Said the Spider to the Fly (Revised for the Farmers)

C‘est plus fort que moi…I just can’t help myself.  It’s been a very busy day (thanks to so many of you who’ve been in touch, expressing your support and love of horses).  In the interim, I’ve been trying to read the report mentioned in Where’s There’s Smoke…(there’s usually fire) .  I must say the report is well-produced, very professional.  So far…so far, one argument in favour of horse slaughter caught my eye.  I was impressed. It was just the kind and quality of argument I would hope to make (to a different end, of course).  It nearly stumped me…nearly.  And you may not know what my favourite colour is, but you know this much about me:  I never met an argument I didn’t want to arm-wrestle with.  Remember, this report was published in February 2008 so there’s some symmetry to reviewing it now, February 2012 (my thanks again to Shelley Grainger of the CHDC for mentioning it on their blog).  This is an excerpt from page 38 of the AFAC Alberta Horse Welfare Report. A report on horses as food producing animals aimed at addressing horse welfare and improving communication with the livestock industry and the public.  Commissioned by Alberta Equine Welfare Group.  February 2008.

“Acknowledging the different viewpoints is key for future communication efforts.  Temple Grandin notes that it is important to consider the cultural disconnect between people who live in cities and those who live in rural areas.  Individuals who formulate opinions about controversial issues, like processing animals for food at meat plants, often lack first hand exposure to the reality of the situation in the field.  The more insulated individuals are from field experience, the more extreme their opinions become either for or against an issue.” [Grandin’s comments are cited from April 2005, summary of a videoconference.  Please go to the report for the footnoted reference.]

I like this.  On the face of it, this is a cogent, authoritative commentary on how demographics affect socio-cultural views.  I wish I had come up with it. But, alas, it’s wrong.  (As my husband often says to me:  ‘just because you talk good doesn’t mean you’re right’.)

It might apply when discussing food animals (which is why animal advocates have such a hard time in a culture that literally feeds on species considered food-for-all…but they have other potent arguments in their favour.).  After all, apart from fairy tales (in which all creatures are anthropomorphized anyway), there is no socio-cultural glorification of animals which, for centuries, have been bred exclusively for your dinner plate.  There has been, and still is, however, iconization of, and identification with, equines, and that, repeated in several media from mythology to history to literature to movies to olympic-level idolatry.  The death of Daisy the cow has little to no impact culturally as compared to the deaths of Hickstead, Barbaro, Eight Belles, Secretariat et al.

This immediately invalidates the argument above because its premise does not address psycho-cultural and national iconization of the equine so that even if an aesthete urbanite were to visit a cow abattoir, he would only walk away tsk, tsk-ing and head off to supper at the nearest steakhouse, whereas if he visited a horse abattoir, he would be horrified that someone is hacking away at Black Beauty, Trigger, the Budweiser Clydesdales, Bellerophon, Eclipse, Pegasus and every single horse John Wayne ever rode in a Hollywood movie.  Moreover, since we’re looking at demographic-specific tastes, an urbanite is more likely to have an education and a reading background which predisposes him to favour the equine over animals traditionally used for food, and establish a distinction in his/her own mind.

We saw evidence of this when the great Oprah had a report conducted inside a well-known slaughterhouse as part of the Meatless Mondays incentive (btw, Catholicism has always had Meatless Fridays, but it’s not as alliterative thus less marketable).  Viewers were somewhat dismayed (and frankly, the raw awfulness of slaughter was never allowed on camera) and some actually considered abstaining from eating meat at least once a week, though some less graciously than others.  For an interesting contrast, please see blog Oregon in which a godawful scene is cited from the book, Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz. Now that short excerpt will give ya nightmares about human nature; it did me, I can tell ya.

And, to be fair to many farmers and farming operations, many not only understand the difference–“horses are not food animals, but my cows are”–but also continue the distinction as one generation after another takes over the family farm (see blog scroll to “Happy & Well-Adjusted Farmer”).  And, oddly enough, Dr. Grandin, they don’t need to have read about Pegasus or Black Beauty to recognize what is clearly an important, fundamental, and age-old distinction.


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