Anyone who hasn't been sleeping under a rock this week should be familiar with the story of the calf-beater at Conklin Farms. If you haven't watched the video, I will link to it in a second but I must warn you, it is incredibly sick and disturbing, and very hard to watch. If what you see doesn't offend your sensibilities, then I have to question your humanity: link.
Now, I want to deal with a few of the arguments others have proposed: yes, the organization who conducted the undercover operation recommends choosing a vegan diet to prevent further animal abuse. I am personally not a huge fan of animal rights organizations - having worked with in retail, I received lots of hateful and even frightening emails from animal rights activists, so I don't really feel warm and fuzzy towards them. I don't think we should let the source of the video cloud our judgement: what is pictured is wrong. It is sick. The guy in the video clearly has some serious issues he needs to work through, and if he gets time in jail, I'm guessing it's for the best for his girlfriend and anyone else who might get in the way of his fists. Perhaps most disturbing is the quote the gentleman makes at the end of the video - if he doesn't think the cows are feeling any pain, he keeps beating them until they start moaning.
I would posit that adopting a vegan lifestyle isn't the answer - how can you be sure the produce you purchase wasn't harvested using slave, child slave, or near-slave labor? It happens right in our country; it isn't just a problem South of the border.
I hate politics, and working on an issue like this feels very much like adopting a political stance, but I can't simply let it go without talking about it.
What can we do?
I don't think there is a way to completely eradicate this sort of behavior. Some humans are violent. Some of these humans find there way into work situations where they can abuse people and animals. I don't think, however, we should vilify farmers when these sorts of videos come out. I have seen a lot of people comment on how the video showcases how harmful factory farming is. I agree with this, but I grew up very close to the Conklin Dairy Farm, and it is not a factory farm.
I am not going to do a ton of lecturing. First of all, there are times when I fail in my resolve to eat as responsibly as I can. I can be seen in fast food drive-throughs every once in awhile (usually having my resolve whittled down by alcohol). I am frequently lazy and don't feel like sourcing out the most responsible products all the time.
I strongly feel that the best way to combat farm-related animal cruelty is to think about where every dollar is going before we spend it. Shopping at farmer's markets and at places like the North Market puts me directly in front of the person who produced the food I'm buying. Just watching how people talk about their herd should give you a clue as to how they treat their animals.
I know there are some who feel they can't afford to think about anything other than the bottom line when it comes to food shopping. I can't address that, because I am not going to assume I understand your struggles, and I don't have any children so I am not qualified to lecture others on how to feed them and still pay their bills, but for the rest of us, I encourage you (and myself) to do your part. Just think about where every dollar goes. Ask your suppliers and farmers and cheesemongers and butchers were their products come from, how their animals are treated, if you can visit the animals, what happens to sick animals - don't be afraid to demand to know how your food is produced.
Reward responsible suppliers with your food dollar. Unless you grow everything yourself, there's really no concrete way to be sure everything you eat came from a farm where cows frolic with unicorns and eat nothing but butter lettuce and alfalfa all day long, but I am convinced that the closer to the source we are when we purchase our food, the less chance there is of supporting cruel behaviors.
I don't even feel like I solved anything here, but as long as we all think before we shop - and I'm talking to myself here, too - we can make headway by rewarding responsible producers. I am no economist, but I've always held that the most effective way to get change is to create a demand for goods produced by good people. Just look at how things have changed in the past 5 years: when I started writing RW, the Clintonville farmer's market had about 8 farmers and few people even knew it existed. These days, if you don't get there by 10am you've missed just about everything. When we create the demand, we are rewarded with more choice, more suppliers, and even lower prices. Sometimes you can only see the change by looking back, but then you can feel satisfied knowing that you did your part to create that - everyone in this city who has made the choice to eat more locally and seasonally helped create these changes in our city, and we can continue to do it.
It doesn't have to happen all at once. Maybe commit to just buying all of your corn locally this year. Maybe you can give up buying lattes in exchange for buying eggs from pastured chickens instead of factory eggs. Maybe it means no more fast food hamburgers unless you can identify the source of their meat. Maybe it means one local meal a day, maybe it means asking questions, maybe it means growing your own sweet peas this year. It doesn't have to be daunting and overnight. The smallest changes can make a difference.