Op-ed writer Nicholas Kristoff’s Sunday piece “Where Cows Are Happy and Food is Healthy” explains that there are farms across the United States where the farmers love their animals, where the farms still have souls, unlike those big, bad factory farms. His article, as well as books by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Nina Planck and others, all serve the same mythology, that humans can not only not feel bad about consuming the flesh of sentient beings and their secretions, but that it is somehow noble to do so. And, magically, all of the chronic diseases that have been associated with consuming animal products – heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, some cancers, kidney and liver disease – are not associated with eating animals from these magical farms.
All of that is offensive in its own right, but if you actually pull some of the ideas/quotes from the article, it’s even more offensive.
He names his slaves. There’s really nothing remarkable about that. Plantation owners named their slaves as well. Note the emphasis also on “his” girls and “his” cows, implying that they are not sentient beings but rather property owned by Bob. It’s amazing that Kristoff doesn’t make the connection between seeing the cows that are exploited on Bob’s farm as property. How can you have a relationship with property?
This is plain creepy. He knows “his” cows so well from extracting their milk from their nipples that he can recognize them by their nipples. I get that this is supposed to be playful, but it illustrates how often he uses them for his gain. It’s as if he is saying that he exploits “his” cows so often, that he has an equal relationship with their udders as he does their face.
If Bob cared deeply for “his” cows, how in the world does Kristoff explain him trading her for the flesh of a once sentient pig? If he had a relationship with Jill, how did Jill feel about being traded for a ham? I would feel certain that Jill would be upset by Bob trading her for flesh. What happens to his parents or his wife when they become old and unproductive? Maybe they get traded for a pair of leather shoes?
Who knew that sentient beings with complex inner lives and emotions don’t do well when locked up? I hope he doesn’t expect me to believe that humans incarcerated have healthy, balanced lives in prison. Of course, the cows that Bob exploited didn’t actually commit a crime to be sentenced to a life of exploitation. (Neither did a lot of people in prison.)
This could easily read, “If I keep my slaves contented, they get way more work done on the cotton farm.” I wonder exactly how he calculates happiness in cows? His statement also draws us back to the fact that “his” cows are inventory. They are production units. It’s no different than any business that sells products, non-sentient products.
I’m glad we acknowledge that Bob and other farmers slaughter, i.e. murder “their” happy cows once they no longer are profitable. Kristoff seems to brush off this fact as if he turns in his old tractor for a new tractor. I also like that he plays god in that his favorite units of property aren’t murdered. If I were his son, I’d make sure I was his favorite!
By “supporting them,” does Bob mean feeding and keeping them alive? Thanks for the support, Bob. Please don’t trade me in for ham. Is that equal to “providing” him with gallons of milk for him to sell? As for taking good care of him, that’s an odd way of saying their being exploited against their wills has provided for him financially.
How is he protecting “his” cows? By only murdering a percentage of his slaves? I’m glad that he acknowledges that they are living “things.” Not “unliving things” like tractors, hay, shoes. How does he treat them right, by exploiting them and using them as milking machines until they are less productive? Wonder how he’d feel about his children being supported like Bob supports “his” cows?
Animals are healthy being force-bred, confined, having their children and milk stolen for Bob’s wallet? Yes, you do need to wince. You are stealing the lives, the babies, and milk from sentient beings. You need to wince because all of us know that using individuals is wrong. There is no better or kinder way of exploiting others. Wince, my friend.
The fact that Kristoff uses the term “it” to describe the happy cow just about sums everything up. Neither Kristoff nor Bob have any respect for the sentience of those that they exploit for their pleasure. If they truly respected dairy cows, or chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and other animals used for food, they’d go vegan.
What is missing from this in-depth, fantasy piece is what happens to the calves who are born on Bob’s farm. Are the boys sold off to become veal? Does he keep the girls and exploit them when they reach the proper age to be force bred? Does he sell some of the female calves, the ones he doesn’t give a name to? How does he breed the dairy cows?
The only “humane farms” or “happy farms” are sanctuaries, such as Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York, co-founded by Jenny Brown and her husband Doug Abel. They pick up after the likes of Bob and others. They rescue and care for hundreds of animals who are the refugees of this fantasy world of kinder exploitation. At WFAS, the animals do have names, and get to live out their lives in dignity. They are not asked to produce profits nor will they be traded for a ham when their lives have no financial meaning. As Brown’s new memoir “The Lucky Ones” makes clear, the “small,” “local,” “humane,” “family” farms are places of egregious cruelty, neglect, and indifference.
Some might find Kristoff’s article refreshing, believing that his farm is a step in the right direction, or that his farm is much better than a factory farm housing thousands of dairy cows. The problem is not in the size of the farm nor the treatment, the issue is using individuals in the first place. No cow deserves to have their lives and rights taken away from them so that another can profit and others can please their palates.
Articles like these are dangerous because they lull people into believing that if you buy your milk from a farm like Bob’s, your conscience is clear. It’s not. If you know enough to care about the treatment of animals used for food products, then you know enough to go vegan.