In a bizarro Atlantic piece yesterday, James McWilliams, aggrieved vegan and longtime locavore critic, argued that allowing locavores to humanely slaughter their own meat will be their undoing, and that slaughter should be kept behind closed doors so we can all live safely in denial.
Now, however, food reformers are working to localize meat production as well. Central to this goal is deregulating an act necessary to bringing local animals to the local plate: the slaughter. Should this happen, should everyday citizens be entrusted to kill animals, the consequences would be dire -- not only for the animals, but for the locavore movement as a whole.
His argument is essentially this: these people are amateurs, too ignorant, and they will make mistakes -- mistakes that could lengthen the slaughter process, inflicting unnecessary pain upon the animal. Furthermore, allowing people to care for (and eventually slaughter) their own food animals will lead to wanton neglect. And since we have and love pets, the "disconnect" of slaughtering our own animals will make us go loco -- it's far better to have someone else do it, so we don't have to view the horror show.
It's a strange argument, to say the least.
Bad, Dumb, Loco
First of all, every endeavor, large or small, has its share of bad players. If you have problems with a hobby or industry, it's easy to put a spotlight on the mistakes and misbehavior of these people in order to attack it. But does one bad or inexperienced person make it inherently wrong? Of course not. What it means is that we need reasonable and enforceable regulations in place to effectively deal with the incompetent and cruel. It is not a reason to punish everybody. That would be foolish -- I mean, come on -- by that logic, we should ban pet ownership as well, because some owners neglect and abuse their animals.
Then there's that inconvenient fact that conscientious people can and do learn from their mistakes. My great grandmother could properly tend to a backyard full of chickens while blindfolded. Wearing roller skates. But it's not like she was born farming. She learned her skills, just as a lot of the people involved in urban farming are learning theirs today.
And the pseudo-psychological concern for people who have to slaughter their own animals? Ah yes, he's already gone down that road before with large scale farms. And sorry, but just because something makes you highly uncomfortable doesn't mean everybody else is suffering irreparable mental damage from it. I think the real term we're looking for here is projection.
Frankly, McWilliams' entire argument is just kind of, well, off, and maybe that's because he's not being entirely honest about where he's coming from. If he'd just come out and said "I'm one of those vegans who hates on urban farmers because they claim to be more ethical/humane... even though they still kill animals!" it would at least make a whole lot more sense (if for a much shorter article).
What I most took away from McWilliam's piece was less his own writing than that of the bloggers he linked to. To support his claims of neglect and suffering, he tried to use the words of locavore bloggers against them -- numerous examples of animal suffering caused by mistakes and mishaps in urban agriculture. But if one is to investigate these blogger farmers at any depth, this tactic fails in grand fashion, as the writing he leads us to reveals something both shocking and telling: these people, people who are supposedly a source of unending pain and misery for animals, really freaking care about their animals and their farms. Getting to virtually "know" these people does not do McWilliams' argument any favors, in fact it accomplishes the very opposite. It's pretty hard to read the words of somebody who is following their heart and personal ethics -- and willing to be honest about their mistakes -- and come away less sympathetic to them than their critic.
Pamela Alley of the Rabbit Industry Council was similarly disappointed by McWilliams' article and offered up some strong words of her own:
"This piece is yet another sign of the disconnect between farm and city, really. It gives no credit to those who have worked to learn proper humane slaughter techniques, and no thought to the idea that, once legalized, home slaughter can actually be taught without fear.
That would mean that people could openly ask the questions they need answers to, and have proper hands-on instruction in humane euthanasia for slaughter. It won't hurt a bit that they can also have questions about proper care and husbandry answered at the same time, either.
The more open we are to allowing people to produce their own food, the better the opportunities for education of those people become. That's a whole lot better than keeping it a deep, dark secret that should be sequestered and silent, for sure."
Sounds strangely... sensible. I think the locavores are gonna be just fine.