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Should animals have (human) rights?

Posted in Life & Love

ChickenI ate chicken today. Marinated in a tamari-based sauce, it was grilled to perfection and very tasty. Meat is hardly ever my meal of choice but a life without Parma ham is not a life worth living as far as I am concerned. And I am partial to the occasional duck breast. But, increasingly, I am finding it hard to justify eating living creatures, even as I accept that man was built to metabolize and process animal proteins.

I eschewed meat for 16 years of my life, and fell into a vicious circle of anemia – if I had to do it all over again, I would be much more savvy as to what other sources of proteins are available to me, instead of subsisting on piles of carbs and veggies. Still, I haven’t reverted to vegetarianism as I do feel better with my once or twice a week addition of meat or fish to my diet. The problem is, I can’t look away any longer and, every time I put blinders on, reminders are thrown into my path.

Speaking to director Kathryn Bigelow, who just made a short animated movie on the plight of elephants in the wild, Bill Maher pretty much summed up my feelings: “I have no problems watching violence on the screen perpetrated towards men. But I cannot watch animals suffer.” To those who criticize me and tell me I should worry more about fellow humans, I respond that how a society treats animals is a good measuring stick for its treatment of men.

Giraffe at the LA Zoo
Giraffe at the LA Zoo

I live in an affluent country where it is not inconceivable to eat meat three times a day without our bank account suffering any major setbacks. It wasn’t always so. When animals were raised on farms, in semi-freedom, and slaughtered when the time was right, most people of financial means would eat meat only once or twice a week, with poor people rarely seeing it, unless they also lived on a farm. Then new husbandry practices and super feeds were introduced and there was no turning back our meat gluttony. In the process, cows, pigs and chickens have been constrained to smaller and smaller quarters, often unable to move at all; forced to lay eggs or produce milk at an unnatural pace; force-fed antibiotics to stave off the diseases that living surrounded by excrement can bring about.

Much has been done in the EU and the States to alleviate these conditions but not nearly enough, mostly for economic reasons. California just enforced a law that requires chickens to have at least one square foot of space, and large producers, who have had six years to conform, are complaining and threatening that the price of eggs will increase dramatically. Temple Grandin has worked miracles in establishing non-scaring practices for a more humane slaughtering of cows but a majority of slaughterhouses still butcher cows, pigs and chickens in barbaric ways, often not even killing the animals instantly.

the Bird
Did this bird live a happy life?

And what is a consumer to do? Believing labels portraying happy chickens is naive at best but that is what most of us have to appease our conscience, should our conscience need appeasing. I could buy meat from places such like Niman Ranch, and I would be assured that my steak lived a happy life and was fed clean grass before reaching my plate. But that would set me back sizable amounts of cash. And that is where the economics come in. In order to feed our gluttony and keep meat prices low (and profits high), the industry must adhere to tight quarters, abnormal feeding and fattening routines, killing stocks before their prime, all the while delivering us a sub-standard product. I bought a delicious free-range chicken at the farmer’s market a few months ago, a three-pound bird, small for poultry standard, with the average supermarket chicken weighing at least five. But wouldn’t you know it: the average chicken is not meant to weigh that much.

I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about abandoned dogs, poached rhinos and bleeding elephants but just because cows and chickens are not about to be extinct, it doesn’t mean they don’t suffer at the cruel hands of men.

Sylva Kelegian
Sylva Kelegian

The obvious solution, and the healthier one (sofabrother notwithstanding) would be to decrease drastically the amount of meat we consume. Yes, I live in fairy land. But fairy land is also where dreams are created before they turn into reality (and sometimes even legislation). Talking to Sylva Kelegian, a wonderful actress and all around wonderful human being who has dedicated years of her life to saving abandoned dogs, she struck a chord when she told me that “Saving one dog might not make a huge difference but it will make a difference to that dog” – and then continued – “but I realized that, as many dogs as I saved, it was just a drop in the bucket, and that is why I shifted my focus and my efforts towards educating and working to change animal rights’ legislation.”

My conversation with Sylva ensured that I would stop looking the other way, and I have spent the last few weeks reading up on animal rights in the United States, encountering even seemingly crazy theories like granting animals citizenship (not as far-fetched as you might think).
In her book “God Spelled Backwards”, Sylva quotes Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I couldn’t agree more.

 

Coda: the day after publishing this post, I woke up to a long investigative piece in the New York Times on the cruelty inflicted on farm animals in the name of science. It’s a great read, which you can find here.

Also, if you want to make a difference, Last Chance for Animals is a good place to start: the non-profit has grown from breaking a ring of pets stolen and sold to research labs to a powerhouse that combats animal cruelty all over the world.

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19 Comments

  1. Alison Smith
    Alison Smith

    Yes yes and yes..I would be thrilled to push legislation for animal rights.Yes animals should have right and I would like a National Registry for Animal Abusers (no age matters) and at least put this out for public review and reference. Has to start somewhere. Thx you..

