July 23, 2014

Torn in Half

A number of years ago, I was involved in the prosecution of a case in which a young calf had been forced to walk the auction block after his hind legs had been severed below the hocks. Defenders of the action claimed it was common practice to sometimes sell calves who had been maimed during the birthing delivery. Steel tongs are often used to turn calves around inside the cows when nature has failed to position them properly. Injuries occur, and in this case (as in many, the auction’s owners declared), the calf’s hind legs had been severed at the joints.

And so here he came: a little black calf, barely a month old, dragging himself along on his front hooves while stumps of hind legs attempted to keep up. Onto the auction block he went, where he was promptly bought by a meatpacking company.

Enjoy your veal — er, meal — America.

Author Alice Walker has described our nation’s consumption of animals as a country indulging itself by “eating misery.”

It’s more than that. It’s the eating of little, innocent, newborn, deprived, shocked, crammed, shackled, and stabbed-to-death creatures who struggle in vain trying to stay alive. Flesh at any price.

America’s addiction to meat is a hideous creature itself with a denial technique the size of its monstrous appetite. Over ten billion living, feeling creatures a year are sacrificed to feed its faces, at the speed of 300 bleeding, kicking, screaming beings a second.

Oh, lucky are some of us who can sit back and dream about that day when the world goes vegetarian. We give it our all to reach such a paradise through our resource materials and our conferences, our books and our pledges, our ideologies and our philosophies. And the slogans abound: “Speaking for those who can’t” and “a voice for the voiceless.” But are we really doing those things?

If we could miraculously read the animals’ minds, would we find they would want to be martyrs for the cause? Would they care if we made a federal case out of their suffering? Would it matter to them that the goal — for them and for us — is a vegetarian world? Somehow (and maybe my mind is just that limited) I can’t imagine animals projecting that far, in those ways, into the future. In fact, I would go further and say that it is we who project onto them what the goals of the animal rights movement ought to be.

“Not bigger cages, but empty ones.”

I’ll be the first to sign up and help lead the “Charge!” But I often wonder if I’m pursuing an ideal because it is right (as if such atrocities were happening to me and mine), or because that’s what the animals themselves would want me to do.

It is rare to have empathy for others.

If it were so common, the world would be vegetarian by now and we’d have no arguments to put forth. Denial of the truths in our midst prevents so many people from feeling that nature-given gift of empathy. And so the machine that grinds up living beings without a single thought, much less a second one, continues relatively unchallenged and definitely unabated.

There is another gift we’ve been given by nature, and that’s the ability to imagine the world not from our own perspective but from the vantage point of those with whom we empathize.

When I visited a dairy farm not too long ago, I found the female calves chained in doghouse-like boxes. Though they had no teeth, they were fed a bucket of grain each day and only one serving of water. One calf in particular caught my attention. She could only have been a day old. Her umbilical cord was still attached, and she was crying pitifully. When I comforted her with the only thing I had to offer — my fingers to suck on — I could hear then the relentless bellowing of a cow across the driveway behind me. It didn’t take long to realize the cow was the calf’s mother. In that moment I knew that if I was ever to speak for those who can’t and to be a voice for the voiceless, I would have to abandon my strategies and campaigns, my writings and my educational outreach activism, and do one thing: find a way to give that cow back her baby.

One cow and one calf out of tens of millions of cattle (and billions of other consumed animals) is nothing, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, doesn’t the concept of “speaking for those who can’t” compel us to abandon schemes? Even grand ones?

I am torn by this dilemma. I believe the changes we make to the bigger picture change things only for those who are yet unborn. Not that they matter less, but their struggle has not begun. They are not in the midst of it, bellowing across the driveway or struggling to walk on legs torn in half.

End whaling. Stop the wolf hunt. Go veggie. Amen. But along the way, we must listen carefully. Because, you see, animals are not voiceless. They are crying, and if you listen carefully the sound is deafening. If it means you hoist the calf over the fence and give her back to her mother — because that’s what the animals want — then, by all means, unchain her — and lift!

I salute the trench workers, those who reach out to the individual, seemingly unheard voices among us, and set aside the utopia they fight for long enough to pull one more being into the land of the living.

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