On December 4, 2013, Intelligence Squared invited speakers to debate the topic, “Don’t Eat Anything With a Face.” The guests for the motion were Gene Baur, President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary and Dr. Neal Barnard from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The speakers against the motion were Chris Masterjohn, blogger of The Daily Lipid, and Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms. I was not familiar with Chris Masterjohn, but I recognized Joel Salatin from the documentary, “Food Inc.”.
What can I say, I was excited and nervous about this debate. Going into it, I felt like it was going to be a tough battle. Joel Salatin is a celebrated farmer for his free-range grass-fed animals. He is committed to more traditional farming methods. However, once he started talking, I had such a hard time taking him seriously. To me, he made a complete mockery of the whole idea of the topic. “Potatoes have eyes, corn have ears, cabbages have heads …” said Mr. Salatin. Then, as he goes through his list of topics, he brings up the topic of the sentience of plants. To me, when a person starts talking about carrots having feelings, they’ve already lost the debate. You cannot compare the killing of an animal (which we, as humans, are, too) to a carrot being pulled from the ground. I think that we all know that. Plants don’t have a central nervous system. We know that animals experience pain, and we know they are more like us than not. So, if by chance Mr. Salatin happens to find my blog…please, for the sake of your argument, and for the sake of common sense, find better material. Yikes.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading NOW if you want to watch the debate.
I know that loosing this debate bothered Joel Salatin. If you go to the Polyface Farms Facebook page, you will find a status update that he wrote explaining all of the things that he wished that he said. I actually wish that he had said those things. It would make his argument more compelling. That doesn’t mean that I would ever side with him, but I felt so frustrated by his approach that it inspired me to write this post.
Another frustration was that Joel Salatin immediately denounced factory farming practices. He did not want the opposition to use any current data about health and environmental issues from these CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), because of their destructive nature. He basically, did not want to be lumped with the CAFOs. However, factory farming is our CURRENT reality. People that are eating animals are eating factory farmed animals. Farms like Polyface Farms only represent approximately 1% of the animals that are being killed for food. So, how can we even debate this topic if we aren’t being “true” to our current situation. This doesn’t mean that I advocate for grass-fed animals like at Polyface Farms because, as it turns out, these animals are not much different than the factory farmed animals.
Michael Pollan wrote about Polyface Farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma like it was something great, but that farm is horrible. It’s a joke. Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask him. So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference. It’s like putting a broken-down Honda on the Autobahn and saying it’s a Porsche. KFC chickens are almost always killed at thirty-nine days. They’re babies. That’s how rapidly they’re grown. Salatin’s organic free-range chicken is killed in forty-two days. ‘Cause it’s still the same chicken. It can’t be allowed to live any longer because its genetics are so screwed up. Stop and think about that: a bird that you simply can’t let live out its adolescence. So maybe he’ll just say he’s doing as much right as he can, but it’s too expensive to raise healthy birds. Well, I’m sorry if I can’t pat him on the back and tell him what a good guy he is. These aren’t things, they’re animals, so we shouldn’t be talking about good enough. Either do it right, or don’t do it.
-Frank Reese, poultry farmer, from the book, “Eating Animals“, by Jonathan Safran Foer
I could go on with my frustration of Joel Salatin. He really got under my skin with most of the topics. Does that mean that he’s a good debater? In his case, maybe not. (** Note to Mr. Salatin: They’re called American Bison, not buffalo, and not every Native American tribe ate 10 pounds of bison. Those that did rely on bison as a major food source only did so after they acquired guns. Then there was a whole other mess of problems. Guess what else…some tribes were….VEGETARIAN. So that idea was a HUGE generalization.)
I do want to congratulate Dr. Barnard and Gene Bauer. They had such a compelling argument for veganism. Gene spoke about intention, the intention to do NO HARM. If we can live completely healthfully without hurting anyone, isn’t that a better way to be? So, a vegan VICTORY!… Which is a victory for the animals (which we, as humans, are, too)!