    January 23, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      What a great idea. There is a proven correlation between animal abuse and violence on fellow man. It would be helpful to pets’ shelters to check that those who are adopting are doing it for the right reasons.

      January 23, 2015
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  2. Gretchen
    Gretchen

    Why eat a corpse when there are literally thousands of more nutritious foods available?

    January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Well, if you put that away…definitely not appetizing.

      January 22, 2015
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  3. Nancy
    Nancy

    There are soo many vegetarian meals, prepackaged & recipes that you’d think it’s the real thing. From shepherd’s pie, Italian, Chinese, American & even Cuban cuisines. They even have roasts. I love Trader Joe’s & go to Whole Foods. I’ve even noticed a larger selection of vegetarian items in my local grocery stores, which means there is a higher demand for vegetarian customers once they find out how brutally and horrifying these animals die. I am vegetarian, not vegan yet. There shouldn’t be a reason why we can’t have delicious tasty good we can enjoy. You just need to think out of the box. Who knows, I may even write a Vegetarian recipe book or blog one day!

    January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      It’s true, there are definitely many more appetizing and inviting options now than, say, 40 or even 20 years ago. The demand is there and so are the resources. I don’t buy much pre-packaged food, and I would rather cook from scratch, but the markets you mention are a treasure troves for Americans living in big cities.

      January 22, 2015
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  4. Erin
    Erin

    I feel like I could have written this myself! (Although not so eloquently!). These issues are consuming more and more of my thoughts and I’m incorporating vegan cuisine into my diet. I couldn’t agree more about directing energy to our lawmakers too. We need to be voices for the voiceless! It’s true, you can tell a lot about a society (or a person) by how it treats its animals.Thanks!

    January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Thanks for sharing. It took me too long to come to my personal conclusions. For the 16 years I was a vegetarian I justified my position with vague ideals but it wasn’t until I became a chef and started looking more closely at industry practices that I was completely turned off by the treatment of livestock. It is going to take some time but we will get there.

      January 22, 2015
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      • Erin
        Erin

        Even living in a sustainable place like VT, where it’s easy (and encouraged) to buy local, animals are still suffering. I have been studying the human-animal bond for over a decade (and am currently a psych doctoral student beginning a dissertation on this topic), I hope to conduct research that will help raise awareness. Think globally and act locally!

        January 22, 2015
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  5. Yes they should or animal abuse will never end!

    January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Amen!

      January 22, 2015
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  6. Joyce Pollack
    Joyce Pollack

    The meat we eat comes from animals who were bred, raised, and slaughtered in industrial factory farms, and slaughterhouses where their entire lives are defined by suffering. Everything they experience is based upon the notion that they exist only as units of production, created to profit their owners. These are the undeniable facts that attach to the meat that you are kind enough to indulge in only twice a week.

    January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      You are absolutely right and that is why, as someone who works in the culinary industry, I have been working for a long time to both raise the issue with consumers and insiders alike. But veganism is not a viable option for many. While I happily shame people into not wearing fur, or not buying ivory or not even buying puppies from pet stores, I will not shame people into becoming vegan or even vegetarian. What I can do, though, is work towards better welfare for farm animals and more education concerning meat alternatives. Thank you for taking the time to add to the conversation.

      January 22, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Thank you. I could go on at length and get very detailed but I have already bored my circle of face to face friends – don’t want to do the same to my virtual ones…

      January 21, 2015
      |Reply
  7. My meat consumption plummeted once I moved to Italy and I don’t miss it. I buy it rarely and from my butcher.

    I’m not a vegetarian but have been making more of these types of dishes since my move. I guess it’s a combination of having better access to in season vegetable and fruits and the fact that meat is not the star of the show in most meals here.

    Overall, meat is more expensive here but I’d rather pay a little more for better quality.

    I’m not sure what the answer is regarding mega farming practices in the States. I read FAST FOOD NATION and the rise of fast food chains has a lot to do with the way we raise and kill animals.

    I don’t think it is right that a chicken should spend it’s entire life unable to stand because it has been pumped up with hormones to make its breast bigger.

    It’s ironic. The breast is the least flavorful part of the chicken yet the most popular cut by far in the States. I cannot tell you how many people in L.A. told me they couldn’t stand bones in their chicken. It’s as if we want to pretend we are not eating something that used to be alive.

    January 20, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      What I didn’t say, but implied, is that I would be fine if the cost of meat went up and, thus, forced us to consume less. The EU has better legislation in place than the US and meat occupies a different place in most European cuisines, and it’s used less and less the farther South you travel. In defense of the industry, many large corporations, attentive to consumers’ demand, are, in turn, demanding more humane practices. A lack of strict federal legislation makes large leaps impossible – it’s all being fought at the lobbying level. What a surprise.

      January 20, 2015
      |Reply
  8. I also think we must go back to origins and try to be more equilibrate. Eating twice a week meat I find it very reasonable and if you only buy two times must be cheaper than buying economical meat every day.
    Very nice post!

    January 20, 2015
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      If only more people shared your feelings!

      January 20, 2015
      |Reply

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