What happens when you criticize animal agriculture? I’ll tell you. You’re called a “complete moron.” A “libtard.” An “idiot” and an “a**hole.” You’re told to “shut the f up.” Oh, and look, here’s Yoda in an Internet meme: “The retard is strong with this one.” The local newspaper is labeled a “commie” for printing your guest column (a “direct assault on our culture”), and further accused of printing “a bunch of propoganda [sic] stuffed with opinions.” OK, I’ll cop to the opinions…my column (read it here) appeared on the Opinion Page.
Missoula County (Montana) voters are being asked to pay for a multi-million dollar high school bond to make significant, needed upgrades to infrastructure, Internet capacity, and school security. Included along with these vital necessities is nearly $600,000 for a “full meat-processing center” for the Vocational Agriculture Program. For me–a former teacher–that’s the deal-breaker, and my column outlines why. The reasons are larger than “just” the exploitation of animals, though that alone would suffice.
I didn’t expect to feel the love, but the vitriolic, sometimes apoplectic response was a stark reminder that–in spite of its unsustainable and devastating excesses, its out-of-proportion resource use, its inability to address world hunger, its violence and the human health woes that result from consuming its products–animal ag is not going to go gently into that or any goodnight. The status quo hates change, doesn’t wanna change, and won’t change without a fight. But “status quos are made to be broken,” quips author Ray Davis, and evolving consumer values and advances in humane alternatives just might supplant the fight anyhow.
“Because violence has no place in schools,” I wrote, “taxpayers are asked to fund security upgrades to thwart those whose intentions are violent. Fair enough. At the same time, we’re asked to fund a program that promotes violence against sentient nonhumans (and inures students to it) as part of the curriculum.” And here’s where a major disconnect comes into play: it seems that animal ag people don’t consider it violence to take the life of another who wants to continue living. Said one commenter, disputing a couple of my claims, “Their sole purpose is not to be raised for slaughter. They are learning tools, companions, and teach students responsibility. Animals are not treated as commodities, but as friends.” Though I don’t doubt the sincerity of this response, where do you go with that? (Yes, yes, I know…with friends like that, etc.)
If so inclined, peruse the 100+ combined comments posted to the column at the newspaper’s website (some of the more civil comments appear to be from ag students and industry people) and at the newspaper’s Facebook page (“save a hog eat a teacher”) to see what happens when you challenge animal agriculture and the ag program in your local school. Keep in mind that Missoula recently became the first city in Montana to pass an ordinance banning wild and exotic animal performances (article), meaning that folks around here are just like humans everywhere: they possess well-honed compartmentalization skills that enable us to place some sentient nonhumans (e.g., wild, exotic, and companion animals) in one protective box while relegating others (e.g., “market” animals; “livestock”) to another less compassionate and entirely utilitarian box.