O Magazine has done it again

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O Magazine has done it again

From Karen Dawn, DawnWatch
October 2011

O Magazine has done it again. Last month we read a column from the editor in chief explaining that the magazine would never include fur on its fashion pages -- and we saw a fur and leather-free fashion spread. This month the magazine features a gripping tale of a woman's fight against factory farming.

I know many animal advocates don't want to see the end of factory farming alone -- we look forward to the day when we no longer have to hear the word "protein" used euphemistically to describe parts of animal bodies on plates. So I include in this alert, below, a link to a thoughtful piece from the Atlantic Magazine titled, "Only When Meat Is Stigmatized Will Factory Farms Stop Thriving." Yet that stigmatization must be begin with awareness, and the O Magazine article is bringing awareness to its millions of readers. Such awareness leads to dietary changes. Media coverage of factory farming has been shown to reduce the public demand for meat.

As I was brought into the animal rights movement not by discussions of life and death but by photos of sows living in gestation crates I understand the power of publicizing factory farming practices. The O Magazine story focuses less on the animal cruelty and more on the environmental impact, but that is useful as environmental issues are currently of great public concern. Our letters to the editor can focus on the animals.

The magazine's monthly introductory column (p 20) by editor in chief Susan Casey, opens with:

When was the last time you read a story that stopped you in your tracks? That inspired you to act? Or think differently? This month we have just such a tale, starting on page 170. 'This is Not Farming,' written by journalist Kathy Dobie, is an eye-opening look at a relatively recent development in American life, the 'concentrated animal feeding operation' or CAFO. Sometimes called factory farms, these sprawling compounds can pack thousands of cows or pigs or chickens into the tightest possible quarters; pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, they do nothing all day but eat and excrete. Obviously this is a cruel existence for any animal -- but the toll these facilities take on the people who have the misfortune to live near them is equally brutal. Which is where Lynn Henning comes in.

Kathy Dobie's story on Lynn Henning's efforts is gripping reading. Henning lives in an area of Michigan where the factory farms have befouled the water and air to the point that Dobie describes driving with Henning down a road past the farms where the stench causes "that panic that sets in before vomiting or fainting."

We read:

One elderly couple who lives across from a CAFO called Lynn to tell her that they were considering suicide. Their well was contaminated, they couldn't go outside, couldn't open their windows. They had to wear face masks. Their children wouldn't visit because the stench was so bad, and they couldn't sell their house because no one else wanted to live there. 'They felt they were worth more dead,' Lynn says.

As for the Department of Agriculture's policing of the area we learn that Lynn's husband, Gerald Henning, tried to complain, "But when Gerald called the Department of Agriculture's complaint line, he swore, and was charged in a local court with making obscene calls."

While focusing on the hideousness of human life in the area, the article also reminds us what life is like for the animals. Dobie writes

The cows are kept inside steel structures that look like low-ceilinged airplane hangars. There they eat and they excrete. They will almost certainly never walk out in a field, chomp on grass, or feel the sun on their backs.

She later continues:

CAFO cows die young. A dairy cow can live about 20 years but most CAFO cows are slaughtered for beef at around 4, when their milk production declines or they become too ill to be profitable.

The article is not yet available on line but you can pick the magazine up at your newsstand, or, for animal advocates who subscribe to magazines, it might be time to consider adding O to your subscription list. The magazine is clearly going out of its way to make animal issues part of its regular conversations. Reader appreciation influences such choices so please send an appreciative letter to the editor.

O Magazine takes letters at https://www.oprah.com/ownshow/plug_form.html?plug_id=505

As I noted above, a great companion piece of sorts to the O Magazine article is the Atlantic Magazine article, by James McWilliams, titled, "Only When Meat Is Stigmatized Will Factory Farms Stop Thriving."

This paragraph sums up McWilliams' strongest point:

As long as we eat meat factory farms will be the dominant mode of production. In other words, as long as humans deem it culturally acceptable to consume animal flesh -- that is, as long as eating meat is an act that's not considered taboo -- factory farms will continue to proliferate. The reason for this strikes me as intuitive: An unfettered demand for meat, in conjunction with basic human choice, provides political, technological, and scientific incentives to produce meat as efficiently as possible. Unless you have a plan to displace capitalism, density of production will rule, billions of animals will suffer, and our health will continue to decline.

You'll find the full article on line at
http://tinyurl.com/68qzn2s

I am not in love with whole piece as I have little patience for people who seem to suggest that alleviating suffering is meaningless. There is a section in which McWilliams describes the efforts of a farmer to spare a pig from any pain or even emotional suffering -- the stress of a journey to slaughter -- before the pig's death. When we are told that he kills the pig with a swift shot to the head McWilliams snidely asks, "What am I missing?" Well, he is missing the acknowledgement that all living beings will die, and many of us reading his piece would have a strong preference for a quick, painless and unanticipated death as opposed to a long drawn out period of emotional and physical torture preceding death. If we would want that for ourselves it seems without empathy, or simply speciesist, to suggest that it would make no difference to the pig. I write that as somebody who does not condone killing the pig; we don't need to kill animals to thrive so why would we? Yet I think
McWilliams implication that degrees of cruelty are irrelevant, and that being spared from immense suffering would make no difference to a doomed animal, weakens his credibility. It would be far better, I think, to acknowledge that the farmer who wishes to spare the pig suffering is on the right track, then do our best to move him further along that track, persuading him to open his heart even more widely and question his need to kill the pig at all.

McWilliams would be on stronger ground if he would acknowledge that the farmer's efforts made a huge difference to that one pig, then bring us back to the reality that such efforts will never be made for the vast majority of animals killed for human food. Indeed his argument that only making meat-eating taboo will end factory farming is interesting -- though it is not flawless: The imminent release of invitro meat, grown from cloned muscle tissue for which no animal need die -- or burp, fart, shit and otherwise pollute the earth -- could spell the end of factory farming. Yet flawless or not, McWilliams raises ideas well worthy of consideration.

That's why I think McWilliams' Atlantic piece is a great one to read alongside the O Magazine article about the impact of factory farming. Together they might influence you to send letters that express gratitude to O Magazine while reminding other readers that it is plant based diets, rather than better regulation, that will solve the problem of factory farming.

You can also express appreciation for McWilliams' Atlantic Magazine piece in the comment section right below it.

I send my thanks to Paula Fitzsimmons, Annoula Wylderich, Christine Cook and Nina Borin for making sure we saw the O Magazine piece. I hope I didn't miss anybody -- those tips are truly appreciated.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn


DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.

Please go to http://tinyurl.com/254ulkx to check out Karen Dawn's book, "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which in 2008 was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!"