Backyard Butchering: Loving Animals to Death

Yesterday I received the following comment to my post, All Meat is the Product of Cruelty and Exploitation… “How can you argue with those whose response is: ‘In the natural world animals kill other animals for food and in a most painful and cruel way and if I choose to raise my animals on my own property allowing them to live in a free and natural manner just as they would live in the wild that only differs in that they have shelter from the elements should they choose to use it and they are not kept in pens or tied but in large open barns and that at some point they will be killed as quickly and humanely as possible to be eaten by my family and the excess sold to others. I love animals but choose to eat them as well. I believe that how I treat them and kill them is better than they would live in the wild and their deaths much less horrible than being ripped apart alive as is the case in the wild’. What can you say to that?”

…to which I replied: First of all, it sounds like someone has been watching too many “nature” programs that revel in prolonged scenes of wildlife predation. Most cases of natural predation happen much faster; in many cases the prey are killed instantly.

In my book, Exposing the Big Game, I wrote about a wolf kill I witnessed in Yellowstone: “Suddenly they tore out after a young mule deer who had risked leaving the cover of the forest for the lure of an open meadow. The inexperienced doe didn’t stand a chance against the incredible, greyhound-like speed of the determined wolves. One quickly caught her by the hind leg, bringing her down, and a split second later the other had her by the throat. In less than a heartbeat, a living, breathing deer was reduced to a lifeless carcass.” Not a pretty sight, but much more the norm than the horrible scenarios depicted for entertainment on cable T.V. shows.

The hypothetical argument you spelled out (above) begins by raising the naturalist fallacy, which I covered in the post, Top Ten Retorts to Hunters’ Fallacies (just substitute hunter for animal farmer/rancher):

# 9) Animals kill other animals, so we can too.
That’s an example of what’s known as the naturalistic fallacy—the notion that any behavior that can be found in nature is morally justifiable. But wolves and other natural predators need to hunt to survive, humans don’t—for them it’s nothing more than a thrill kill. Human beings have moved beyond countless other behaviors such as cannibalism or infanticide, so why can’t some people tear themselves away from hunting?

A quote from author Robert Franklin Leslie adds to this:
“It is not important that a hawk takes a robin, that a bear robs a grouse nest. That is Nature’s own salient way even if we don’t understand it…Wilderness life has gone on that way since the beginning, and the prey has withstood the predation. But when man steps in…the very soul of Nature cringes for having endowed one of her creatures with intelligence disproportionate to responsibility.”

Backyard animal farming is nothing but the revival of Old World animal husbandry, from which modern-day factory farming is an unfortunate upshot. Both the factory farmer and the backyard butcher breed animals for the sole purpose of killing them when the time is ripe. They don’t raise the animals just because they love them and want to give them a good life, and raising them does nothing to eliminate any suffering that might go on in the wild between natural predator and prey (unless a person’s intent is to eliminate all natural relationships between wild animals, and there would be a lot of suffering on the predator’s part as the human strives to eliminate them).

Killing farmed animals “quickly and humanely” is easier said than done. At some point the animal knows that the human they trusted intends to hurt or kill them, as they probably would have seen it happen to one or more of their herd-mates. And the act of ending a healthy animal’s life so you can eat their flesh is cruel no matter how you slice it, especially since people do not have to eat meat to live a long, healthy life. And in fact, a lifetime of meat-eating is unhealthy for the human primate. Also from the Top Ten list mentioned above:

8) Humans are carnivores, look at our canine teeth.
Human teeth are designed primarily for chewing plant-based foods, like our primate cousins do. Humans “fangs” are teensy compared to those of gorillas, who are strict vegetarians and only show them to appear fierce. Also, our intestinal tract is long to allow for the slow digestion of high-fiber foods, while true carnivores have short intestines as needed to process meat and dispose of the resulting toxic wastes quickly.

7) Wild game (or free-range) meat is health food.
All animal flesh is rife with cholesterol throughout, and the protein in animal flesh is acidic, causing bone calcium losses as it is metabolized. According to the American Dietetic Association, a diet high in animal products has been linked to obesity, diabetes, colon and other cancers, osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones, diverticular disease, hypertension and coronary artery disease. New studies have found that another culprit in causing heart disease may be a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria in the intestines after people eat meat.

Again, wolves and other predators need to eat meat to survive—modern humans do not. Natural predators don’t hate their prey, but they don’t pretend to love them either.

Forget the 4-H Club—you can’t really claim to “love” an animal you plan to someday kill, butcher and consume.


23 thoughts on “Backyard Butchering: Loving Animals to Death

  1. All their excuses are maddening, sadly so, but this one is exemplary. So ludicrously stating: “We’re above animals morally & intellectually, so we have the right to use them in any way we want as long as we label it ‘humane’ and wear serene expressions piously on our faces while we do the not-so-pleasant deeds.” Then out of the other side of their mouths, “We’re only animals after all, no different than them, and they kill (often brutally!) to eat so it’s okay for us too!” Even though we’re better off free from animal foods, especially as 7 billion people now, with all the cruelty and environmental detriments inherent in that. How many times can these people be exposed to the truth and continue to deny it? Thank you for this excellent effort again to have it sink in to their minds, Jim, your patience is admirable.

