On The Omnivore's Dilemma, farm animal welfare and goat-keeping
I know Dolittler's a pet health blog but occasionally (OK, more than just occasionally) I have to have my say on the farm animal thing.
Partly that’s because in a better world, I believe farm animals might make ideal “pets,” as they once did. No, maybe never like dogs and cats—but in a respectful, reasonably companionable sort of way, as “livestock” (like my goats).
It’s because of my lifelong interest in animals, food, health (mine as well as the animals’) and their intersection that I went to vet school, studied business, went to culinary school (briefly),adapted to seasonal, locally-grown produce (almost exclusively) and became a goat-keeper with an eye towards milk production and trading for produce and eggs with my local farm cooperative.
Recently, I’ve been engaged in reading a series of books on food theory and agriculture (I go through bursts of excitement on certain topics and tend to read books in groups). Last week it was Renaissance trade (email me for a reading list). This week, I’ve been attacking agricultural topics in anticipation of having a milk producing goat in the family and needing to deal with her offspring (keep, slaughter, sell?).
All of this has led me to re-read Diet for a Small Planet, purchase a copy of Ishmael (at a friend’s suggestion) and take up The Omnivore’s Dilemma to round out the group (hence the title of this post).
Now, those of you avid readers out there may have embarked on some of these titles yourselves. They’re fairly prominent and popular award-winning books and I certainly recommend all three. And you may well wonder at my choices. After all, none of them are “how-to” books on goat-keeping. Still, I felt it might offer me food for thought and some help in solidifying my own philosophy of farming.
Though I’m not done with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I feel sufficiently knowledgeable to say the following: I am no closer to knowing what to do with my goats than I was when I started this little reading project of mine.
Like most of you, I still face the “omnivore’s dilemma.”
Though I’ll still maintain my low animal protein, high-produce, locally grown approach (for the sake of fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gasses, my family’s health and animal welfare), I now feel compelled to concern myself with the larger issues of how destructive agriculture may be, in general.
Animal agriculture in factory farm settings is doubtless a mistaken approach from my read of things. Not only is it unfair from the point of view of the animals, it’s also an inefficient use of our fossil fuels and revves up the greenhouse gas effect
But is our culture capable of shifting back to a more individualized approach to raising animals for food? Is it willing to pay up in hard labor or higher prices?
Even more to the point: Have we become so accustomed to how we eat today to ever forego daily doses of animal protein? Will we ever be capable of evolving back into a people who can wring chicken necks when the closest we ever get to birds these days is a Chicken McNugget? I wonder…
And even if we do manage to revive the spirit of the subsistence family farm, will that be enough? Or does our insatiable drive to conquer the planet in its entirety invariably require an inexorable drive to feed the teeming human multitudes we’re presently unwilling to control.
I like to think of these issues in terms of animal welfare and, more recently, in terms of goat-keeping. But when I think more broadly, it’s clear to me that as we continue to overrun the Earth with our endless population growth, feeding the masses with grain will take precedence over animal proteins and family farming may well make its revival.
It’s both a comforting and frightening thought. It’s especially scary because if my prediction has any merit, I’d have to wonder if we’re capable of taking the next step…