Lifelong lessons are most often learned by watching and emulating the actions of an individual that one respects. From the time I was a small child, I was shown and taught by everyone that mattered in my little world to act respectfully toward all people and all animals, and especially toward those creatures that couldn't do for themselves and were counting on us to do for them, no matter whether they were pets or livestock.
It is my belief, learned through long observation, that farm animals are fully sentient beings. They can think, they can plan and remember, they can have fun and experience joy and pain, and fear. In short, I believe farm animals have feelings, and I believe it's important to acknowledge this for their well being as well as a measure of my own humanity. We need to treat them well and we need to care for them because I believe that feeling creatures respond to care and understand empathy. I believe we need to continue showing care and empathy right up to the end, taking all measures possible to ensure that their end is as painless and as free of fear as we can possibly make it.
I believe we need to do this for a whole host of reasons, not least because it's the right thing to do but also perhaps because the saying, "We are all one" is closer to the truth than many choose to believe. I believe we underestimate animal's abilities a good deal of the time, and I think we do so because to acknowledge that animals can do, think and act in ways similar to us tends to make many among us very uncomfortable, as it probably should. Unfortunately, it's easier to rationalize and justify treating animals poorly if they are "things" or "objects" that are very distant from us. I personally believe that the gap between what animals can do and what we can do is disarmingly narrow a good deal of the time, and I think most people who spend their lives tending after animals would agree with me in their heart of hearts.
I believe that whenever possible, animals ought to experience what it's like to fully be an animal, and it's my belief, again gained from long observation, that animals are usually happiest and healthiest when this is the case although it is also true that animals are infinitely adaptable to a variety of circumstances. This adaptability means that it's often true that animals seem none the worse for wear so long as their treatment and the conditions in which they are raised are both good. Still, it is no exaggeration to say that I regularly ask myself whether or not I would like to be an animal in circumstance X, and I base my own decision making for my own pets and livestock on the (hopefully) well thought through answers I come up with.
Seemingly in spite of my deep set beliefs about treating animals well, I choose to use animal products as food with a high degree of regularity in my life. Perhaps it's no paradox at all. I learned early on that only life feeds life, and whether that life is a carrot or a cow, something had to die in order that I might eat and live. A much more valid set of concerns for me revolves around ideas about how the animal lived and in what manner the animal died.
For those who argue that a carrot isn't a sentient being with feelings, etc. I give you the wisdom of my old grandfather with his eighth grade education when he answered this query from me when I was small with a very serious and very unanswerable question of his own, " Says who ?" This comment was not given in flippancy and I've thought about his answer for thirty years. Neither is the following observation given in flippancy. Who truly knows whether or not in it's own way a carrot feels and thinks more or less than a cow does. The only point we may be sure of here is that a carrot looks and acts a whole lot less like we do than does a cow, although in order to feed us both are equally dead.
I'll be interested to read other's thoughts and viewpoints on this contentious topic.
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