Halloween is my birthday. That fact alone likely would not merit the holiday’s mention here. I note it because only this year – some forty-odd years into my marking of the day– did I stop to consider what makes this holiday unusual. First, my son, Jesse, whose tastes seem to be rather typical for his age group, debated for weeks whether to dress up as Genghis Khan or as John Dillinger. Other candidates on the slate include the Grim Reaper and an assassin. This approach seems atypical of our cultural observances.
A second unique characteristic of Halloween lies with the fact that it does not revolve around the consumption of animals. Easter and Christmas require hams, Thanksgiving involves turkeys, Passover needs a sheep shank and chicken soup, and July 4th is about barbecue. The list goes on. American festivals are meal-based and animals pay a mortal price for our food-related revelry. Except, that is, during Halloween.
Halloween is about human death. Animals are mercifully given the day off. Instead of the typical family celebration and meal, we festoon our yards with scenes of gruesome violence and encourage children to parade through the street in search of candy. So, on this day dedicated to laughing in the face of human suffering, it’s worth reflecting on why we are so indifferent to the suffering of non-humans on this and every other day.
By now, the horrific reality of factory farms has been well-documented (including by this blawg). Pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and other animals get packed into boxes, mutilated, pumped full of chemicals and butchered, all in the name of cheap food. Industrial agriculture kills billions of animals each year in the United States alone. Billions more (including laying hens, dairy cows and breeding sows) live lives of constant, unrelenting torment until they too are destroyed.
Treating animals this way is wrong and we as a society have finally begun to condemn its horrors. The recent passage of ballot initiatives in Michigan, California, Florida and elsewhere, which prohibit some of the worst abuses, bespeaks a growing level of national discomfort with animal mistreatment. Less often discussed though, are the ethics of consumption.
A person who downloads child pornography neither makes the movie nor rapes the child. Yet his behavior is culpable, both legally and morally. Why? Because it supports and enables the rape and moviemaking, thereby perpetuating the cycle of exploitation. If no one wished to watch the movies, they would not get made.
The same principles apply to factory-farming. When we buy factory-farmed products, we support and enable a cycle of animal abuse that depends for its survival on willing consumers of its wares. That abuse is wrong and our behavior perpetuates it.
I do not mean to imply that meat-eating and child pornography are morally equivalent. Rather, I’m talking here about industrial agriculture and am suggesting that eating, like everything we do, implicates ethics. Therefore, we should eat thoughtfully and with an eye toward justice. Consuming food created through animal-suffering for no other reason than that it is cheap or tastes good or that others do it is neither thoughtful nor justified.
The availability of cheap factory-farmed animal food offers each of us a challenge. Buying it perpetuates and subsidizes an industry built on the torture and grisly killing of billions of animals each year. We need not and should not do this. There are other things to eat.
Some might say participating in this cycle of brutality makes us “no better than animals.” But that would be wrong. Animals do not act as we do. Factory farming is a quintessentially human form of savagery – knowingly wrongful conduct for which ethical alternatives exist. And unlike the macabre displays on my birthday, there is nothing amusing about this behavior at all.
Death happens and so does eating. One of the great things about humanity is our ability to laugh at our fears. Another great human quality is that we strive to do what is right, even when doing the right thing is not convenient. Factory farming is an ongoing atrocity – a daily horror that is not at all funny. Its day should come. Let it be soon.
Filed under: animal ethics, factory farms Tagged: | animal abuse, animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal rights, animal suffering, animal welfare, battery cages, factory farms, farmed animals, Halloween, industrial farming