Taking Not Giving

By Safe Haven Volunteer Deborah Schwartz

Bessie and MiloAs a new volunteer at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary, I enjoy getting to know the animals. I am especially taken with the goats, who are always lively and friendly and remind me of many charming dogs I have known.

So, imagine my surprise when I happened upon a magazine called Yes! Their mission “is to support you in building a just and sustainable world.” I assumed there would be interesting articles about animals as sentient beings. However, one article by Lisa Harris, titled These Cuts Go Deep was particularly troubling and confirmed my (poor) opinion of other food writers such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman who write compassionately and beautifully about the value and sentience of animals while also agreeing to slaughter them for food. Blogger James McWilliams calls this “the omnivore’s contradiction.”

Lisa Harris writes about how she butchered a kid goat for a neighbor after watching the goats grow up across the street. She talks of “the profound level of intimacy I have with this creature” as her sharp knife “cuts easily through muscle, cartilage, small bones, and tendons.” She “take[s] a moment to thank the animal,” for giving its life for her food. I have heard deer hunters, after killing a wild deer with a weapon, say they also say a few words of thanks to the animal for giving them meat (which humans do not need to eat to survive healthfully).

What? The slaughtered baby goat did not give its life! A human being with a weapon took its life.

Try this equivalent thought exercise: suppose a thief with a big weapon broke into your house, tied you up, and proceeded to steal your electronics and jewelry. On the way out of your house, the thief takes a moment to thank you for giving your possessions for his/her use. Did you give or did the thief take?

Maybe the thief justifies the theft because he/she “really likes the look of jewelry and new electronics,” just like the hunter likes the taste of meat. Maybe the thief plans to sell your possessions and give the money to starving children. No matter what the rationale, you did not have a choice in the matter because the thief had the big weapon. You did not give your possessions; the thief, with the superior potential for violence, took your possessions.

Of course, in this thought experiment, you lost some possessions that could be replaced. In Lisa Harris’ article, the goat is now dead and has no potential to experience a natural life. The goat had no choice. It is particularly disturbing that the picture with the Yes! article shows a lovely goat playing with a human … we know the goat is destined to be slaughtered by some similar, caring-looking human.

How do we humans justify our love of animals and search for justice while we slaughter sentient beings with our superior weapons for meat we do not need? I am happy to know that the Safe Haven goats can live their lives with caring and compassion and do not end up on the butcher’s block.

Posted in Ethics of animal use