We Can (and Should) Care About Both People and Animals

In a recent interview in The Sun magazine, Joel Salatin, who is the owner of Polyface Farm and was featured in the film Food, Inc., and in Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” makes a number of comments about animals that bear deconstruction, primarily because they’ve become a straw man that undermines the goal of doing the most good and least harm to all people, animals and the environment.

Salatin is a farmer who raises animals for food. When asked whether animals should give up their lives simply for our pleasure, he replies: “Why think animals are more special than carrots?” He goes on to say that he hopes that anyone who cares for animals “would not spend more on his or her dog or cat than on making sure hungry children in Africa got fed,” stating that Americans spend more on vet care than Africans spend on health care. He actually calls this a litmus test of our priorities.

Why this need to disparage caring for pets? After all, there are many other things we spend money on. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, U.S. consumers spend about $1.2 trillion per year on non-essential things, including boats, jewelry, alcohol, gambling, and candy. Breaking this astounding number down (and gathering these numbers from the Commerce Department and a few other websites), I discovered that U.S. consumers annually spend approximately:

$110 billion on alcohol
$100 billion on tobacco
$100 billion on gambling
$100 billion on hair care
$60 billion on jewelry
$55 billion on sports equipment, including guns and ammunition
$15 billion on bottled water
$13 billion on veterinary care
$8 billion on cosmetics
$2 billion on Halloween candy (just Halloween!)

Why didn’t Salatin compare personal contributions to Africa to any of these numbers? Are all such expenditures, no matter how frivolous or destructive, less worthy of a “litmus test” than veterinary care?

I believe that the purpose of Salatin’s comparison is to undermine care and concern for animals, and to delegitimize any criticism of his killing animals for food in a country where eating animals is not essential to meeting dietary needs. Joel Salatin would prefer to have us question the morality of vegans, who, he suggests, care more for animals than people (which therefore makes them ethically corrupt in his eyes), than to consider whether slaughtering animals who wish to live as much as he (for no other reason than we like the taste of them), is morally acceptable.

While he may think that animals are no more “special” than carrots, he later says that humans “are arguably the most important species on the planet.” Salatin believes in a hierarchy, but his hierarchy is solely meant to distinguish humans from everyone and everything else. But the truth is that a carrot cannot suffer or feel pain, yearn to live, love its young and mourn their loss, but every pig, cow, sheep, turkey and chicken can and does.

It’s time to knock down this straw man. We do not have to be miserly with compassion or limit our moral concern solely to humans. We can help people in Africa as well as our neighbors in our own communities; we can restore ecosystems nearby and support the restoration of those far away, and we can also limit the harm we cause to the other species with whom we share this magnificent planet. We can make choices that help people, animals and the environment simultaneously, which, despite what Joel Salatin would have us believe, a vegan diet actually does.

Related Stories:

Museum Kills Mules for ‘Realistic’ Display

Since Other Animals Are Predators, Why Shouldn’t We Eat Animals?

Why Environmentalists Should Care About Pet Euthanasia

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Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and free resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education; and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given several acclaimed TEDx talks, including “The World Becomes What You Teach” and “Solutionaries” and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.

 

Image courtesy of The PAW Project via Creative Commons.

145 comments

Todd Warner
Todd Warner8 months ago

Yes it is indeed an omnivore's dilemma. Humans are not more important than any other species, that is just pride and ego speaking. If we look at any other omnivores like pigs, baboons, chimps, gorilla's we will see that these animals very rarely eat meat and this meat they scavenge, they do not hunt and kill other animals for meat. Yet humans make meat their staple diet and actively keep and kill other animals to obtain this very unsustainable food source. Ecologically it does not make sense for humans to eat meat. An ecosystem consists of different trophic levels. The first trophic level is occupied by the primary producers or plants, the second the secondary producers or the herbivores and the third the primary consumers or the carnivores. A lot of energy is lost from one level to the next and only 10% of the energy from one level is available for the next. This is the reason why the biomass decreases from one level to the next. Simply put there are less herbivores than plants and less carnivores than herbivores. This is the only way that any ecosystem can survive. With a human population of close to 8 billion does it make any sense that this species should occupy the highest trophic level? A vegan diet for humans makes perfect sense to me

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Todd Warner
Todd Warner8 months ago

In response to Astrid...

"Humans are not more important than any other species"
You are correct. This doesn't change any point made here.

"pigs, baboons, chimps," ... "we will see that these animals very rarely eat meat"
That would be incorrect. I edited out gorillas because they are herbivores. They eat lots and lots of meat.

"and this meat they scavenge, they do not hunt and kill other animals for meat."
This is also incorrect. In fact, chimpanzees are outstanding hunters. Pigs will surround and kill just about anything not overly large and they eat tons of rodents, snakes, etc. Almost none of it scavenged.

"humans make meat their staple diet and actively keep and kill other animals"
This is correct, though humans eat more plants than animals.

"this very unsustainable food source"
Livestock are not an unsustainable food source. That is total BS. Now, industrial is unsustainable, but the blanket statement you made is utterly incorrect.

"Ecologically it does not make sense for humans to eat meat."
We are omnivores... so ecologically it makes sense for us to eat meat.
Where we ecologically fall down is allowing our numbers to be 1000-times more than it should be (or some such multiple) -- It's not what we eat. It's how many there are of us. And the damage to the world is not constrained to food production of course, but ... well... every other aspect of us living on the planet.

