I feel much more comfortable sitting at my computer writing blog posts than mingling and socializing at a social event. While I am not shy (my kids constantly remind me that I have an opinion about EVERYTHING), I am reserved in a non-structured social setting and often find myself standing off to the side rather than actively engaging in conversation. Interestingly enough, I love public speaking and would vastly prefer formally addressing a group of people than mingling informally on the sidelines…
With all of that being said, conversation is imperative for genuine understanding and learning to occur. While in this post I am addressing the topic of conversation from the point of view of human to human, I think that it is also important to remind everyone that I have meaningful conversations with my animals as well.
I had a very thought provoking comment from a reader last week, and I would like to share her questions with all of you (along with my answers) in the hopes that we have a great conversation on some challenging issues. If you are interested in reading her entire comment, you can look at the comments from the post https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/a-sheep-or-a-wolf/ .
I would like to start this conversation by stating how impressed I was with the sincerity and respectful nature displayed by the commenter. I would also like to say that although our diets are different (vegetarian vs daily beef eater), we still share many things in common—a love and respect for animals tops the list.
Question 1: ” I understand (and truly believe) that you raise your animals well. However, with the multitude of alternatives available for healthy and balanced eating that don’t involve eating animals, why do you choose to feed them to yourself and your family?”
Anne’s reply: I think that our childhood experiences play a huge role in shaping our core beliefs. You were raised in a vegetarian household and obviously hold a great respect for your father who shared those beliefs with you. Contrastingly, (while I was raised in urban America and was not involved in agriculture) my father was/is an avid hunter and fisherman. We hunted as a family almost every weekend a couple of hours west of where I grew up. My dad taught me how to shoot, my mom taught me how to clean the animals that we shot and also how to cook them. Many nights what we ate for dinner we either hunted (quail, dove, duck, wild hog) or caught (fish). From early in my life, my father taught me that while animals should always be respected, it was also acceptable to sacrifice them for human consumption. That core belief is one that I have always held (very similar to your own experience with a core vegetarian belief). I truly do not believe that either one of us is wrong in our beliefs, we simply believe different things.
I am raising my children with the same core belief that my dad raised me with: animals should always be well cared for and respected; however, it is acceptable to kill them to provide human food. I serve my family home raised beef almost every day. It is full of zinc, iron and protein that is important for immune system function, cognitive development, muscle growth, and oxygen flow throughout the body. When you pair beef with fruits and vegetables and whole grains, it makes for a very nutritious meal and I know that I am getting my children the nutrition that they need. I, like you, have personally had a battle with anemia. Beef plays a very important role in my own personal attempt to keep normal iron levels. My oldest daughter has, off and on, also struggled with her iron levels and I believe that serving her beef helps her to remain healthy. I know that it is possible for some folks to be vibrantly healthy on a vegetarian diet (your dad is a great example of that), but I choose to feed my children beef because I think that it can be incorporated into a healthy diet and bring them greater diversity in nutrients and vitamins.
At another level, I serve my family the beef that I raise because it brings me a sense of pride to raise the food that I feed to my family. I know that it is safe and healthy, and I know that a lot of hard work and care has gone into making that steak–roast–hamburger. It also teaches my children a valuable lesson of “knowing where your food comes from”. My girls spend a lot of time with me at the feed yard and have a “first hand” view of what it takes to make beef. I also grow vegetables in a home garden during our “growing season” which is May to the end of August. I feel the same pride when I feed my kids our “home grown” vegetables that I do when I serve them “home grown” beef. I try to make a point in the summer time to sometimes serve meals where all of the food on the table was grown by us.
Question 2) “How do you select where your cattle is “processed”, and do you believe that your animals there are truly slaughtered without pain or suffering? How do you know either way? It sounds like you are not very involved other than the loading them onto the trucks, but every single video I’ve seen of “cattle processing” looks incredibly painful and cruel. I’ve seen throat slitting, hitting cattle on the head with hammers, and decapitation videos for reference. None of these options seem humane.”
