“Don’t Overthink That”: Another Farmer Responds to My Recent Atlantic Piece

My article on the psychology of factory farming has touched a nerve. Here’s another response I got from a rancher:

I read you article, and disagree with most of it. You have manufactured some “moral weight” that really does not, nor ever really did exist. The worst assumption you imply is that farmers of today are less humane than those of the past. You write nostalgically about a previous time when: “Farmers never referred to their animals as objects. They knew better. ” Farmers never…? Really? Have you read about the methods people used to employ to break horses back in those days? Written examples abound describing cruel treatment of farm animals in the time period you glorify.

You also say: “Nobody could have doubted that he was taking the life of a sentient being with wants and needs. ” Nobody could have…? Really? Indians used to run buffalo over a cliff to kill them. Cock fighting has been around for a long time. Think they did that out of great respect for the animals? I think throughout time most people butchered their animals with the very same view I do so today – FOR FOOD!!! I raised animals to provide (money and food) for my family. Do you understand that? My daughter was four years old when she started helping butcher chickens. She cried because her pets had to go in the freezer. She never, not once, spit the meat out or refused to eat it. Meat tastes good, especially when a person is hungry!

I am not sure what the point of your article is, or what you want agricultural producers to do differently. I am certain though that your view of animal husbandry is far removed from what is in actual practice today, and your romance of the past is mostly inaccurate. You somehow seem to think that the relationship between humans and the animals they raise has drastically changed in the past 160 years, and for the worse. It really has not. Animals have provided service, companionship and food for humans for many hundreds of years, and most likely will continue to do so for many more.

The day will soon come when the last bovine leaves this farm. My family and I may shed tears. Tears of sadness because an era of our life will be over. There will be no tears for the animals going to market. The intention from day one was to raise the animals for eventual sale to a butcher.

That mindset, psychology if you prefer, has been around since humans first started domesticating animals. Don’t over think that.

Here, once again, is the orginal article: http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/08/the-dangerous-psychology-of-factory-farming/244063/

I’m going to post a few more reactions and then, in a separate post, respond to them collectively.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

2 Responses to “Don’t Overthink That”: Another Farmer Responds to My Recent Atlantic Piece

  1. Keith Akers says:

    Your rancher friend is right. Traditional livestock farmers are just as cruel and insensitive as modern farmers. Traditional farmers just didn’t have the technology and know-how to employ their cruelty on a massive scale. Whatever you practice on a large scale, you first have to rehearse on a small scale. That’s why “backyard livestock” is such a dangerous tendency. From butchery of animals it is just a small step to butchery of people.

  2. Pingback: News for September 7, 2011 : From A to Vegan

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