I wasn’t going to write a response to Susan Crowell’s last editorial (“HSUS creates its own Ohio ag council to try and gain farming ‘street cred’,” May 9, 2013). But then, I thought, if the editor of the Farm and Dairy won’t be governed by her better angels, why should I?
I guess the point when I caved was when you said, “How dare they? How dare HSUS wrap itself in the cloak of “traditional family farmers…?” Well, apparently this is a one-size-fits-all cloak because the Farm Bureau, USDA, and every politician tries it on every time they want something. But somehow you managed to single out HSUS with your indignation.
Let’s deal with something right up front, i.e., industrial agriculture’s phobia about vegetarians. Less than 3% of the population is vegetarian, and if the vegetarians who eat at my kitchen table are a representative sample, at least half of them are not quite as committed to the vegetarian ideal as one might think.
That means there are fewer vegetarians than there are farmers and the U.S. Census Bureau and the popular press have already decided farmers are “statistically insignificant”.
If you want to talk about “reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods; and replacing the meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods,” you might better target the USDA food pyramid. The USDA has been trying to get us to eat less meat since the 1970s. Forty years of public policy may have helped make us fatter and sicker, but it didn’t turn us into the dreaded vegetarians.
OK, there are members of HSUS who don’t understand the relationship between humans and domesticated animals. Most people today are disconnected from farms, farm life, and the natural world in general.
By the same token, being a farmer doesn’t make you an expert on livestock. Many farms today are a generation away from having any animals on the farm at all. And many other farmers have forgotten the responsibility they bear when they care for livestock.
Some of this forgetting is driven by economic forces beyond the control of farmers, but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of care for our animals. Hens crammed five to a cage, gestation crates for sows, feedlots knee-deep in mud — they all violate our obligation to treat our livestock well.
Michael Pollan is quoted as saying you shouldn’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Maybe those of us who keep animals should only keep them in ways that would make our great-grandfathers proud.
One final note: If you load your meat or milk or eggs on a truck and send it to market, you’re anonymous to the eaters of that food, as they are to you. I look my customers in the eye and they ask me what I feed my animals and how do I treat them. Customers — eaters — are asking these questions of us. They are trying to break down the wall of anonymity. We need to meet them halfway and tell them how their food is raised.
This is no time to just circle the wagons.
(The author, who farms in Knox County, is one of five founding members of the HSUS Agriculture Advisory Council for Ohio.)