During this season of love, let’s take time to consider what love means in relation to the food we eat. Recently, I was a guest on Food Freedom Radio’s Valentine’s Day show to talk about All Things Love and Food. When co-hosts Karen Olson Johnson and Laura Hedlund invited me into this conversation, my first thoughts were, “How does what and who we eat fit into our notion of love? What and who do we consider to be food? And what or who is the recipient of this love?”
What is food?
When I first became vegetarian I no longer viewed animals as food. I viewed them as individuals who have the right to live their lives according to their own will, just as humans do. I still hold this perspective today, but now, as a vegan, I question if animal products are actually food. After all, as humans we’ve had to domesticate and enslave animals to retrieve these products with any regularity.
A lack of love in our current food system
I’ve come to believe that love cannot be present in the practices required to bring animals and their products to our plates. Love is defined as a strong feeling of affection and concern toward another, and I do not believe that affection and concern are ultimately extended to the animals who end up on our plates.
Love is particularly absent when the animals are raised in Factory Farms (or CFO’s, Confined Facility Operations). But what about smaller-scale farms that are purported to be humane and sustainable? Aren’t those animals treated well? That depends on how one defines “treated well.” These farms, too, are part of a bottom-line driven industry in which animals are considered a commodity.
In my 35-plus years of animal advocacy and my 4 years of schooling in animal agriculture, I have come to realize this: the moment an animal becomes a commodity is the moment their well-being is severely compromised. Animal well-being is not of primary interest or concern to the business, thus giving rise to the Humane Farming Myth.
You might be wondering, “What about really small-scale and backyard farming? Aren’t those animals loved and well-cared for?” Again this depends on how one defines “loved” and “well-cared for.” Admittedly, I have seen some really small-scale farms (OK, one) in which the turkeys and chickens have a pretty good life. But the operative phrase here is “pretty good.” During incubation the chickens are abruptly interrupted when their eggs are confiscated for human consumption. Once a chicken stops laying eggs at a rate that financially warrants keeping her alive, she is slaughtered.
The effects of animal products as food
Consumption of eggs and milk is often justified because animals are not (directly) killed for those products. This is true. However, layers and dairy cows (particularly those in Factory Farming) are kept in unfavorable conditions for a longer duration than animals raised for meat.
Their mothering instincts are repeatedly thwarted as their young are consistently taken from them for our own consumption. We steal what was intended for them: eggs that naturally grow into an animal, and milk that is designed to put hundreds of pounds on a calf in a few months. In other words, these “products” were never intended for humans; thus my reservation to consider them a human food.
What is our role? What do we want it to be?
For a moment, let’s assume it is possible to give a farmed animal an “ideal” life before he or she is killed for our consumption. There is one more question to consider. One that lies at the heart of Claim Humane’s inquiry into whether humans can reach full consciousness if we continue to use animals as utility and resource:
What does it mean for us to bring forth the life of a sentient being (let alone billions) and then take this very life for the sole purpose of satisfying a desire?
To bring forth a life is a phenomenal responsibility; to end it is an even greater one. What are we doing on an evolutionary scale with this practice? How might this impact the conscious evolution of our own species?
I do not have the answers. I only have more questions and the clarity in my belief that this is not an expression of love. I invite you to explore this issue further and ask your own “next questions.”