      • I’ve run out of patience with a certain virulent type though. Most people don’t use those horrible, cruel, dishonest arguments, it takes an especially malignant person to carry on so hatefully, badgering vegans obsessively like they do; that smacks of industry connections. About the only excuse I’d use for eating animals way back in the past was that everyone did it so my stopping wouldn’t stop the abuse and killing, which was BS of course and I sort of knew it. It stops the abuse and killing for me, and helping to spread the message stops it for many others as well, about 400 million who identify as vegans worldwide now (from 1% 10 years ago to about 6% now).

      • 6%, not bad. That about equals the percentage of hunters nowadays. The question now is who will lure the most middle-of-the-roaders (the complicit 88%) over to their side. Judging by how many new “reality” snuff shows on T.V. today, they’re the ones with $ behind them…

  2. I often tell these folks “I hold myself to a different standard than that to which I hold a wild obligate carnivore — don’t you?” Obviously, we know that we don’t have to eat meat to be healthy (though every omnivore seems to “know someone” who “almost died” after giving up meat, it seems), and we know that eating meat causes suffering — this differentiates us from “the wild”. I usually tell people the above, and that I feel that I don’t have the right to kill an animal just because I think he tastes good (which is what it comes down to). As for grappling with these questions before giving up meat — I really never questioned the “wrongness” of it — which I think I always realized on some level — but it’s difficult to give up animal products when, culturally, they’re everywhere, and let’s face it — a veggie burger or tofu don’t really taste THAT good. It takes discipline and commitment — and I think that is the hard part (and yes, there IS delicious vegan food, but it’s not conveniently available at the drive-thru window). The backyard butchers seem to think they’re heroes of some sort simply because they have not partaken in factory farmed meat — as if somehow a happier life (and that is relative, of course) somehow absolves them of the need to justify the killing itself. They DO spout the “circle of life” crap rather endlessly, from what I’ve observed…

      • Yes, that’s often my argument as well. I’ve encountered this so often it would be comical if animals weren’t harmed. They actually wax poetic about “participating” hands on in nature by killing, belittling those of us who choose to be mere, lowly “observers.” But the minute it’s their hide on the line, not that of their animal victim, they sing an entirely different tune. It reminds me of the hunter a few years back who was attacked by a deer, a buck he thought he’d killed but who rose up to defend himself. The hunter called it “15 seconds of hell.” 15 seconds. That’s all he could handle, and barely. The amount of hell he’d personally inflicted on other animals in the course of his lifetime of hunting was entirely lost on him.

      • Of course it was lost on him–he’s the only one that matters. And their notion of “participating” in nature is a joke. A “participant” doesn’t carry a cell phone to call 911 if anything goes wrong, or a vehicle to take him or her home at the end of the day.

    • The backyard butchers are “kinder” than factory farmers in the same way rape is “kinder” than cultural oppression of women. In other words, they go out of their way to commit an act that is too horrific even for an average person who participates in systematic oppression of some social group, an act that is considered unappealing even by your average sexist or speciesist. It’s actually more psychologically disturbing, in my opinion, because they make that extra effort to be cruel, while the systematic injustice against non human animals (in form of cultural significance of meat eating, for instance) doesn’t take any effort at all (as long as you remain blissfully ignorant, of course).

      So you can go out with your meat eating friends and order a meal that contains animal parts, without an ounce of awareness. It’s that easy. But even in our murder-happy western culture it takes something more to torture or kill someone with your own hands. You have to be AWARE of your action, you have to KNOW what you’re doing. It’s impossible to distance yourself from the act, or separate the cause from its consequence, as the entire process plays out in front of your own eyes. And you know, you’re the cause. It’s not the same. It’s far more perverted.

      There’s hope for the oblivious meat-eater, s/he can “awake” when faces with reality (after all, this is how most people become vegans), but what to do with someone who tortures and kills for the sake of it, be it backyard butchers or hunters? It’s not like they understand moral arguments, or mind the sight of blood on their hands…

  3. “Forget the 4-H Club—you can’t really claim to “love” an animal you plan to someday kill, butcher and consume.”
    Reminded me of a lady who sold wool scarves etc from the sheep raised. She said they did eat some of them. I never went back to her although the scarves were really knit beautifully. Unfortunately, we can’t wear wool either because of how the sheep are treated and shipped live to far away lands by Australians. Some of the stories are hair raising.

  4. This talk of “loving to death” sadly brings to mind my own experiences with my father bullying me while I was (and still am) suffering from severe depression and justifying it to himself as “tough love”

    I know the relevance is tenuous but I had to get that out there.

  5. The fact being that I could keep chickens under my sink and still call them “free range” destroys any excuse using the happy flesh argument.

  6. I became vegan before the word was invented. One day I saw my grandmother with an ax. She hacked off a chicken head in front of me when I was a wee girl. The headless chicken chased me around the yard while I screamed and my grandmother laughed. A few hours later that chicken corpse was on my dinner plate. My grandmother asked Dear Girl- whatever is wrong with your appetite?

  7. The only things I wanted to eat after that was canned spinach and rolls. I had one hell of a time with my meat eating animal butchering family. They also were cattle ranchers. They were also hunters. They are also all dead. Thank gawd for small favors.

  8. Pingback: Backyard Butchering: Loving Animals to Death | Our Compass

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