Joaquin Phoenix: A person is worth more than a scallop

As Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix accepted his Oscar award, he encouraged the audience and TV viewers to “live vegan” and “end speciesism.”

Amanda Radke

February 10, 2020

9 Min Read

From the Oscars to the Golden Globes, Hollywood A-listers are taking a stand to speak out against issues that are important to them.

Move aside Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, the trendy new crusade is to go meatless to save the planet and to save the animals.

While I’m sure the intent is good, the results are laughable. Animal agriculture contributes less than 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States today, according to the EPA, while transportation and electricity contribute the lion’s share of all emissions.

There have been many suggestions that instead of skipping beef, a better solution for Hollywood would be to fly commercial instead of going solo in a private jet, to rewear dresses and tuxedos and to reduce waste by actually eating what’s served at these awards banquets instead of having it end up in the trash.

Admittedly, I don’t typically tune in to these award shows; however, my Twitter feed alerted me to the trending speech of the night. Delivered by Joaquin Phoenix, the Hollywood actor passionately encouraged fans and viewers to live vegan to end speciesism, which essentially he believes animals have the same rights and values and human beings.

While accepting his award, Phoenix told the crowd, “I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively, and I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.

Related:On the circle of life & PETA

“We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control, and use and exploit another with impunity. I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world and many of us, what we’re guilty of, is an egocentric world view, the belief that we’re the center of the universe.

“We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and when she gives birth, we steal her baby. Even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal. And I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up but human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop, and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”

Related:Activists strategize at the Animal Rights National Conference

Oofta - that’s a lot to unpack. While part of me doesn’t want to even give Phoenix the additional press of addressing his statements, I feel quite strongly the need to comment on his call to end speciesism.

First, Phoenix hits the nail on the head when he says our society has become “very disconnected from the natural world.”

I write this from my South Dakota cattle ranch, where we are in the middle of calving out our bred heifers. I just trudged through the snow in my decades’ old Carhartt coveralls and hand-me-down snow boots (reduce, reuse, recycle, am I right?) to check on a calving heifer.

Her labor appeared to be going well. The calf’s feet and head were progressing nicely, and I quietly shut the barn door to let her deliver the calf in peace. Yet, I know, without my presence there, death could easily happen, as well. A backward calf, the sack over its nose, a prolapse after delivery — there are many things that can go wrong that determine life or death on the farm.

From a young age, I learned the circle of life — everything lives and everything dies, but death with a purpose gives meaning to life. Beef and dairy cattle were created to nourish human lives, with nutritious meat, butter and milk, but also life-saving and enriching by-products ranging from makeups to pharmaceuticals.

By respectfully harvesting that animal, we give meaning to its life. We understand the sacrifice, and it is part of nature. People consuming animal products is exactly like the hawk preying on the pheasant; the coyote hunting the rabbit; the bear catching salmon; or the wolf stalking a deer. They won't stop eating smaller animals just because Phoenix can't stomach the less-than-pretty side of nature.

And that moves me to my next point, Phoenix declares that humans think we are the “center of the universe.” To put it bluntly, yes this is true. God created the world for His people, and he gave us dominion over the animals.

Genesis 1:26 reads: Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

Not only do we have dominion over the animals, where we are responsible for caring for them.

Proverbs 27:23 reads, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.”

READ: Yes, Jesus would eat meat, and you can, too!

In addition to caring for the animals, God gives us permission to eat them, as well.

Genesis 9:3 reads, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”

While we are on the topic of faith, when you filter everything through that lens, then you know that comparing a scallop to a human being is truly degrading to the divine humanity of God’s people.

A scallop cannot cure cancer. A mouse cannot fight human trafficking. A deer cannot invent new things. A squirrel cannot solve world hunger. A cow cannot change the course of our planet’s climate. A horse cannot write great literature. A sheep cannot paint or sing or dance or make movies like Joaquin. A pig cannot make a family and raise children with dignity and moral integrity. A bird cannot fight injustices around the world. A bat cannot speak out against evil. A rat cannot fight for our liberties and personal freedoms.

In short, despite what Disney movies would tell us, animals do not have the emotional range, depth of souls and divine value that humanity does. To equate a child to an animal is a slap in the face.

Maybe you’re not a Christian or maybe you wonder if animals have a deeper emotional range. Then it becomes more difficult to differentiate the value of a cow compared to a person.

Maybe you’ve never seen baby calves born in the spring and eaten a market steer in the fall to see life come full circle. If your experiences with animals are your cute dogs and cats, then this is an impossible scenario to empathize with.

Maybe, just maybe, as society’s relationship with animals has further deterred from what nature and God intended, then we have seen a shift in society following ideologies and religions like veganism.

This isn’t just Hollywood elite either. Last week, I was at the Black Hills Stock Show, and I got to visit with plenty of folks walking up and down the aisles where our bulls and heifers were on display.

Consider these two exchanges I had with urban stock show attendees.

First, an older woman excitedly approached me with her iPhone in hand. She wanted a picture of my heifer, and I happily obliged and encouraged her to ask her any questions she might have about beef cattle.

“I do have one question,” she said. “When the cows are tied nose-to-nose like this, are they creating bonds and friendships?”

“Well, our heifer is in heat, so she is ready to be bred, and that means the bulls are awfully flirty with her right now,” I responded. “But no, as far as friendships goes, they aren’t exchanging numbers to keep in touch after the show. They are animals, and they are naturally curious about the new animals and smells at the stock show, but relationships aren’t being built like between you and I as we have this conversation.”

That seemed to satisfy her, and I was glad we had a positive exchange. My next encounter though had a much different feel to it.

I was finishing up my Five Guys bacon double cheeseburger before the show and standing in front of my bulls in case customers wanted to visit with me about our sale offering. Just as I took my last bite, a man walked up to me and rather accusingly asked me, “You’re going to eat that burger in front of those cows? You cannibal!”

He caught me off guard, and with my mouth full, I kind of fumbled out, “Yes, and it tastes pretty good.”

He huffed and walked away, and I was scratching my head wondering if he was joking or mad, he confirmed his feelings when he turned around and yelled at me again, “Damn cannibal!”

These scenarios were conversations exchanged between grown adults in a very rural area of South Dakota, but I think they highlight a larger problem that faces our entire nation — our population has an increasing propensity of equating animals to people.

It’s no longer a push for animal welfare and husbandry, animal rights where pets and livestock cannot be owned and are ultimately considered citizens is the push.

Does it sound radical, unreasonable and not based on common sense? Absolutely, 100%. But that doesn’t make it any less of a valid movement, with activists, celebrities, politicians and the media all playing a part in making animal agriculture obsolete.

We can debate these celebrities all day long and give them a bigger pulpit to spew their propaganda, or we can start doing the groundwork of addressing these greater misconceptions in our society.

I believe it starts with reminding people about the divine value of humanity. We must first lift up ourselves and celebrate what humans contribute to our society, our planet and the greater good of our existence in order to correct these off-balance relationships between human and animals.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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