Hold on. A vegan supporting the very people that they should be against? What next, dairy infused oat milk? Sounds like I’ve just joined the Red Tractor, RSPCA Assured hypocrite brigade doesn’t it? I haven’t, here’s why...
Red Tractor Assured Food Standards marketing: happy farmers with their cared for prisoners (cows, sorry) (Photo credit: redtractor.org.uk)
Nothing gets on my unsaturated, soyboy nerves more than when I hear an insulted animal farmer say “but I love my animals”, or a keen family member says “I buy local/know the person involved (suggesting that the animal is cared for)”, or “I lived on a farm and you have no idea about it”. I would stand half-bewildered; “but, but, but...these animals are killed!” Like there was a Trump wall between their lives and reality.
And that’s crux of it; I believe most animal farmers truly believe they care for their animals. This is where we define care from our different perspectives. Their claim of care is legitimised over mine because they’ve lived with farm animals, I have not; I’m disconnected from reality. Let me stand in an animal farmer’s wellies for a moment; they feed and house the animals, keeping them from hunger and cold, even some from discomfort. That is a form of care. But care for what purpose?
I’m sure you can think of many examples of where a form of care is in a current or historical abusive system, and examples of abusers showing twisted care to their victims. These examples highlight that care is used to the extent of benefit. A cow farmer cares for their cows to the extent that they are alive, have enough flesh to turn into edible profit and have the ability to walk into a slaughterhouse. A farmer doesn’t make profit from an animal living out their natural life span, and allowing them to live unbound.
A group of healthy sheep, moments before an electric current is sent through their bodies and their throats slit. (Photo credit: Ben Thorne)
At an Animal Save Vigil outside a slaughterhouse, a group of us interacted with a proud farmer, bragging how much he cared for his sheep. He had conviction in this belief; from his perspective he wasn’t lying. When an activist challenged him “And what happens in there? (pointing at the slaughterhouse the farmer is about to enter with his precious flock)”
“Well, they go to sleep.” he replied in a cheery, thoughtful tone.
We stood there shocked. The farmer was separating his exceptional caring behaviour with that of what is about to happen: slaughter. His care ended at the slaughterhouse, but because he wasn’t the one killing, he could wipe his hands clean - it was the workers that didn’t care for the animals, not him. This is a symptom of systemic oppression, what psychologist Melanie Joy calls ‘Powerarchy’. This passing of blame and unaccountability is rife in the animal exploitation world.
Meat eater: I only buy the burger, I don’t kill the animal.
Slaughterhouse worker: We’re doing a service to the customer who buys the animal product.
Farmer: I care for my animals, I don’t kill them.
A caring farmer, lovingly inserting his fist inside a cow’s anus and injecting bull semen (Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality)
There are, of course, numerous exceptions - many pig farms for example are astonishingly explicit in lack of care - and workers regularly kill animals who are not growing quick enough or too weak (they may argue they’re putting the animal out of its misery - the irony being that everything they experience is misery in life and death). Yet humans are miraculous in framing their behaviour as necessary and having reason. The farmer will have a reason they truly believe their behaviour is legitimate and blameless.
This has helped how I frame discussions about veganism and animal exploitation. All too often conversation slips into animal welfare; free range, organic, local, Red Tractor/RSPCA assured. It is easy to slip into this, for example “97% of farm animals are factory farmed” - we have let that person frame the conversation, it allows room for exceptions. Yet my reason for being vegan is because there is no exception to using an animal as a product, alive or dead. My thoughts led me to this example conversation:
Me: What’s the worst crime we can ever commit?
Them: Probably murder, or rape.
Me: If I treated you like royalty but then murdered you is that still justified as a crime?
Me: How does an animal get on our plate?
Them: They’re killed.
Me: Yeah, they’re lives are taken from them. Sounds similar to something.
Me: Yep, or even manslaughter or grievous bodily harm, it’s still bad.
I could go on with cow's milk and chicken’s eggs, sexually abusing the animal’s reproductive system - alongside their eventual slaughter. The point is simple, we can be as nice to animals as possible yet there is no denying that we control their birth and death for our benefit. When someone says that the farmer cares or loves their animals, don’t shut them down, get them to explain what they mean by care - ask if they think slaughter, or priming them for slaughter, is caring, help them break down the wall.