook. I was really excited to see the number of Facebook followers hit 200 recently! If you're not yet following "Digging Through the Dirt" via Facebook, start now.

Thank you, all, for your kind words, support and encouragement!

(Image courtesy of Veg News.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bull Burned in Interstate Crash Will Live at Farm Sanctuary

On the morning of July 27 a traffic reporter posted a Facebook update about a northwest Indiana interstate being closed due to "cattle" on the road. Several people commented with puns, and a fellow traffic reporter supplied a quote from the old TV series "Rawhide":
  • Thanks! Will try to "steer" around it :-)
  • Can't you just tell them to "moo-ve" over? I know, I know... lame.
  • Don't have a cow, man!
  • "Don't try to understand 'em, just throw the rope and brand 'em."
I chose a different tact.
That's sad. I wonder if those cows are going to slaughter. :( I stopped eating animals four years ago and wish I had stopped sooner.
The accident was more sad that I realized.

The semi carrying 34 bulls caught fire just before midnight July 26 after the driver rear-ended another semi while talking on his CB radio. Eighteen of the bulls died, and others were injured. The driver escaped through his window. Part of Interstate 94 was closed for six hours while authorities tried to round up seven of the bulls who had escaped the semi.

One bull, though, wasn't found until 12 hours later, several miles from the accident site. The 2-year-old was taken to an animal shelter, where a veterinarian treated burns to his mouth and side. Next week he'll be taken to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., where he will receive love and care and hopefully move past the traumatic experiences of his young life.

Unfortunately, the 15 other survivors were transferred to another transport truck and continued their trip to Milwaukee. I don't know if they were going to a slaughterhouse, but it seems likely.

(Photos of the 2-year-old bull who survived the fiery crash courtesy of Porter County Animal Shelter, via Farm Sanctuary.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Animal Advocacy Comes Full Circle

When I was an oblivious -- but curious -- carnist, I typed "vegetarian" into Google and clicked on a site called After reading a bit about the intelligence of pigs and chickens, I decided I could no longer eat animals.

Now, four years later, I'm going to be working for the organization that helped me discover my passion: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

There aren't many workplaces where, sitting in the lobby, one hears the receptionist ask a caller, "And what size is the cage the goat is in?" But that's the type of conversation I overheard during my three-day interview at PETA's headquarters in Norfolk, Va., in July.

I'll be working from home, though, so I'll miss out on exchanges like that. But, like some employees in Norfolk, I'll have dogs sleeping near my desk.

I've been given a tremendous, exciting opportunity: I'll be able to work on behalf of animals full time. As a special projects coordinator, I'll create and manage campaigns to keep animal issues in the media spotlight.

While I wanted to tell my readers about my new job -- it'd be weird if I didn't mention it -- my unwritten, self-imposed rule about not writing about work will remain. I think it's best to keep my professional work separate from my personal blog. But "Digging Through the Dirt" won't change, as it's always been primarily focused on animal exploiters and I rarely wrote about PETA.

I know that some in the animal-rights community dislike PETA, and I understand your concerns. But I hope that -- however you feel about PETA -- you'll support me in this new phase of my life.

Update (10/22/10): "Digging Through the Dirt" is my personal blog. Any claims I make or views I express here are my own, and not necessarily endorsed or representative of those held by PETA.