Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

From Cradle to Grave

By Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
(reprinted with permission from Satya Magazine)

I have yet to meet a non-vegetarian who didn’t care about the treatment of
animals raised and killed for human consumption. Even people who eat
meat, aware on some level that the experience is unpleasant for the
animals, will tell you they object to unnecessary abuse and cruelty. They
declare that they buy only “humane” meat, “free-range” eggs and
“organic” milk, perceiving themselves as ethical consumers and these
products as the final frontier in the fight against animal cruelty. Though we
kill over 10 billion land animals every year to please our palates, we never
question the absurdity of this sacred societal ritual. Instead, we absolve
ourselves by making what we think are guilt-free choices, failing to
recognize the paradox of “humane slaughter” and never really knowing
what the whole experience is for an animal from cradle (domestication) to
grave (our bodies).

Though modern animal factories look nothing like what is idealized in
children’s books and advertisements, there are also many
misconceptions about the practices and principles of a “humane”
operation. The unappetizing process of turning live animals into isolated
body parts and ground-up chunks of flesh begins at birth and ends in
youth, as the animals are babies when they are sent to slaughter, whether
they are raised conventionally or in operations that are labeled “humane,”
“sustainable,” “natural,” “free-range,” “cage-free,” “heritage-bred,” “grass-
fed” or “organic.”

Whether it is a large or small enterprise, manipulating animals’
reproductive systems for human gain is at the heart of the animal
agriculture industry. The keeping of male studs, the stimulation of the
genitals, the collection of semen, the castrating of males, and the
insemination into the female are not exactly on people’s minds when they
sit down to dine. Many animals endure the stressful, often painful, and
humiliating process of artificial insemination. Dairy cows are strapped into
what the industry terms a “rape rack;” “natural turkeys” have to be
artificially inseminated because their breasts are so large they’re unable
to mate in the usual manner; and “free-range” egg farms perpetuate
unthinkable cruelty by buying their hens from egg hatcheries that kill
millions of day-old male chicks every year.

Dying to Live

Many who speak of “humane” meat are really referring to the conditions
under which animals are raised-not killed. And there’s a big difference.
When their bodies are fat enough for the dinner table, spent and overused
from producing eggs and milk, and no longer useful in the way they were
meant to be, as in the case of male studs on dairy farms, animals from
both conventional and “humane” farms are all transported (first to the
feedlot in the case of “beef cattle”) to the slaughterhouse. The
transportation process is excruciating and often fatal. The only law
designed to “protect” animals in transport does not pertain to 95% of the
animals killed for human consumption, as birds and rabbits (all classified
as “poultry” are not protected). As a result, in transport, animals are forced
to endure oppressive heat, bitter cold, stress, overcrowding, and
respiratory problems from ammonia-laden urine.

Regardless of how they’re raised, all animals killed for the refrigerated
aisles of the grocery store are sent to mechanized slaughterhouses where
their lives are brutally ended. By law, animals must be slaughtered at
USDA-certified facilities, where horrific acts of cruelty occur on a daily
basis. Everyone from federal meat inspectors to slaughterhouse workers
have admitted to routinely witnessing the strangling, beating, scalding,
skinning, and butchering of live, fully conscious animals. At small farms,
where the owners can kill the animals themselves (in the case of birds),
every one of them will tell you that, though it was hard in the beginning to
slit the throat of the animals, it gets easier after awhile. I don’t believe
anyone would agree that it’s healthy to detach and compartmentalize our
emotions and become desensitized to violence and suffering.
Compassionate people all have the same goal: the elimination of
oppression, exploitation, and violence. Abuse, violence, cruelty – they all
spring from the same source, and they all have the same effect – more
abuse, more violence, more cruelty. The link between cruelty to animals
and violence toward people has been well established.

When we tell ourselves we’re eating meat from “humanely raised
animals,” we’re leaving out a huge part of the equation. The slaughtering
of an animal is a bloody and violent act, and death does not come easy for
those who want to live.

Born to Die

As much as we don’t want to believe we are the cause of someone else’s
suffering, our consumption of meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products
perpetuates the pointless violence and unnecessary cruelty that is
inherent in the deliberate breeding and killing of animals for human
consumption. If we didn’t have a problem with it, we wouldn’t have to
make up so many excuses and justifications. We dance around the truth,
label our choices “humane,” and try to find some kind of compromise so
we can have our meat and eat it, too.

The fundamental problems we keep running into do not arise merely from
how we raise animals but that we eat animals. Clearly we can survive-
and in fact, thrive-on a plant-based diet; we don’t need to kill animals to
be healthy, and in fact animal fat and protein are linked with many human
diseases. What does it say about us that when given the opportunity to
prevent cruelty and violence, we choose to turn away-because of
tradition, culture, habit, convenience or pleasure? We are not finding the
answers we are looking for because we are asking the wrong questions.

The movement toward “humanely raised food animals” simply assuages
our guilt more than it actually reduces animal suffering. If we truly want our
actions to reflect the compassion for animals we say we have, then the
answer is very simple. We can stop eating them. How can this possibly be
considered anything but a rational and merciful response to a violent and
vacuous ritual? Every animal born into this world for his or her flesh, eggs
or milk-only to be killed for human pleasure-has the same desire for
maternal comfort and protection, the same ability to feel pain, and the
same impulse to live as any living creature. There’s nothing humane
about breeding animals only to kill them, and there’s nothing humane
about ending the life of a healthy animal in his or her youth. In short, there
is nothing humane about eating meat.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau founded Compassionate Cooks to empower
people to make informed food choices and to debunk myths about
eating vegan. Through cooking classes, podcasts, articles, and her first-
of-its-kind cooking DVD, she shares the joys and benefits of a plant-
based diet. She can be reached at


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