Should animals be off the menu?

At the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne in March of this year six well known and well informed individuals, three on each side, debated the proposition, Animals Should Be Off the Menu.

The remarks of one of the speakers, Philip Wollen, a former vice president of Citibank turned founder of the Kindness Trust, are now a popular video on uTube. His words, more passionate, emotive statements than arguments, probably did much more than the reasoned, 4 point presentation of his fellow panelist, the well known animal rights activist, Peter Singer, to persuade the audience to vote as they did in large majority at the end of the session in favor of the proposition.

“Animals,” Wollen said, “must be off the menu because tonight they are screaming in terror in slaughterhouses,… In our [shared] capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear … is a boy…. By 2048, all our fisheries will be dead…. Every year 10,000 species are wiped out  because of one, — us…. Animals are not just other species, they are other nations, and we murder them at our peril…. If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we wouldn’t be having this debate tonight.”

I learned about the debate from my daughter, who sent me the link to Wollen’s video. And she is right, —these are powerful, persuasive words. Who wouldn’t want to bring the “screaming” to a halt. But the debate was poorly conceived. At the end people were most probably voting against factory farms, and who isn’t against factory farms?

And if this was the case, that the real subject on everyone’s mind was the factory farm, there should have been a panel there of those who would and could defend the factory farm. Led by Arthur Perdue maybe?

As it was the debate was kind of silly. And I wonder why Peter Singer whose work I have always respected accepted his place on the affirmative side at the side of Philip Wollen. He ought to have known that anything he might say, if listened to in that atmosphere, would have been overshadowed by the extravagant statements of his co-panelist.

In fact there were serious and responsible arguments on the other side but these arguments were never fully addressed by those like Wollen and Singer whose positions are based on their belief that animals are like us, sentient beings that ought to be respected and treated as such.

But what about it, what would I say in regard to the proposition that animals should be taken off the menu? My first reaction would be no, but not because I’m a lover of red meat, or because I like to see animals slaughtered. No, it is rather that by keeping animals on the menu, and this of course is ironic, we’re keeping them alive, or you might say giving them a life.

For if ever they were off the menu, as cats and dogs in the West, who would take care of them? Would they be allowed to wander? How would they live? Would they prey on one another? They would certainly die out very quickly, and as one of the panelists said, go extinct, for there’s no way they could support their present numbers.

Perhaps the discussion ought to have been about having more “basses-cours,” as our family did in Santa Fe when we raised in our own backyard chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, and goats. A debate proposition might be that the basses-cours replace the factory farms.

Two ways of killing our animals. For we did slaughter them. But for a time they did have a life with us, and we a life with them, a life that we and they at least seemed to enjoy. And death when it came was quick and without suffering.

But as I think of it hasn’t that solution already been tried, many times. In the basses-cours about the King’s castle and the Lords’ châteaux. Wouldn’t that be a bit as it was in feudal times, when only the rich, or those with enough land of their own, could have meat on the table?

And in fact that’s the way it is now in many parts of the world and in fact most of our well intentioned animal and environmental protective measures, such as those advocated by Philip Wollen, Peter Singer et al. will if enacted be paid for by the poor, or those who at present most profit from the factory farms and the houses of animal slaughter.

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