Kathy Rudy

 

On her book Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy

Cover Interview of October 28, 2011

A close-up

I expect the most controversial aspect of this book may be my acceptance of local, pastured, small farm meat.

Part of the reason animal advocacy is so marginalized in American culture today, I think, is that most philosophers and organizations demand that animal advocates be vegan.

By my lights, that is just not going to happen anytime soon.

Humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years, and for most of that time, we have done so compassionately and sustainably.  It’s only in the last fifty years that agribusiness has made suffering the norm for farm animals.

The general public is not going to convert to veganism in the near future, but a mass movement for a more connected way of eating is happening in the form of pastured meat.  We can tap that for better lives for animals.

My research on this issue brought me to the small farm movement, where animals are given longer, healthier, more natural lives.  While the cost of this meat is higher, I argue that farm animals deserve such treatment if they are ultimately asked to sacrifice their lives to become our food.

Buying meat, eggs, and dairy from local farms where animals have long, happy, and natural lives on pasture is animal centered, I believe, even if we kill them for their meat eventually.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe eliminating domestic farm animals from our world does not really serve their best interests.

Think about it: our own lives are not solely centered on our bodies: we humans write books, make art, build buildings, have children so part of us lives on and changes the world, even if in a future we are not present for.

Thinking of the fullness of life only in terms of our immediate bodies is shortsighted.  Humans and farm animals have spent 10,000 years building a symbiotic relationship that, I believe, is good for them, and good for us.  They get to spend days walking in sunshine, eating good food, mating, loving their young, enjoying the beautiful earth.  We give them the chance to have this life, we pay for the land and the grass and the water, and eventually we get to eat their eggs, milk, cheese, and meat.  It’s not a bad deal for either side.

The idea that our life’s meaning is only contained in our fleshly bodies is dangerous and untrue.  If I were a pig or cow or chicken, I would rather be raised on a small farm and keep my kinfolk alive in this world than be banished from the earth altogether (as the vegan agenda advocates.)  Making animal advocacy dependent on veganism is asking for species extinction, and is the opposite of what animals (and we) really need.

Indeed, the slow food/locavore movement has made a central aspect of their program the recovery of endangered farm animal species.  We used to share our earth with over three hundred different kinds of farm animals; the industrial farm system has reduced that number to under twenty species.

If I were a Redcap chicken, say, I would rather have a farmer raise me and let me proliferate, even if she is going to kill me to eat in the end.  That way, my kind get to stay on this planet; in many ways, that could mean more to me than my own life.  I believe species of animals want to stay here just as much as humans we do, and small farms give them that chance.