"…even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings…"

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

 

Prologue
Sound of a Battery Hen

 

 
You can tell me: if you come by the
North door, I am in the twelfth cage
On the left-hand side of the third row
From the floor; and in that cage
I am usually the middle one of eight or six or three.
But even without directions, you’d
Discover me. We have the same pale
Comb, clipped yellow beak and white or auburn
Feathers, but as the door opens and you
Hear above the electric fan a kind of
One-word wail, I am the one
Who sounds loudest in my head.

 
Over the past few months, I’ve written a series of posts on the themes of motherhood, maternal exploitation and deprivation, and the intersection of speciesism and sexism in Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals. Previously, I discussed examples of these vis-à-vis “pork production” and the “dairy industry.”

While Masson also explores the exploitation of sheep, goats, ducks and chickens in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, the mother-child bond between a mother hen and her chicks receives the most attention of these remaining groups – so I’ll conclude my discussion with a look at “egg production.”

Photo via Jeanette’s Ozpix

In previous posts, I noted how female non-human animals (like their human counterparts) are especially vulnerable to exploitation because of their reproductive systems. Their ability to give birth – oftentimes referred to as a “miracle” in humans – makes them particularly valuable as the producers of future “commodities.” Their value, unfortunately, does not lead to preferential treatment from their captors. Instead, they suffer especially brutal and prolonged abuse.

As such, females become machines, assembly lines, destined to produce milk, eggs, flesh – and a replacement generation of baby-, milk- and/or egg- machines:

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Certainly, we recognize that the theft of a mother’s child is an atrocity when the victims are human mothers and children. At the same time, we argue that non-human animals deserve no rights because they are mere brutes, “lesser” beings, ruled by instinct and instinct alone. Yet, what is the drive to reproduce and parent if not an evolutionary instinct? And if we follow the popular line of reasoning – i.e., animals are creatures of instinct – does it not stand to reason that the maternal instinct is especially powerful in non-human animals?

Many – if not most – non-veg*ns find it difficult to relate to non-human animals, who (supposedly) are so different from us. At a fundamental level, our differing modes of communication make cross-species communication more difficult, particularly when one species (that would be us) has little interest in communication (and mutual understanding and respect) to begin with. Even so, many humans live with “pets,” the majority being dogs and cats; and, as we’ve come to recognize certain expressions and non-verbal cues in these mammals, such empathy can be extended to other, similar species – such as cows and pigs.

(More below the fold…)

"Useless eaters"

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

While compiling my final post about the intersections of misogyny and speciesism – which are evident in Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals – I stumbled upon this memorable exchange, in the chapter on chickens. It doesn’t quite fit with the post I’m writing, but it’s such a powerful piece that I’d like to share it anyway.

In addition to highlighting another type of intersection, it also helps to illustrate how similar processes are at play in the animalization of humans and the objectification of animals (both humans and non).

I had wanted to see how broiler chickens are raised commercially for some time. Not easy to do. Such places are off-limits to the general public. Chicken suppliers do not want people to know the intimate details of how their cheap chicken comes to the dinner table. Recently, though, Tony – a friend of a friend of a friend – said he would let me visit his chicken farm, as long as I did not identify him with a last name or say exactly where the farm was. A few weeks ago, I drove to Tony’s. He took me to four shed-like barns secluded behind giant cypress shrubs, well out of view of the public.

“We are expected to keep them out of sight,” he said. […]

As I walked in, I was almost blinded by the sight of 25,000 pure white chickens, packed up right against one another as far as my eyes could see. […]

Every day, Tony explained, he walks through this stiflingly packed room and picks up the dead and the dying chickens and disposes of them. He eyed me warily.

“You’re not from one of those crazy animal rights groups, are you? Okay, then, well, I guess I can tell you, I also take out the ones that are not growing. It wouldn’t pay, would it, to keep them there? No profit, they are just useless eaters.

Masson places the following thought in parentheses, but it’s so important an observation, I think it deserves more. Instead of parentheses, bold type:

The phrase resonated for me. “Useless eater” was used by the Nazis to describe the inmates of psychiatric institutions whom the Nazis wanted dead, and indeed did kill.

(pages 91-93)

(More below the fold…)

"A cow is so much like a woman"

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

McDonald's - Austrian Teet

In which I take the metaphor a little too seriously.

A few months ago, I wrote about how the female members of non-human animal species suffer from especially egregious and prolonged abuse at the hands of their exploiters.

With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Using excerpts from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals for illustration, I explained how this process unfolds in “pork” production. Under the headline “Horizontal Women” (a play on one nickname for pigs, “horizontal humans,” so earned because they are so much like us), I emphasized how female pigs’ reproductive organs are turned against them, and the mother-child bond, severed and exploited, all so that Humans can continue to enjoy cheap “bacon”:

Breed, gestate, deliver, nurse, grieve, repeat: this is a sow’s lot. The whole damn “pork” subdivision of the megatheocorporatocracy rests on the female pig’s sexual organs – in her ability to give birth to the next generation of porcine “property.”

