Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Don't They Want Us to See It?

Time to start asking some difficult questions: What, exactly, are the manufacturers of animal-based products trying to hide? Why don't they want us to see the inside of factory farms and other production facilities that involve animals? Why are so many states trying to pass legislation outlawing videotaping inside of meat and egg and dairy factories?

So many "whys?", so few answers.

That's because powerful forces in our society understand the truth of what Sir Paul McCartney once said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian."

Many of us vegans have heard that quote again and again. But stop and think about McCartney's words. Though they may seem hackneyed due to overexposure, they retain a profound truth that speaks to our times.

Consider the following story from The Atlantic:
Next time you drive through Iowa farm country, you may want to put away your camera. Earlier this year, the state proposed a new piece of legislation, House File 589, that would make it a crime to videotape, audio record, or in any way document a crop or animal facility without the prior consent of the owner. Anyone who produces, possesses, or distributes an unauthorized recording would face hefty fines, jail time, or both. The proposed law, an amendment to Iowa Code 717A, passed the Iowa House by a wide margin. It recently stalled in the Senate, but it will most likely be taken up again months from now in the state's next legislative session: as Iowa Representative Jim Lykam recently noted, "I'm sure that somebody will try to see if they can resurrect it." Most importantly, the underlying issue—industrial agriculture's fear that activists will continue to expose its practices—hasn't gone away.

Once upon a time, when people took pride in their work, they weren't afraid to show off their talents on the assembly line. Archives across North America contain film footage of workers assembling cars, producing textiles, building airplanes. On the Science Channel, there's a popular TV show called How It's Made that takes you through each step in the production of everything from duvets to banjos.

You'll notice if you ever see an episode of How It's Made, there workers aren't the least bit reluctant to let the outside world see their craft. They're happy to let the cameras come in and film what they do. They take pride in their work. They actually want the outside world to see what it is they do to make a living.

It was the late, great Studs Terkel - social commentator and oral historian extraordinaire - who once wrote: "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

Terkel's words are applicable to so many professions. But you'll notice this magical and endearing quality of work - specifically, taking pride in one's work - is missing in the production of animal-based commodities.

It is no accident that there has been a rash of efforts across North America to ban videotaping inside of factory farm facilities and other industries that use animals in production. Why? Because the people that run these businesses understand the truth of what Paul McCartney said about glass walls.

Too bad they don't understand about what Studs Terkel said about the human need to pursue "a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

When you're in a line of work that involves so much death - whether it's slashing the jugular veins and carotid arteries of pigs, cramming hens into battery cages, or stealing baby calves away from mothers to keep the milk and veal supplies flowing - how can you possibly find anything life-affirming about your actions?

Anytime a living being is turned into a commodity - whether that living being happens to be human or a non-human animal - don't be surprised when production itself becomes a stark and alienating and ultimately violent process. And don't be surprised when powerful forces, the bosses, owners, investors, distributors, etc. - in other words, the men and women that keep the gears of the system oiled - resort to draconian means to prevent us from learning the truth.

Make no mistake: Truth is the most radical thing imaginable. Radical simply means means root. To be a radical doesn't mean you're a fringe extremist or a member of Al Qaeda or an apologist for violence. On the contrary, to be a radical simply means that you're someone who wants to get to the root of the problem in order to fix it. There is something deeply liberating about tearing down the walls of denial and showing people the truth within. That is the nature of radicalism.

The process of freeing ourselves from the shackles of tyranny begins when each of us decides we're not going to buy into the lies anymore. We're not going to put fantasy above fact. We're not going to let dogma trump the pursuit of truth. And - most importantly - we're not going to let sentient beings continue to suffer.

If the producers of meat and dairy and leather and fur and other animal-based products really do take pride in what they produce, and aren't afraid of the truth, they should place large, panoramic windows in their factory farms. Let the sunshine in. Let the animals get a glimpse of the blue sky before their short lives end. And let people on the outside glimpse into the window to see the truth.

This will never happen. Instead, the managers and foremen and "facility coordinators" will triple and quadruple check job applications. They'll ask newspaper reporters that want to come inside whether they're vegetarians. They'll search people for micro-videocameras and, in some instances, install metal detectors. In short, they'll do everything they can to protect the secrecy of what it is they do.

Consider those two quotes I mentioned earlier:

"If slaughterhouses had glass walls..."

"Work is about a search for daily meaning."

What happens in the slaughterhouse is of profound significance. It has layers and layers of meaning. But it's a meaning that those who profit from this misery would rather that we - the folks outside the slaughterhouses - not try to understand.


  1. What a great quote from Studs Terkel (one of my long-time heroes). For readers that want a source that exposes clearly what goes on behind closed doors there is probably not a better book than Gail Eisnitz's: Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect and Inhumane Treatment Inside The U.S. Meat Industry.

    The ongoing tragedy for both the victims and the human animals killing the victims is detailed explicitly and extensively in her expose. These 'facilites' are indeed places not fit for any animal, two or four legged. The only meanings that can be found in such an lamentable place are those of greed, misery, suffering and death.

    If her book doesn't make you a radical, then it may be that some vital element of your makeup is either dormant or dead.

    Great post!

  2. Thank you for the great comment! Studs Terkel is a great hero of mine. I have one of his quotes on my list of Facebook Quotations that I so love (and speaks volumes about the kind of man he was): "When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You're part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important."

  3. I feel the same. I am a vegetarian, so i do not believe in what these people are doing to these animals