Integrity and Animal Agriculture

You want to read tenth-draft stuff from me, read my books.

To me, the essence of blogging is first-draft material written and published in real time; which brings a sort of virtue that fussed-over writing can never have. But this is one of those times I wish I had a week and ten drafts to compose an entry.

The New York Times has just published a piece on a community of California dairy farmers and the financial collapse of their creamery. You can’t read this article without coming away with a sense of the incredible work ethic and basic integrity these people have.

Which of course poses conceptual challenges to anyone devoted to taking down animal agriculture. Life would be so much simpler if we could just view our opposition as evil incarnate.

But I have to think that the more nuance and complexity you can bring to your view of activism, the more effective an activist you’ll be. See: I can empathize with the Vevodas’ difficulties. I can wrap my head around what it feels like to follow your heart and feel like you’re doing the work the world needs — even if it seems like your entire world is perpetually on the brink of crashing down. I know what it’s like to wonder if the world truly has a place for you. And knowing all this, I can’t begin to wish the Vevodas harm.

Yet simultaneously, my heart goes out equally to their cows. Dairy farming is a brutal and vicious business that depends on one’s ability to emotionally turn away: to sell those newborn males to vealers, and to send that four year old heifer “down the road” because her production slipped.

Feeding people is noble. But doing it through animal farming entails ethical compromises that no person should ever have to make. Once in a while, I’ve gotten to speak to university students planning to start a career in animal agriculture. Rather than get angry or judgmental, I look them in the eye and gently ask: Are you sure this career reflects your highest and most compassionate values?

And, you know, I’m pretty sure I’ve talked a few talented young people out of following in the Vevodas’ footsteps. Link.