James McWilliams was a guest speaker at Mad City Vegan Fest 2012.
Consumers of “happy meat” are easily seduced by the ditzy idea that, so long as the animal they eat doesn’t come from a factory farm, they’re morally exonerated from the slaughter and suffering they’ve caused for no good reason other than to satisfy their palates. This sense of exoneration is not only dishonestly achieved, but it perpetuates something that advocates of “humanely” raised animals might not care to perpetuate: it hollows out the entire notion of “welfare,” thereby undermining the core meaning of an idea that lends grace and dignity to all relationships.
One major reason that the happy meat crowd opposes factory farming is because it violates animals’ basic welfare. They say it all the time. In industrial settings, pigs can’t be pigs; chickens can’t be chickens; and cows can’t be cows; (and, we could add, humans can’t be humans). So, the idea goes, move animals onto pastures where pigs can be pigs, chickens can be chickens, and cows can be cows. This transition, it seems safe to say, improves their welfare.
Indeed, putting aside for now the complexities of providing “proper” conditions for these complex animals on “happy” farms, and putting aside the question of the morality of animal ownership, it’s safe to say that there’s some merit to the idea that greater space equals greater happiness for farm animals. So, in free range systems, animal welfare, we can all provisionally agree, is improved and the concept of “welfare” is preserved in its basic form.
But then, on slaughter day, a carnivalesque flip-flop turns happiness into horror.
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