"trophic levels" -- So you are saying that we should eliminate everyth

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Todd Warner
Todd Warner8 months ago

Note, Care2 seems to think I posted the comment below (starting with "Yes, it is indeed an omnivore's dilemma), yet I didn't. I have now changed my password. Very odd. Either a security breach or some other anomaly.

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Todd Warner
Todd Warner8 months ago

Yes it is indeed an omnivore's dilemma. Humans are not more important than any other species, that is just pride and ego speaking. If we look at any other omnivores like pigs, baboons, chimps, gorilla's we will see that these animals very rarely eat meat and this meat they scavenge, they do not hunt and kill other animals for meat. Yet humans make meat their staple diet and actively keep and kill other animals to obtain this very unsustainable food source. Ecologically it does not make sense for humans to eat meat. An ecosystem consists of different trophic levels. The first trophic level is occupied by the primary producers or plants, the second the secondary producers or the herbivores and the third the primary consumers or the carnivores. A lot of energy is lost from one level to the next and only 10% of the energy from one level is available for the next. This is the reason why the biomass decreases from one level to the next. Simply put there are less herbivores than plants and less carnivores than herbivores. This is the only way that any ecosystem can survive. With a human population of close to 8 billion does it make any sense that this species should occupy the highest trophic level? A vegan diet for humans makes perfect sense to me

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Astrid Jankielsohn
Astrid Jankielsohn8 months ago

Yes it is indeed an omnivore's dilemma. Humans are not more important than any other species, that is just pride and ego speaking. If we look at any other omnivores like pigs, baboons, chimps, gorilla's we will see that these animals very rarely eat meat and this meat they scavenge, they do not hunt and kill other animals for meat. Yet humans make meat their staple diet and actively keep and kill other animals to obtain this very unsustainable food source. Ecologically it does not make sense for humans to eat meat. An ecosystem consists of different trophic levels. The first trophic level is occupied by the primary producers or plants, the second the secondary producers or the herbivores and the third the primary consumers or the carnivores. A lot of energy is lost from one level to the next and only 10% of the energy from one level is available for the next. This is the reason why the biomass decreases from one level to the next. Simply put there are less herbivores than plants and less carnivores than herbivores. This is the only way that any ecosystem can survive. With a human population of close to 8 billion does it make any sense that this species should occupy the highest trophic level? A vegan diet for humans makes perfect sense to me

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Laurie S.
Laurie S4 years ago

Post 1 of 3

Oh, this is ridiculous.

If you have read Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma you'd know what I know, which is that Joel Salatin is a grass farmer. He raises animals sustainably on land that he rehabilitated from worn out erosion gullied wasteland by rotating animals through fresh pastures that now grow fifteen grass species at the same time in a complex solar ecosystem, a new pasture with hip high grass every single day. He sends the cows in at dusk at the end of the blaze of growth that is part of the grasses natural cycle, before they turn woody and start to flower and seed, then the field lies fallow for two or three weeks afterwards to recover.

All his cows are grass fed, and get the best, freshest choicest grass every day, summer and winter. They never eat a bite of corn. This is so good for the grasses that it increases their yield up to 400%, and so good for the cows that their meat is rich and nutritious. His fields produce healthy grass and healthy animals with no pesticides, no fertilizer, no government subsidies.

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Laurie S.
Laurie S4 years ago

Post 2 of 3

After the cows graze a pasture he moves them and sends the chickens in to feed on bugs and worms they scratch from the manure which they work into the soil as natural fertilizer. Once the native grasses have fully grown back and are about to slow down into flowering and seeding, he rotates the cows through the pasture again. Their farm produces almost everything Joel’s extended family in residence needs, and they eat and live almost completely off the grid. They don’t even have a television.

The Salatins bought 550 acres of hilly, eroded land that had been used for corn and other row crops without rest for 150 years. By the time they got it, large areas of it were completely stripped of nutrients and topsoil. They have spent the last 50 years reversing that destruction, and successfully. These people deserve your respect; they’ve certainly dome more for their land and their animals than any of the brainless whiners who criticize them have ever done for any person or any other living thing.

And now for the article:

Joel Salatin wasn’t disparaging caring for pets, and the reason why he didn’t compare it to your alcohol, tobacco or jewelry budget was because the discussion was about the value and interdependency of the lives of, DUH, humans and animals.

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Laurie S.
Laurie S4 years ago

Post 3 of 3

What he was saying was, if you concern yourself only with the welfare of animals you can see, for your own pleasure, or out of your sense of self righteousness, and you spend not one bit of your attention or income helping other people in need, your priorities are messed up. That is the polite version. The less polite version is that you are a hypocrite.

I certainly hope that you take excellent care of your pets. I hope when the money runs low they are never allowed to suffer illness or hunger, and that their needs come first. You owe that to them, or to find them a new home, since they depend on you. But if you spend the rest of your time signing petitions and never contribute an hour or a dime to real human concerns in the world, then your activism is a show and is worth less than nothing.

Do you want to “restore ecosystems nearby and support the restoration of those far away?” Watch this man at his work, he knows how to do that. It is his life’s endeavor. Lastly, before you accuse him of believing in “a hierarchy that is solely meant to distinguish humans from everyone and everything else.” maybe you should ask him what he thinks. and if all you do is eat vegetables and stick your nose in the air and consider yourself superior to everyone who doesn’t, then yes, I question your morals.

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CHRISTINANICKI G.
.4 years ago

thank you for sharing

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Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Zoe, for Sharing this!

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