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What a Wonderful World

I’ve been busy working for a most important animal cause: The Humane Society is sponsoring a drive to get 650,000 petition signatures for a proposition to mandate minimal humane treatment of calves, chickens and pigs. If successful, it would require that these factory-farmed animals be allowed enough room to turn around in their cages. So very minimal. And yet so hard to achieve in our less-than-compassionate cheap meat economy.

I’ve also been watching the most harrowing videos imaginable about factory farming. It would make you weep. If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian, this stuff will put you over the edge.

So as an antidote, here’s a beautiful video that reflects a more hopeful side to humanity. Enjoy!

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How I Became a Vegetarian

Lil Pig, originally uploaded by UnoLobo.

One day a friend and I were driving in the countryside and came upon a pen of baby pigs owned by an agricultural college. We got out and walked to the pen.

The pigs ran up to us just like dogs would. They stood on their legs to reach us, wanting to be petted. What a sensation it was. Their skin was very dry, and I immediately understood why they want to be lubricated.

Their little tails would uncurl and sort of wag in delight as we lavished attention upon these sweet little creatures. I had heard that pigs are at least as intelligent as dogs, but what I was not prepared for was their affectionate nature.

From that moment on, I no longer could eat pigs. It was totally out of the question, just as it is with eating, say, dogs. That began my inevitable march toward vegetarianism. Later I spent time with some cows: they, too, were curious and full of personality.

I wonder: Americans eat many times more meat than we ever have. Is it because we so seldom get to experience the joy and spirit of farm animals?

4

Animals Need Great Artists

Francisco de Zurbaran, Agnus Dei, 1638, San Diego Museum of Art

An important function of art is (and always has been) to bear witness.

The 18th century seems to have been a time in which the idea of animal rights was beginning to take root in some minds. The artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s imagery may strike us as neutral that way–neither dismissing nor advocating that animals have their own lives and legitimate perspectives.

But that the debate of animal rights was very much in the air at the time was made clear in a shocking set of prints by artist William Hogarth, The Four Stages of Cruelty from 1750-51. What a vast difference in mentalities between these two contemporaneous artists!

While Oudry was painting for his courtly patrons, Hogarth was making prints for popular distribution–visually to assert that cruelty to animals is on the same ethical continuum as cruelty to one’s own species.

Of course words can help to bear witness too, as Matthew Scully did in his recent book, Dominion, where he gains access to the hellish world of factory farms, whaling, and commercial safaris. But such books can be easily avoided. What ethicist Peter Singer points out, so rightly, is the need for artists to expose what is otherwise hidden: the 100 billion animals who suffer unspeakably in the US every year because of factory farming.

We need the vision of artists, including photographers (similar to the Depression’s Dorothea Lange) to expose the horror deliberately hidden from sight.