The process is much the same with cows: in a dairy operation, mother cows (“dairy” cows) undergo a continuous cycle of forced pregnancy and birth, followed by the theft of their children and milk. Breed, gestate, deliver, nurse, grieve, repeat.

Photo via Yamanize

A “dairy” cow’s children are taken from her shortly after birth, “ideally” within 24 hours; daughters may become “dairy” cows, like their mothers, or perhaps “beef,” while sons are destined to become either “veal” or “beef.” An estimated one million “veal” calves and 35 million “beef” cattle are killed annually, in the United States alone. About 9 million cows are confined in U.S. “dairy” operations in any given year. A cow’s natural lifespan can be 25 years or more, however, “dairy” cows are milked to excess within 3 to 4 years, after which they’re “retired” into ground beef.

As with pigs, mother cows and their children suffer immensely in factory farms. Their suffering is oftentimes tied to their status as females and youngsters – a quality which transcends species boundaries.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Pig Who Sang to the Moon by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (2003)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I know I offered a semi-review of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon a few weeks ago, but I wanted to write something more appropriate for Amazon, Library Thing and the like. Posting positive reviews of animal-friendly books, television shows and films is a good way to help such media garner more exposure and business – and support the team, too! As is voting for positive review of animal-friendly materials – hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (2003)

A beautifully tragic look at “food” animals

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My first introduction to Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s work was in high school, when I read his 1996 book, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. At the time, I was a newbie vegetarian, just becoming involved in animal advocacy. When Elephants Weep helped validate my decision to go veg, and reinforced my resolve to stay that way.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I picked up Masson’s latest ethology tome, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, on a whim. Remembering his earlier work, I expected a beautiful, brilliant, touching look at the inner lives and experiences of farmed animals. I was not disappointed.

In The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, Masson lays out the evidence – from the highly scientific to the folksy anecdotal – which points to a wide range of emotional experiences in farmed animals, including love, grief, sorrow, joy, empathy, altruism, fear, trust, friendship, contentment and the like. Far from being unfeeling brutes, the billions of animals bred, farmed and slaughtered for human consumption (10 billion annually in the U.S. alone) have complex emotional and intellectual lives. Some of their emotions – such as the strong maternal instinct – mirror our own, while other emotions and intellectual abilities far surpass those of humans. For example, when suffering egregious cruelties (such as those found on modern factory farms), non-human animals can’t always identify the source of or reason for their pain and abuse. This serves to heighten their fear, such that some species of non-human animals may actually have a greater capacity for suffering than humans. Clearly, this could – should – have profound implications vis-à-vis our treatment of non-human animals, particularly those of the “farmed” variety.

Masson structures the book so that each chapter covers a different species of farmed animals: pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and ducks, in that order. He juxtaposes information about the animals’ emotional lives – thoughts, feelings, sentience, capacity for joy and sorrow, etc. – with the brutal reality for the vast majority of these “owned” animals. Treated like milk and meat machines, dehumanized and objectified, their individuality obscured and their needs ignored, farmed animals suffer the worst of humanity’s whims and wants.

(More below the fold…)

Horizontal Women

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Last week, I started reading Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals. Well, not so much “reading” as “listening to the audiobook.” (Hey, how else am I supposed to occupy myself while I clean the house?) I read Masson’s When Elephants Weep a long time ago – back when I was a newbie vegetarian – and enjoyed it immensely. I figured I’d like The Pig Who Sang to the Moon as well, and so far, so good.

Masson structured the book so that each chapter covers a different species of farmed animals: pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and ducks, in that order. He juxtaposes information about the animals’ emotional lives – thoughts, feelings, sentience, capacity for joy and sorrow, etc. – with the brutal reality for the vast majority of these “owned” animals. Treated like milk and meat machines, dehumanized and objectified, their individuality obscured and their needs ignored, farmed animals suffer the worst of humanity’s whims and wants.

Though I’m only about a third of the way in, a theme which keeps resurfacing is the extra-special abuses (the collective) we mete out to the female members of the species. With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.

Certainly, we recognize that the theft of a mother’s child is an atrocity when the victims are human mothers and children. At the same time, we argue that non-human animals deserve no rights because they are mere brutes, “lesser” beings, ruled by instinct and instinct alone. Yet, what is the drive to reproduce and parent if not an evolutionary instinct? And if we follow the popular line of reasoning – i.e., animals are creatures of instinct – does it not stand to reason that the maternal instinct is especially powerful in non-human animals?

100 million pigs are birthed, raised and slaughtered for “pork” annually – just in the United States. 100 million piglets are stolen from their mothers. Mothers who, without a doubt, grieve for their disappeared babies. These poor mothers are forced to relive the trauma over and over, as each new litter is stolen from them. This is what I mean when I say that a female’s – a mother’s – suffering must surely be the most painful to bear.

(More below the fold…)