Take a look at this heartwarming photo.
Isn't it delightful? Do you like it? What appeals to me most is the obvious reciprocal affection between the girl and the steer. It perfectly captures a tender moment that embodies the range of possibilities that exist for achieving inter-species bonding. It speaks volumes of how we may meet with other beings at a level of parity, demonstrating mutual caring, empathy, tolerance and above all, love. Even her T shirt that bears the wonderful words, “Follow Your Heart” gives me hope that the youth of today may lead us towards a kinder, harm free tomorrow, where the lives of animals are valued, and they are not cruelly sacrificed for such fleeting whims of desire as our gustatory pleasure.
At least, that’s what I’d like to see. Photos can lie, and the truth is somewhat different.
This is a picture that accompanied an advertisement. It explains that the girl has raised the steer as part of a 4H project. It concludes with these words, written by the girl herself:
“I would love for you to come down and meet my Steer Buddy and bid on him. He was raised with lots of love and he will make mouth watering Angus Steaks and great tasting Ribs to fill up your freezer!”
Is it just me? Am I the only one to have their brain fried when faced with such a maddening rush of cognitive dissonance? Is anybody else offended by the staggeringly hypocritical juxtaposition of an empty claim about “raised with lots of love” and the “he will make mouth-watering Angus steaks...” comment? Aren’t you appalled by how easily a young mind has been subverted to the point where the ultimate emotion for good (love) may be so comfortably and naturally associated with a twenty-minute meal? Please tell me you’re as staggered as I am by the ruthless, cold-blooded disregard for another being’s life? Can you see any hope for our society when this level of intimacy between a young human and a harmless, peaceful creature can be written off by said young human without a moment’s pause or conscience? What is going on here?
If you knew the whole scenario, perhaps it would become clear. The girl is a participant in the 4H program. If you’re not familiar with this, 4H (it stands for HEAD, HEART, HANDS, HEALTH) is a youth organisation founded in the US in 1902, with the stated objective of “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development”. It offers a variety of (otherwise) worthy programs, one of which focuses on having young children raise and care for animals that are shown in competition and then sent for slaughter. Somewhere along the lines, this is supposed to "create self-assured adults who can make their community and country a good place in which to live". I’m sure many of their other programs, which are genuinely wonderful and totally admirable, really do that very thing. But frankly, the animal one sucks.
I find it tragic that this child has invested time, effort and emotion in forging a relationship with another sentient being, only to release it to a violent and utterly unnecessary death. The justification is that this is the way things are, and by participating in such activities, the children grow to have a realistic appreciation of the society within which they live. Yet what sticks in my throat as a painful lump of anguish and disillusionment at the travesty of it all, is the fact that if some adult weren’t telling the child that this is the way things must be, then the emotions that would surely come to the fore would be kinder and infinitely more productive in creating a benevolent, peaceful society. Here is another picture for you to consider.
This one features a child who is submitting the lamb he has raised, clearly loved, and named Beans, for auction. He knows that following the sale, the lamb will go immediately to its death. I find it heartbreaking, as much for the gentle and trusting lamb as the boy. Now look at what his parent’s had to say about it:
"My son is my hero. He is bigger than I ever knew. My son ran the race and finished regardless of his feelings and emotions. He loved his lamb, but he knew what was important. He raised a great product through blood, sweat and tears, and he completed his project. He never asked to keep her. He never tried to quit. He gave it his all and succeeded. We are a family who loves to eat meat and he wanted to contribute to that in his own way by raising a Market animal."
How odd that heroism can be defined as sending a loved one to a needless death... But how wonderful to be proud that your son has raised "a great product", because after all, that's all the poor lamb is, isn't it? It's not a living breathing, sentient being with feelings or a right to its life, is it? How magnificent that the boy loved her, yet never asked to keep her. His face shows just how at peace he is with what's happening, doesn't it? Do they seriously believe he's letting his friend die for any other reason than they say he has to and he wants to keep them happy?
I'm sickened by this brainwashing of young, kind, minds. I've known about it for years, and it breaks my heart every time I come across one of these sorry tales. This particular aspect of the 4H curriculum surely messes with HEADS, corrupts HANDS, hardens HEARTS and damages both mental and (ultimately - if you eat meat) physical HEALTH. We've been able to rescue several of the hapless animal victims of mindless 4H indoctrination before they could meet an untimely and sad end. But what about those poor kids who have raised them?
If we, as a society, insist that our children go against their natural instincts and become complicit in the hideous food production/animal murder industry, what are we teaching them about respect for our fellow earth dwellers? What of the vital importance of compassion and tolerance in making the world a better place? What message is instilled, deeply, into a child’s brain when it is encouraged to nurture and care for another sentient being and then forced to betray a friendship? How does that impact a future lifetime of perspective upon self-centered importance versus the rights of others? Why have such brilliant minds as Socrates, Buddha, Einstein and Ghandi all come to the conclusion that there can be no peace for humankind whilst we abuse those creatures lesser than ourselves?
If there is to be hope for any of us, the doctrine that is at the centre of the 4H animal program, the one that merely serves to mindlessly perpetuate an outdated and damaging status quo rather than explore what might really constitute a better society, needs to be replaced with 4Cs:
CARING, COMPASSIONATE, CRUELTY FREE, CONNECTED.
Surely that's something we could all buy into?
PS. If you can't work out why 'CONNECTED', give it some serious thought!