Monday, May 16, 2011

The Roles We Assign

Two articles I stumbled across this morning had nothing to do with veganism, but everything to do with our moral confusion when it comes to how we perceive and use non-human animals:

About a Donkey

The first article ("Iraqi donkey finally in U.S.") is about a donkey, adopted as a mascot and named "Smoke" by retired Col. John Folsom's Marine unit stationed at a base in Iraq in 2008. When his unit left, the remaining Marines at the base continued to care for the donkey; once those Marines left, the Army soldiers at the base handed the donkey off to a local sheik who proceeded to neglect the former mascot. Folsom and some others found out and

a massive effort spanning continents and featuring the help of military officers, government officials, foreign journalists and many others [ensured, with t]he Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International rais[ing] money to cover the thousands of dollars it cost to transport Smoke to the United States.
And how did Folsom, his friends and family and "members of the local horse set" celebrate Smoke's arrival in the U.S.? Folsom's
friends Debbie and Alan Nash hosted the welcome-to-America party on their polo horse farm"[where t]hick New York strip steaks and pork ribs sizzled on the grill.
Folsom's efforts were not lost on assembled guests, who expressed their admiration of his beautiful gesture: “'It's wonderful they rescued this donkey,' said Carl Cox, who goes fox hunting with Debbie Nash and came to see the donkey".

After the rough life Smoke's had and what was surely the somewhat traumatic event of being transported halfway around the world, one would think that the rest of his days would involve some peace and quiet, but Folsom has other plans for the donkey:
He'll soon start his new job, providing comfort to veterans at Take Flight Farms. The Omaha nonprofit uses horses to provide equine therapy to military veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But first he has a mini publicity tour ahead of him. Several national television networks have expressed interest in featuring Smoke, so Folsom was planning to drive into Manhattan on Monday morning, 20-foot horse trailer in tow, so his celebrity donkey could make the interview rounds.

Once you peel apart the layers of animal use in the article, Smoke's rescue reeks more of a public relations event than of an action taken with the goal of providing a non-human animal with a decent life. Rather than permit the donkey to live out the rest of his life peacefully, it seems that he'll continue to exist on whatever terms set out for him by the humans who call him "property".


A Huffington Post blurb I read this morning involved what's apparently become a scandal concerning the television show "Top Chef Canada". The show, a non-vegan cooking competition of sorts, involves the use of any number of animal products on any given episode. Tonight's episode, however, will feature one of the show's contestants using horse meat, and this seems to have outraged people around the world. Bloggers have been a-blogging about it like mad and a "Boycott Top Chef -- Protect the Horses" page has even been set up on Facebook.

Why are people so outraged? Here's some insight from the comments left in response to the Huffington Post article:

"That's a fine animal which can benefit humans in so much better ways, Why don't people get that?" -- Jaeshik
"I do not believe in eating companion animals or recreation animals, but that notwithsta­nding much if not most US horsemeat is simply not safe for human consumptio­n." -- Marybeth Kuznick

"These horses aren't purpose bred for meat, there is no traceabili­ty in place and no regulation­s as to the mediciatio­n they are given. These are lesson horses, dressage, jumpers, ropers, trail riding, backyard, racing, carriage, used up mennonite, police, rodeo, RECREATION­AL HORSES. I will never purposely eat horsemeat, but if they
were actually raised like beef from the time a foal hits the ground, including ear tags, production records, traceabili­ty, etc and handled in a more humane way to slaughter then it would be more palatable. What RIGHT does the pleasure horse industry have to suddenly turn their horse into human food when they're done with them? What RIGHT do they have to be able to sell their horses as meat for human consumpion on an honour system?" -- LJ60
So on the one hand, some see horses as having a different "purpose"or as having a multitude of better uses for humans than that of being served up on a plate: They deserve to be a different kind of property. On the other hand, those who seem to view any non-human's flesh as fair game are mostly concerned with what they see as the danger of consuming an animal not raised from the ground up to end up on said plate. Many of the Huffington Post comments (and other comments I've seen online) in response to the story describe the inability to ascertain the types and amounts of medications administered to the horse throughout his life. This of course perpetuates the myth that the flesh of animals raised from "cradle to grave" for human consumption is free from potentially dangerous chemicals.

Unfortunately, the few who do seem to point out (and rightly so) that eating the flesh of a horse is no morally different than eating the flesh of a pig or cow seem to be the "expand your palate" types, suggesting that people loosen up and try it, along with other bits and secretions from any number of other non-human animals not usually viewed as "food" in the West.

(Me? I'm just waiting for a PETA press release proclaiming that horse consumption is somehow more markedly "inhumane" than other forms of animal consumption this week .)

Want to spread some more clarity and consistency in how we view non-human animals and how we choose whether or not to use them? If you're not vegan, go vegan; if you are, talk to others about going vegan today!


Tim said...

WOW. I've seen some really strange articles, that one wins though. So many different standards and rolesin place. One of the best I saw was guys justifying fox hunting (with prizes like a 4WD vehicle) in Australia by playing on the damage a fox could do to one of their cattle.

Kathleen said...

Speaking of roles, it is probably only a matter of time before PETA announces its PETAmate of the month.

veganelder said...

We human animals don't need no stinking reasons for what we do! But if we have to have them we will make them up with great rapidity and prolificness...and they don't have to make sense neither!!

Just think, if we didn't have human languages, our incoherence would be harder to detect.