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Making the Connection
By Neville Heath Fowler
Welsh agronomist Neville Fowler served as an advisory officer with the Ministry for Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries for 30 years. In retirement he has founded HIPPO, Help International Plant Protein Organization, a registered charity which provides guidance in plant-based farming and other vegetarian aid to third world countries.
My mother had a gift for telling stories. Captivating tales of rabbits and foxes, hares and hedgehogs, birds and badgers poured extempore from her lips as I sat spellbound on her knee. The saga continued over the years as younger siblings occupied that favored place. Though the anthropomorphism of her stories might now receive stern criticism from experts who claim to know best, I thank her beloved memory that she instilled in me feelings of sympathy and love for all the creatures of our God and King.
Strangely, as I look back, neither her sentiments nor mine were applied to the animals we ate. War-time life in the Worcestershire countryside was fairly frugal but my father was a good and enthusiastic gardener. We also kept hens and gladly took the eggs and now and then the lives of the egg-layers to satisfy our appetites. The Sunday joint of beef, lamb or pork was a tradition honored in our family as in most others. I remember that the squeals and screams of the neighbor’s pig when the man came to kill him pierced my heart like a dagger. By the time our piece of roast pork appeared on the dining table, however, barely an echo of that shindy remained in my ears.
To Be a Farmer’s Boy
When the time came for me to leave school I decided on a career in agriculture. I think a desire for a life not confined by four walls fitted in with my conviction that I was not clever enough for anything more academic. On the farm I soon helped to kill pigs myself with a captive-bolt gun, sitting heavily on their sides to encourage their final expirations. I wrung the necks of hens, and castrated piglets with nothing more than a sharp pen-knife and some sulphonomide powder. These were tasks I did not enjoy, but I did them because I thought they were necessary.
Once a fortnight we sent a batch of pigs to the bacon factory, passing them over the weighing scales first to see if they qualified for the final journey, giving those unfortunate to have grown enough a hard slap on the shoulder with the sharp-spiked tattoo dipped in purple dye, hustling them up the ramp into the lorry [truck], slamming the doors shut.
I had been at Agricultural College six months when ‘the connection’ hit me with full force. Part of the syllabus include a guided tour of a "meat factory." My college was in a different part of England from the farm I had worked on, but guess which factory was chosen. The very one to which I had regularly dispatched my pigs! Now I got the chance to see precisely what had awaited them when they came out of the lorry at the end of their journey. Squealing with fear and apprehension they came, silenced by the electric stunner, throats cut, hoisted head downwards on steel hooks, split quickly down the middle, the dead halves kicking and twitching still, men paddling in blood. We moved on to see the sausage making process, the pork-pie bakery, the hams being cured. One could quickly forget that this was pigs. I even ate heartily the pig-based lunch which was laid on for us. But on the way back to college in the coach I soberly reflected and asked myself: ‘Is it really necessary, must animals be treated like that, must men do such vile work?’
A Landmark Decision
Within a week of that extra-mural expedition I had decided to become a vegetarian. I had little idea how to go about it, but I knew I must. This was in 1958, and I was nineteen. It was nearly fifty years ago, but I distinctly remember the sensation of relief, the feeling of liberation, which came to me. Anyone who has had the experience of making a definitive decision to obey the voice of conscience in any serious matter will understand what I mean. It is like being relieved of a heavy burden. No supposed pleasure of the palate could ever compensate for the absence of that freedom, that peace. Taste is so much a matter of habit anyway and quickly changes.
I have to admit that I do wonder how some animal lovers can go through the whole of their lives without making the connection between their diet and cruelty. Perhaps visiting an abattoir should be compulsory for all meat-eaters! Loving one’s pets is good. Opposing hunting and vivisection and other barbarities done to defenceless creatures is a moral duty. But the on-going cruelty involved in the exploitation of animals for food far outweighs all else. So many millions are butchered every year in the UK alone--and it is all unnecessary.
Meat is Theft From the Poor
Life has shown me that beliefs and feelings are vitally important, but in my case it is experience which has forced me to ‘make the connections’. Perhaps God knows I am too much of a doubting Thomas to act on faith alone and in His providence has made arrangements for me to learn the hard way! Experience made me become a vegetarian. I soon understood that vegetarianism makes much more efficient use of land, water and energy, that the affluent nations’ meat-rich diet amounts to theft from the poor. Eating meat takes food from the mouths of starving people. Britain imports grain and soya to feed to cattle so that British people can get ill from eating too rich a diet. That side of the equation was familiar enough, but it was not until I went to live and work in Ethiopia and saw the other side that I truly ‘got connected’. Then I decided to try to do something practical about it. The result is HIPPO, Help International Plant Protein Organization, a registered charity working to persuade all people everywhere to value vegetable protein foods and especially to help people in the ‘third world’ to get them.
Countering the Meat Mentality
The growth of vegetarianism in Britain is wonderful, and we hope it will continue, but in the wider world the trend is altogether the other way. For example, the Chinese now eat more meat per capita than do Americans. In Africa, traditional pulse (legume) crops are being sacrificed to the expansion of livestock production. Meat production is subsidized by governments and is even fostered by some aid charities. People are being taught that having more livestock is the answer to their problems. The world does not need more animal mouths to feed! The kind of ‘progress’ advocated by the beefburger brigade is leading to global disaster. There has to be a sea change to push back the rising tide of the meat culture. It is a battle for hearts and minds and mouths, here and everywhere.
This battle can only be won if all those who can see the need for change act on their belief, first by becoming vegetarians themselves and then by helping others to change. Becoming vegetarian has never been easier or more crucial than it is now.
From Peaceable Table.
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