Monday, August 29, 2011

What came first? The chicken or the person

The subject that is never far away from my thoughts and one that I’m sure many people will also have given some serious consideration is the notion that we in our privileged society are putting the welfare of animals above those of people.
It’s a question that is positively bursting with zealous responses.
Now just to put the brakes on here a bit, I’m not suggesting that I’m apologising for the abhorrent practices meted out on the poor animals we have deemed fit for human consumption. Nor am I arguing that dollars must come before animal welfare but I do eat meat and I take full responsibility for consuming it.
Recently watching the news I was moved by the images coming out of Somalia where the population is facing starvation on an unprecedented scale. It was one of those moments where the message really hit home. I pulled my gaze away from the tellie and visited it on my own children who looked on, their faces awash with the cathode-ray staccato images of famine. For a moment I tried to imagine my kids similarly exposed to this devastating reality but the thought of it was just too unbearable to contemplate. I retreated from this realism back into my cosy middle class living room, with our mugs of half-drunk tea and the gold wrappers of some chocolate on the coffee table. It hit me again that perhaps; just perhaps we’re putting the cart before the horse.
Its old news that we, in our fortunate society, are immune to the realities of how many people in the developing world are living. Perhaps this is such an insurmountable problem and one that we have been exposed to for so long that we have become insulated to its cries. In fact, due to this, are we seeking problems that we think we can tackle and have a positive outcome maybe even in our lifetimes? That would be great wouldn’t it? Imagine the comfort of being able to choose what problem we decide to take on board as our cause celebre? Well I don’t think it’s a comfort, in fact I think it’s a bit of a cop out. Now before you think I’m being more sanctimonious than usual, I put myself in this camp as well. I’ve copped out too.
“Well Steve, who are the arbiters of what cause we should get behind and what causes should take priority?”
I don’t know and I’m not sure.
It might make us all feel good for a while to know that we are buying ethical meat, that the mouse on Animal Rescue made a speedy recovery and ‘Mr Bigglesworth’ the kitten, was rescued from being stuck in a tree by the fireman. These are quick fixes, a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and one that will never heal just as long as we have inequality between people on our planet.
Now I’ve reconciled that this has been the way since the year dot and will probably be thus forevermore but I also reckon that in the scheme of things surely putting humans first should be a priority?
You could argue that by being human and being humane might mean we do not put ourselves first. That’s an argument that I would have trouble reconciling as the logic makes sense.
However if I were to boil this down to its essence I would say that the furthest thing on the minds of those poor people suffering in Somalia would be tussling in the supermarket aisle deliberating between choosing a free-range chook and a conventional bird.
It’s this ‘choice’ that I grapple with and because we are lucky, maybe this blindsides us to what the real issues are.


David L. Moore said...

For a long time I have been convinced that many of the perceived, and actual, problems of the world have been and are being caused by humans.

Sure, mother nature can wipe the slate clean pretty fast but in the meantime we must live in our own mess.

Humans it seems are "smart". They've outsmarted themselves. The things that worked "in nature" are not working now because we've worked out many answers to "problems".

Before we got smart there was a kind of natural balance between the mess we made and how nature cleaned it up. I call this moderate behaviour.

When we got smart moderation went out the window. Everybody can now have everything they want and as much of it as they like...or so it seems.

If putting humans first means putting us back in touch with our humanity and what we were before our smarts out accelerated our resources then I am all for it.

If putting humans first means sweeping aside all in our path for our own benefit then I'm not so much for it.

Most of the suffering I see in the world now is a result not the cause.

"If we do what we've always done, we'll get what we've always got"

Moderation and thoughtfulness in all things go a long way. :-)

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, I dont really care as long as I'm fed. After all we're at the top of the fod chain for good reason as hard as that might be to stomach for some people.

sir grumpy said...

I often feel, Steve, that many people who turn their attention and charity dollars to animals are disenchanted by humans.
After all, we are supposed to have the smarts, animals don't and our pets give us unconditional love.
Time and again we see nations bailed out of trouble after a famine but we often suspect a year or two down the line they'll be back in the same position because of tribal warfare, factionalism, greed, exploitation and the siphoning off of international aid money by the government leaders.
I suppose all we can do is support both sides, all sides, animal and human and hope our dollar gets results.

Anja said...

I don't think that we have to make the choice between feeding the world and the ethical treatment of animals. There is enough food out there to feed the poor. The staggering statistics from Germany (and I wouldn't be surprised if Australian stats were much different) are that 30% of food produced doesn't even make it into retail outlets because it does not meet standards (not the right colour not the right shape) and then 50% of perishable goods are thrown out because again, after having been on the shelf for several hours they don't meet the standard anymore. Imagine if those resources were redirected.
I think we can save the world without GM, live animal exports, battery hens, sow stalls and the likes. For me it is a matter of balance. And btw if the developed world stopped overeating there would also be more to go around....