Temple Grandin: Savant or Professional Killer?

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? 

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Sarah Ellissa Markey
Sarah Markey3 years ago

I never realised she ate meat...

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Hey, Jude............took ya' THREE YEARS to come up with that load of nonsense, did it? Good job.

Jude Arsenault
Jude Arsenault4 years ago

temple grandin is a sick psychopathic symbol of a sick and psychopathic society

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Wow, Hannah, nothing like appointing yourself as "God", is there? Who are you to say that Dr. Grandin needs to be changed? Maybe YOU should be changed to at least notice that this article is over 3 years old.

Hannah Scrivener
Hannah Scrivener4 years ago

Everyone unwilling to be changed must find a way to justify their behaviors to function. I'd say she fits in that group.

Kathryn B.
Kathryn B.5 years ago

It isn't necessary for Temple Grandin to overthink the problems of humane slaughter. It is only important that she saw a need and did something about it.

As long as animals are used for food we have the duty and obligation to make sure that no suffering is involved. Our slaughterhouses are still cruel places but some of the ideas that Temple put into effect have made the process easier for the animals.

We need to do more. Some of the people that work at the auctions and the processing plants who are charged with the job of handling the animals are insensitive and cruel. The videos of such inhumane treatment are proof that we have not even begun to make life and death easier for farm animals.

I don't know why anyone would criticize Temple Grandin, she is one of the few people who have done anything about this. She should be proud of her work and does not need to apologize or explain her motives to anyone.

Marg Wood
Marg W5 years ago

How would you choose to die? Peacefully or terrified knowing you were going to die! Would you prefer your last hrs. or minutes to be peaceful or full of terror! Would the animals still be terrorized before they die without Temple Grandin?

Michael B.
Michael B5 years ago

Dr. Grandin has gifts in a defined area. Caution should be exercised in thinking she has insight beyond them. She was once asked why she is not a vegetarian if she is concerned for the plight of animals. Her response was she was gluten intolerant, otherwise she would be. She might as well to have said because as vest has no sleeves. There are many Vegans on a gluten free diet that thrive.

Fiona Dudley
Fiona Dudley5 years ago

My first "awareness" of cruel animal farming and slaughterhouses came from Temple Grandin, a long time ago when she was just starting out. I credit her for bringing that awareness to many people. She helped to make the topic of understanding where & how we get our grocery store meats - and the methods involved - a widely discussed issue.
I do not believe her work makes us complacent. Quite the opposite.
Surely her work is one step in the right direction.

Betty Schueler
Betty Schueler5 years ago

I think Temple is terrific. Regardless of whether you are for or against eating animal flesh, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of animals are slaughtered everyday. If someone can make that process less painful and frightening, while the debate rages on, then how can that be anything but admirable?