HBO recently aired a made-for-television biopic about Temple Grandin, who is acclaimed for her work in autism and designing humane handling facilities for cattle.
Beloved by many, Grandin, who is autistic herself, was one of the first people to talk openly to the public about her condition lifting the stigma that is often associated with autism. In addition to being one of the first women to hit the scene in the cattle industry, where she wasn’t welcomed with warmth, she’s also widely known for her lectures and books, including Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals.
Grandin, who now has a Ph.D, and is an Associate Professor of Animal Behavior at Colorado State University, credits autism for her success. She claims that the hypersensitivity and unique vision are what have made her so tuned in to what animals sense and how to use it in agricultural engineering to create humane slaughter facilities.
While she’s certainly overcome some tremendous obstacles, she’s also roused some critics along the way who don’t quite see her as a heroine for animals. Indeed, something is amiss.
In her book, Animals Make Us Human, Grandin states that, “I vividly remember the day after I had installed the first center-track conveyor restrainer in a plant in Nebraska, when I stood on an overhead catwalk, overlooking vast herds of cattle in the stockyard below me. All these animals were going to their death in a system that I had designed. I started to cry and then a flash of insight came into my mind. None of the cattle that were at this slaughter plant would have been born if people had not bred and raised them. They would never have lived at all” (p. 297).
Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep, seems to have hit the nail on the head with the troubling issue behind Grandin’s work in his review of the book: Temple Grandin Brings Me to Tears (of Frustration). It’s that, “she can never take the next step to questioning what she does.”
Her flash of insight “seems to have pacified her conscience forever! One moment of true insight, when she cried, was quickly stifled by a dumb cliché. It is an argument used by many people who become very annoyed if you say that we wouldn’t want our children born into a world where they would be murdered, no matter how humanely or painlessly, after having lived for just a few months or years.”
“Dr. Grandin never asks the only relevant question here: Is it right to do this at all?”
It seems odd that someone could become such a prominent ethicist without being able to grasp that question. It also seems odd that someone who loves animals and feels they can empathetically relate to the animal mind wouldn’t try to help them live and instead, ironically, designs their deaths for a living. The cows, pigs and chickens that meet their end in a slaughterhouse don’t want to die any more than we do. They probably didn’t want to live that “good” life on a CAFO either.
Is Big Ag just using Grandin as a pawn to assuage consumer guilt over something that’s quickly making its way into the ethically questionable spotlight?
Are people just using oxymoronic terms like “humane slaughter,” “compassionate carnivore” and “ethical meat eater” to ease their conscience and stifle their tears as quickly as Grandin? For meat eaters who decry the use of emotional adjectives attached to the subject of animal rights and welfare, isn’t that the same thing?