Anne’s reply: If you go back to the category on the home page labeled “Calf #718″, you can read the long series of posts that I wrote tracing a calf (#718) from birth to harvest. Most of my cattle are harvested through a company called U.S. Premium Beef which is a cooperative of ranchers/cattlemen (like myself) that own the majority share of a large meat packing company called National Beef. The vast majority of my cattle are harvested at National Beef’s packing plant in Dodge City, KS. I have toured National’s plant and personally watched the process of cattle being unloaded from the truck and then taken into the packing plant for harvest. Watching animals die is never a “pretty picture”, but I do believe that the animals’ death is quick and as humane as possible. The cattle are taken up onto a moving conveyor and stunned prior to the throat slitting process. Proper stunning ensures that the animal does not feel pain. As I watched the cattle move from outdoors and into the packing plant, they moved calmly and showed no sign of distress. The entire process lasts only a few seconds and it was clear to me that the animals did not suffer. Dr. Temple Grandin has done an amazing job of improving the care/handling of cattle at the packing plant level of beef production. Perhaps you have read one of her books or watched her movie? Most, if not all, of the big packing plants have consulted with Dr. Grandin to ensure that their facilities and their employees understand how to handle and move cattle.
I am going to be really honest with you, as I stood on the “kill floor” and watched the cattle be harvested, I asked myself if I truly thought that it was 1. humane, and 2, necessary. I answered “yes” to both questions, but I promise that I did some soul searching in the process. I do not take the life of my animals for granted–I know that they are sacrificed in order to provide food for myself and my family, and I am thankful for their gift.
Question 3) “How do you think we should go about bridging the gap between those that believe we should not consume any animal products (crazy, super vegan PETA types), moderate vegetarians, your typical meat eaters, humane famers like yourself, and those farms that DO deal with cattle inhumanely? Is there a workable solution to this?”
Anne’s reply: When it comes to the issue of “what type of food should I eat?”, I believe at a basic level that we must all respect one another and our individual beliefs. Every human being has a right to his/her own ideas and beliefs, and I believe that this “choice” is one that must be accepted and respected. We can all have a conversation and work to “bridge the gap” if we hold respect for each other and our choices. Through conversation and the flow of accurate information, we can learn from each other and continually improve. Someone once told me that I should “listen to understand and not to respond”, and I think that is really good advice for all of us.
It will be the most difficult to have discussion between the most extremist of the groups that you listed (on either side of the issue) because many zealots lack respect and understanding toward those whom do not share their same beliefs. I do believe, however, that we can start a valid conversation amidst the more moderate groups and that this is the place to start.
In order to ensure the flow of “accurate” information, I feel that we need to cut out the middle man. What I mean by this is that we need to have personal conversations and not rely on the media to provide all of the facts for us. The truth has a habit of being sensationalized in order to gain popularity and that can ruin the validity of the story. That is a core reason why I started this blog—I want to personally reach out and have a conversation with people regarding how beef is grown on my farm.
So, my response to the first part of the question is that we need to respect and listen to each other while having a personal conversation that does not rely on “sensational stories” for the content of the information. I am convinced that I can learn as much from you as you can learn from me. Interacting with each other will enrich both of our lives.
In terms of “inhumane” treatment of animals, I believe that animal abuse should never be tolerated. It is the job of cattle farmers to insure that mistreatment does not occur. I spend a lot of time working on the Beef Quality Assurance program on animal well being (welfare) issues. Cattlemen and their professional consulting veterinarians must work to end animal abuse. Period.
That being said, there are many different definitions of “humane” and I believe that it needs to be defined at the level of the animal (I have discussed this issue many times in previous posts) and without anthropomorphizing human emotion onto the subject.
Finally, I think that we need to view the issue of caring for food animals as an ever changing and constantly improving journey. I continuously look for ways to improve the welfare of my animals, and over time and with new understandings and advances in science I will get better and better and better. It is my job to do this, just as much as it is my job to tell you what I am doing and why I am doing it. I believe that it is both of our jobs to “listen to understand” so that we can have a productive conversation. Together we can make a difference and facilitate positive change.
Many thanks for bearing with me in this very LONG post. I hope that it will start an effective conversation that will benefit both us and our animals.