Sunday, September 18, 2011

Would you like to be born knowing you would be murdered?

In the recent Kathy Rudy post against veganism, there are lots of issues I would like to address. But most of them are of a factual nature, and not as terribly interesting to respond to point-by-point (however, if you have any particular questions, let me know). I do, however, want to address and think through one point.

At one point in her post, Rudy argues:
The question of killing gets more complex, but if you could have a good life on pasture for many years and enjoyed the gifts of the world, only to be killed as you reached middle age, would you choose that? Or would you choose no life at all to begin with?
Before we get to these questions that Rudy raises, I want to address this absurdity that any animal, even those who live on family farms as opposed to factory farms, reach middle age. I know that historically, before cows were fed on corn in the US but were raised on grass, they were usually slaughtered between 5-7 years of age (except breeder cows and cows used for milk). Now, the average lifespan of a cow not killed is about 20-25 years. The oldest cow recorded lived to somewhere in her mid-40s. To compare to humans, based on the life expectancy in the US, it would be as if you were slaughtered at the age of 19 and a half. Still a teenager, if just barely. But far, far away from middle-age. And while this is talking about the average age that cows were killed in the United States from about the mid-19th century and before, it doesn't necessarily talk about the practices of family farms here currently. I will say that I know a lot of family farmers, and I don't know any that let their animals live into middle-age. The chickens on polyface farms, for example, are allowed to live 42 days.
So, if Rudy's question was reflecting reality, it would be something like this: If you could have a life that includes being ripped away from your family, friends, and children on a whim; if you could have a life that included castration, partial removal of other parts of your body, potentially being branded; if you could have that life and know you will be slaughtered from childhood to late adolescence, would you take it? Rather than having no life at all? Because that is the question that Rudy should be asking. And this is from the conditions from some of the better farms for animals. This is as good as animal production gets. And that is why something like veganism remains essential.

But let us return to Rudy's original question, again. What if we were to get things really a lot better for animals. What if we allowed animals to live to middle age, and what if we didn't engage in so much torture and obvious disavowal of animal sociality, would that be okay? First, let's bracket that we tend to always go back to the worse way to treat beings we plan on eating. Let us pretend this fiction is possible: Would you choose that life as opposed to no life at all? Would you choose to bring a child into this world knowing they will be slaughtered after living only half their life? I don't have answers, but I am seriously curious.