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Ham I Am

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Ham I Am

By James McWilliams
May 2013

Whatever catchy little slogan we may have grasped onto, the decline in meat consumption in the U.S. does nothing to counter the emerging tsunami of additional animal exploitation in places like China and India.....And if you’re sitting there all smug and satisfied with your locally-sourced, cave-cured, pig-pampered bacon approved by, who knows, Temple Grandin, it’s time to choke on your little strip of porcine death. Grandin is now working directly with . . . . . Tyson Foods.

ham pig piglet language foodSome philosophers argue that the evolution of language grants humans exclusive rights above and beyond non-human animals. This controversial position has been effectively debunked, but the claim provides a nice opportunity to examine precisely we how we use formal language to convey meaning about eating animals that some philosophers think, on the basis of this self-serving grammar, we have every right to eat.

A recent study reveals how several European languages have adapted to accommodate specific culinary habits—such as eating ham. Turns out that Norwegians have fewer words than the Spanish to describe ham. It also turns out that they eat about 400 grams of ham a year, compared to 3.3 kilos for the Spanish (the Italians eat 4.4 kilos year).

So let me get this straight. We have language. Animals don’t. We use that language to create a lexicon to describe how animals taste. Animals, lacking a language, cannot provide a verbal rebuttal. This ham is succulent we say. The animal sits there, dead, on the plate. And, based on the one-sided conversation, we claim ourselves in the right. Seems like a lot of verbal sausage to me. (I know that animals do have language, but you know what I mean . . . )

In any case, that verbal sausage is being churned out faster than a carnival barker selling salvation at a ho-down. There’s a great deal of ballyhoo about declining rates of meat consumption in the United States. Great. Maybe more and more of us are becoming vegan before six or eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Whatever catchy little slogan we may have grasped onto, the decline does nothing to counter the emerging tsunami of additional animal exploitation in places like China and India.

Oh, and don’t forget Russia. Russia is now building a pig feed mill capable of churning out 500 tonnes of feed per day in order to supply a 300,000 head pig farm moving nearby from Ireland. In a textbook case of “spread effects,” a processing plant will complete the trifecta, churning out 27 different kinds of pig product. Plan to see a lot more of this kind of expansion in the years to come. If you know how to slow it down, let me know.

And if you’re sitting there all smug and satisfied with your locally-sourced, cave-cured, pig-pampered bacon approved by, who knows, Temple Grandin, it’s time to choke on your little strip of porcine death. Grandin is now working directly with . . . . . Tyson Foods. She’s now expanding her brand of humane exploitation to the company’s Animal Welfare Panel. Behold. She is joined by Ryan Best, former President of Future Farmers of America, and Miyun Park, head of the Global Animal Partnership Label, which I profiled in Harper’s last August.

It would take a very special pair of glasses to see the formation of this board a hopeful development. Also, from a political perspective, I don’t get it. Why would people who purport to care so much about animals place themselves in such a vulnerable position? I mean, the next time Tyson inevitably gets busted for some horrific animal welfare disaster or other, the blood will be on their hands, too.

I could go on. And on.

(Thanks to Jamie Newlin for the tips . . .)