Monday, May 25, 2009

Defending The Defenseless

Anyone who knows me knows I have a heart for animals. And while I am partial to dogs, my respect for living creatures goes beyond the pets we've had in our home over the years. I am blown away by things I've learned about the innate sensibilities of so many animals I've seen on various Nature Channel programs. From the long-lived family loyalty of the elephant, to the "mate for life" philosophy of geese, I think we humans can learn a lot from these supposedly "wild" creatures.

I've lived most of my life in selective blissful ignorance as to the plight of animals outside the "pet" world. I go to the grocery store and select my bacon, chicken, turkey or beef without much regard to how the meat got there. I just haven't wanted to think about it.

Now I know, and I can't turn away. Before you read on, please know that I am not one of those extremist, crazy PETA members. I am moderate in my views on most issues and take a very common sense approach to all things environmental and animal-rights involved. But now, to me, preventing horrendous animal cruelty is common sense. I have recently chosen to stop eating meat, but I respect that not everyone shares my feelings. You can still be a meat-eater and promote an anti-cruelty platform. My decision is less about choosing to not eat meat, than choosing to no longer support the inhumane and unhealthy practice of factory farming where 95% of the meat we eat comes from.

Even if you are not an animal lover you should be concerned about the beef and poultry supply you consume. Many researchers believe that the high incidence of cancer in the U.S is not from consuming red meat alone, but consuming red meat pumped with chemicals, antibiotics and hormones being shot into these animals on factory farms. It is thought that today's 9 to 12 year-old kids are developing way too early because of these hormones they are consuming. Additionally, the filth in which these animals are living affects the meat you eat.

Many people have a vision of cows grazing in the fields for years on grain and grass, and chickens roaming, cage-free in the chicken yard until they are humanely slaughtered in a clean kill. Maybe if I knew I was getting my meat, eggs and poultry from a free range farm where animals were treated well I may go back to my carnivorous ways. But in good conscious now, I can't.

Back in the days of our ancestors, this is how animals in our food chain were raised. Cattle roamed the land. Chickens were fed on grain. Pigs hung out with their moms and piglet siblings. farmers knew naturally the benefits of this lifestyle. And they learned to understand and respect these living creatures for the intelligent living beings that they are. Most farmers from "the old days" had a love and respect for animals, even to end.

Many people who have spent time with pigs compare them to dogs because they are friendly, loyal, sensitive and intelligent. Considered smarter than 3-year-old human children, pigs in their natural habitat will spend hours playing, lying in the sun, and exploring their surroundings with their powerful sense of smell. Now, 97 percent of pigs in United States today are raised on factory farms.

On factory farms, pigs spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy warehouses, under constant stress from the intense confinement and denied everything that is natural to them. As piglets, they are taken away from their mothers when they are less than 1 month old; their tails are cut off, their teeth removed and they are castrated all without any pain relief. The reason for tail removal? It is a sensitivity device. Pigs won't move around with no tail, as bumping into something causes excrutiating pain. They are forced to stand still. For years. Then, after spending their entire lives in overcrowded pens, their hair is removed in boiling water before their slaughter. Recently, 60 minutes aired an undercover documentary on a factory farm, showing workers laughing at the pigs squealing in pain.

The situation for factory chickens and turkeys isn't much better. They live in cramped cages, beaks removed and shot full of hormones and antibiotics so they become fatter, never leaving a cage from birth to slaughter. The meat we consume from cows is also artificially enhanced. For veal, the calf is removed from its mother at birth, placed in a dark box and pumped full of stuff you wouldn't want to know about to produce their tender taste.

So you're thinking "I feel bad about all this but what can I do?"

You can support legislation to prevent the insane cruelty to animals. Currently, cows, pigs, chickens, and any animal on a farm is considered property and as such they have no protection from any cruelty laws. You can support local farms who practice free range farming and a cage free lifestyle for poultry.

Or, you can give up meat.

Yeah, I know, here comes the age old argument that in requiring standards business will suffer. Some factories could go out of business and jobs lost. There is always a price to pay for doing the right thing. Yes, adding requirement for a factory adhere to environmental standards, or a car manufacturing company to do the same will cost money. And enacting laws to protect animals...and our food supply will also cost money.

But the cost of doing nothing long-term is much higher.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

When You Have Kids Of Your Own...

"Someday you'll understand. Someday, when you have kids of your own". I remember hearing those words from my mom. And I remember the first time the revelation hit me that she was right.

It was one of those times when my daughter asked me if she could go somewhere and do something I just didn't feel good about. I don't remember the exact circumstance, but I remember the feeling. I said "no" and had to not only suffer through the tears and hurt of a disappointed child, but also the recollection of my mom's words.

I was never one of those "because I said so" parents. I always tried to explain my reasoning, even if they never understood it. I recall the many times I tried to change my mom or dad's mind after they said their initial "no". They too, would explain their reasoning, but it was never good enough for me. If they said they didn't want me hanging around this or that kid, I assured them of that child's character. If they said they didn't feel like I'd be safe, I'd give them enough facts to underwrite an insurance policy. Adult supervision? Heck, they probably hired security! But my mom's intuition was stronger than anything I was selling, and she would end it with..."someday you'll understand. Someday, when you have kids of your own."

End of discussion.

By the time I had kids of my own I figured there would be no pulling the wool over my eyes. Although I'm sure they did more times than I'd want to know. And there were so many times I said no, gave my reasons and after the words and the sales pitches and the arguments and finally the tears of disappointment subsided, I would say those words and realize that I guess it is inevitable: women do eventually turn into our mothers! Whether it was the toddler years, the elementary school years, the teens or into college, I've learned parenting can leave you feeling pretty unpopular with your kids sometimes. Those times when you say no when they want a yes. Those times when they want approval, and you can't give it. You want them to understand that it is out of a complete and total unequivacle love that you are making the decision you are.

At different times my girls have told me that I am their best friend, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind those words because I know they are expressing the bond we have, I tell them I don't really want to be their best friend. I tell them they have plenty of friends, but they only have one mother. I earned that title, I'm proud of that title, and it's the most important role I have in life; so being a friend can be a sidebar. I'm their mom, and someday they'll understand how important that is.

Someday...when they have kids of their own.