A recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof caught my eye. In it, the former farm boy turned Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist admitted eating meat, but bemoaned the confinement operations of many livestock farms.
” Let me be the first to say that I’m a hypocrite,” Kristof explained further on his Web site. ” I believe that certain animal rights should be respected and that cruelty should be outlawed in raising livestock — but I also enjoy a hamburger.”
Bravo on one hand (I love a good burger) and “oh puhlease” on the other (all modern livestock practices are brutal).
Kristof had good intentions, talking about raising FFA and 4-H projects and his family’s livestock: “Our cattle, sheep, chickens and goats certainly had individual personalities, but not such interesting ones that it bothered me that they might end up in a stew.” But then he dredged up the time-worn phrases about “industrialists” running “factory farms.” Yawn.
I started digging to see what else I could learn about Kristof, to figure out where he was coming from. That’s when I stumbled on the viper’s nest of readers’ comments to his column — 711 of them as of Aug. 5. Just about every one of them blasted Kristof for eating meat. Period.
All of a sudden, I stopped wanting to skewer Kristof and defend him instead.
Here’s what we’re facing, folks: The idea that housing, slaughtering and eating meat is akin to owning slaves or abusing children.
I kid you not.
Read for yourself from New York Times readers’ comments:
“I would rather remain hungry than kill an animal.”
“… the animal’s purpose is not to exist, to live as it will and to die in its own way. It is to be stored, fed and slaughtered. How can this be construed as anything other than cruelty?”
“When someone eats a meat sandwich — between the bread, lettuce, tomato — the slice of meat is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother.”
“What is it but slavery to slaughter a month-old goat for meat?”
Let me be clear. Kristof started talking about animal welfare, and readers switched gears into fanatical animal rights.
We should be able to agree that animal welfare is in society’s best interest, and agriculture’s best interest. Paying attention to animal welfare gives farmers more efficient milk production and meat production, eases handling and improves employee safety, increases longevity and reduces animal stress. Paying attention to animal welfare makes economic sense for producers, and we need to do a better job of it.
But I can’t agree that giving animals equality or even preference over humans makes sense. I will respect your right to be a vegetarian, but will disagree with the extreme philosophical or moral argument many vegetarians espouse.
Kristof is spot on when he says “the tide of history is moving toward the protection of animal rights,” although I would hope he means animal welfare. But then he adds, “Some day, vegetarianism may even be the norm.”
Not on my watch.