There are dog rescues, and cat rescues, horse rescues and bird rescues. Here in Granby, CT there’s even a rescue for chipmunks and squirrels. So why aren’t we rescuing livestock from their sad, filthy, feed-lot life? Are we so disconnected with our food that we don’t take the time to care? Or even worse, deliberately try to avoid thinking about it? Doesn’t the fact that we raise these animals for our own use (be it companions or dinner) mean we owe it to them to care about their quality of life?
Big agriculture livestock live a shockingly dissimilar life than the pictures on their packaging lead us to believe. Cows and sheep don’t graze on grass, they get pumped full of grain as they mingle with their neighbors as if standing on a subway car at rush hour. Chickens (even “cage free” or “free range” ones) don’t get to stand in the sunshine looking for bugs. They get their beaks cut off so they won’t peck their neighbor to death out of boredom or aggravation. They live their lives in an ammonia filled warehouse. Industrially raised pigs don’t get to wallow in the mud and root up the ground the way nature intended. They get their tails cut off so that in their stress and anxiety they won’t bite each other’s off.
Even if you’ve seen the movies (ala Food, Inc; and Fast Food Nation) and read the books (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”; “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”; “Animal Vegetable, Miracle”), many of us still can’t seem to quit our factory farm addiction. It is convenient, seemingly lower in cost, and (one even as a farmer of pastured animals I have a hard time getting around) – pervasive! The good news is we can vote for a better quality of life for these animals with our food dollars. By choosing what we buy, we vote for ill-treatment of animals, or we can vote for a life of low stress, fresh air and fresh food that nature intended them to eat. By taking our food dollars out of the industrial farming model and handing them over to farmers (even better – neighbors) that are sustainable and create caring environments for their animals, we essentially cast our votes. We don’t need politicians to do this for us.
Raising and eating herbivores (plant eating animals like cows, sheep and goats) harnesses energy from the sun and converts it into lean animal protein that is great for our environment and our health. Keeping animals on perennial grasses helps build soil rather than continuously stealing nutrients from it. Even omnivores like chickens and pigs can help convert some of the 30 million tons of food we waste in the US every year into delicious, sustainable meat.
But eating meat sustainably is going to mean eating LESS of it. The American diet of meat and potatoes at every meal is doing no good for our bodies, our environment or the animals we share it with. So if you’ve ever thought of rescuing a horse, or adopting a puppy from a shelter or if you’ve ever given a bit of food to a stray cat; consider “rescuing” an industrially raised cow, chicken, pig, or lamb from the sad life they lead in feed lots around this country. And don’t do it by giving up on meat! By raising livestock for meat we are giving them life (I have met very few “pet” cows and pigs). Do it by seeking out local farms raising animals the old-fashioned way: outside, in the fresh air and sunshine.