What is our relationship to animals, and how did it get so far off track?
That is the question I’ve been mulling over lately, and the trend is troubling.
It starts at a young age. I call it, “The Disney Effect.” Kids are introduced to friendly animated animal characters on the big screen, and all too often, the caregiver of the animals is an afterthought supporting character at best or a villain at worst.
Think, Bambi being scared of the hunter. Or Cinderella’s mice friends being her champions while the people in her life are cruel. In the movie, “Barnyard,” the cow walks on his back legs, talks with a man’s voice and has an udder. In Charlotte’s web, the spider works to save the pig from being butchered.
In one of my kids’ favorite Christian movies, “The Star,” the focus isn’t on the birth of Jesus, but on the adventure of Bo the donkey on the way to the manger (and the supporting characters are people who want to lock him up or worse).
In popular children’s books, even ranch-based ones, the main characters are animals, not people. Think Ree Drummond’s “Charlie the Ranch Dog” series, for example. And a Thanksgiving book I received from Scholastic from my daughter's recent classroom book order had the children saving the Thanksgiving turkeys from the mean butcher/farmer, and the book ended with the turkeys and children eating vegetables and toast with jam while celebrating life.
In contrast, my children’s books, “Levi’s Lost Calf” and “Can-Do Cowkids” celebrate the people who tend to the land and the livestock, with the animals as the complimentary characters. This was intentional, as I believe readers should be introduced to healthy human-animal relationships that are exemplified by how a rancher cares for his cattle.
Making it even tougher to bridge this gap and teach this lesson though is that all too often the closest kids get to animals is their family’s beloved pet dog or cat, a zoo they visit or the rare agri-tourism location where they might be able to pet a goat or see some chickens.
No longer do kids have to work on a farm, collecting eggs, milking cows, lambing or calving, butchering animals or see birth and death happen on a regular basis in order to have food to make it through the winter.
Picture the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder butchering an animal, salting the meat and putting it in the ice box for winter. In modern times, the equivalent is a 4-H kid butchering their market steer and putting the beef in his family’s freezer.
Today’s consumer is three or more generations removed from the family farm, and as a result, our relationship with animals is greatly skewed.
I came to this realization 13 years ago. I was a college freshman living in Washington, D.C. for the summer, and my roommate was a vegetarian from New Jersey. Walking through a park, we happened to see a homeless woman sitting on a park bench. A group of pigeons gathered at the woman’s feet, and she kicked up her foot to scatter the birds away from her.
What did I see in that situation? A woman who didn’t have a roof over her head or a warm meal to eat that day. What did my roommate see? A woman who was abusing birds.
See the difference?
As a farm kid, I understood from a young age the circle of life. As a Christian, I understand the divine humanity and value of people over animals. Combine the two, and I have no guilt about eating animals.
And to steal a quote from my friend Trent Loos, “Everything lives, everything dies, but death with a purpose gives true meaning to life.”
Yet, our consumer is far, far removed from the reality of butchering an animal and respecting that this steer will now provide not just nourishing beef, but also hundreds of by-products that enrich our lives.
And our consumer doesn’t necessarily understand that having beef cattle on the range ensures that natural habitat for wildlife stays intact. Where do they think animals go when pastures are plowed in order to develop urban areas or grow more grains and vegetables?
In a rare example of teaching kids where their food comes from, I recently read an article in Wide Open Spaces about grade schoolers who learned how to butcher a moose.
According to the article, “Here in the lower 48 states, students are being suspended for making gun shapes with their fingers and with food at lunch. These students in Alaska including kindergarteners learn how to butcher moose with real knives.
“In Alaska, much of your food comes from the surrounding wilderness. The coveted moose is the steer of the bush. Butchering one of these well meated beasts allows survival for the whole family in the cold Alaskan winters.”
Anyway, at the core, every diet has some level of death, but that isn’t a good feeling if we dwell on it too much. So the natural solution is to think we can save animals by simply not eating meat.
That’s where the problem lies, and I’ve seen this skewed relationship between animals and people on several occasions recently. And what I’m seeing is quite troubling.
For starters, a new British reality show will make families choose between eating their pet or becoming vegetarian.
As reported by the New Haven Register, “Individuals will face a wild decision on a new British reality show that is set to release in 2020. ‘Meat the Family’ will have families adopt an animal, care for it as if it was their own and then decide if they will go vegetarian... or kill their new pet.
“The idea behind producing this show is to try and resolve the debate around how families can cuddle with their dogs but still choose to eat meat.
“Four families will take in a new animal as a pet for three whole weeks and people will watch it all unfold on Channel 4. Once this period is over, they must decide if they are going to stop eating meat or send their pet to slaughter, in which case they'll be asked to cook and eat it.”
Sure, farming families do this on a regular basis, but again, they have the foundation of understanding the circle of life and respecting what that animal was put on Earth to do. These participants on the reality show have had a different upbringing and life experiences surrounding pets. Can you imagine how many of them will choose to eat their “pet” on national TV?
This is a disturbing premise with a fixed outcome that will encourage participants and viewers to adopt a plant-based diet.
In another odd occurrence, animal lovers are celebrating the death of Maximillian, a lion who lived at the Berlin Zoo for 23 years.
Vegan activist spokesman, Weichei Schwach, released a statement saying, “While animals are something we want to protect, those species that prey upon other animals should have less rights than those that eat plants. Thus, we are glad to see one less meat eater in the world.”
He then criticized the Berlin Zoo and called for them to convert these meat-eating animals to a plant-based diet. What a sad form of animal abuse to a large cat, a natural carnivore!
And speaking of cats, look up the hashtag #vegancat on Instagram and see the saddest collection of carnivorous pets turned plant-eaters you have ever seen! People are forcing their plant-based ideologies on their children and pets with disastrous results! It’s so sad, and it’s all based on devaluing the person or animal and placing higher value on the religion that is veganism!
Anyway, I’m perfectly aware that this blog post will attract a ton of hate.
However, what I want to really stress to the agricultural community today is that these folks aren’t simply content with foregoing meat based on their own convictions and values. These people want to take away our rights as a society to eat meat. It’s scary, and with sin taxes, increased regulatory burdens on the livestock community and us willingly giving up our rights in the name of improving planetary health through “sustainable practices,” it really isn’t that far-fetched!
So be aware and understand that this is the untold story of animal agriculture. Again, “Everything lives and everything dies, but death with a purpose gives true meaning to life.”
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.