Part I: Gary Steiner
Gary Steiner is John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University. He is the author of Descartes as a Moral Thinker: Christianity, Technology, Nihilism, Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy and Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship. He is the author of the NYT Op-Ed piece, Animal, Vegetable, Misery.
Additional interviews with Gary Steiner can be found at the links below:
1. A radio interview (in three parts) with Adam Roufberg for his program on the public radio station at Vassar College.
2. A shorter radio interview in Vienna. Scroll down and you’ll find the place where the interview (in English) starts.
3. A short videotaped interview in English in Vienna.
4. A podcast with Gary Francione for his Abolitionist site.
Part II: Sue Coe
Sue Coe was born in England and grew up next to a slaughterhouse. She studied at the Royal College of Art in London and emigrated to New York in 1972. Early in her career, she was featured in almost every issue of Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking magazine Raw and has since contributed illustrations to the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Nation, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Details, Village Voice, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Mother Jones, among other publications. She is widely regarded as one of the best and most scathing artists of her time. Her paintings have been exhibited in galleries and museum around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art. Her previous books include Dead Meat, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa, X, and Pit’s Letter. Sue currently lives in a small cabin in upstate New York that she converted into a solar powered sustainable home, built largely from recycled materials.
View photos of some of Sue’s artwork in her book Cruel on Huffington Post.
Hello! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. It is June 20th. Happy Summer 2012. Thanks for joining me today. It’s going to be a very interesting program. I am the founder of Responsible Eating and Living. You can go to ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com. That’s where I put up all kinds of information and recipes and videos to make it easy for you to live a plant-based, cruelty-free, environmentally friendly, lovely life. I like to make it happy and easy for you to do that. So visit ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com when you get a chance. And let me know what you think. You can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. OK. Got that? Great. What do we do on this show? We talk about my favorite subject, food, and how it impacts our health, the environment, and animals. The most important subject—the most important aspect for me when it comes to eating the way that I eat which is whole and minimally processed plant foods—the most important thing for me is the animals. I became a vegetarian when I was about fifteen because I didn’t want to kill animals and I really didn’t know what that meant at the time. I was just kind of going with the flow of my instinct. But I’ve learned a lot more and a lot more has happened since that time which hasn’t been very good for the animals. So we’re going to talk about animals today. We’re going to start with Gary Steiner. I’m really excited to have him on today as my guest. He’s here with me in the studio. He’s a John Howard Harris professor of philosophy at Bucknell University. He’s the author of Descartes As A Moral Thinker: Christianity, Technology, Nihilism; Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy; and Animals in the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship. And he’s got a new book coming out later this year: Animals and the Limits of Post-Modernism. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
(Gary) Thanks very much, Caryn. It’s a pleasure to be here.
(Caryn) Thank you. OK, so you have a lot of interesting information about number one: how we got here. I think what’s going on today is really horrific, especially with factory farming and all the exploitation of animals for primarily food and other things. My understanding is it took us about 2500 years to get to where we are today?
(Gary) Well, in a way, yes, and in a way, no. The industrialized aspects of it, especially in North America, I think took about 2500 years to get to. And you needed a certain set of values that were established in the ancient Greek world and they sort of developed and reinforced themselves over the ensuing several thousand years. And then you basically need the development of capitalism and industrialization and so forth and that’s how you get to things like intensive CAFO, factory-farming type operations. But there’s a sense in which this isn’t really something new because the ancient Greeks already as far back as Aristotle and the stoic philosophers had this view that human beings are the highest beings in the created world and that everything else, including all non-human animals, existed and were, in fact, created expressly to satisfy the needs and desires of human beings. So people as far back as Aristotle—we’re talking roughly 400 BC—argued as a kind of cosmic principle that it’s perfectly permissible to use animals and that we shouldn’t really have any scruples about doing so. Essentially the idea was this: the highest thing a human being can do, these thinkers thought, and this is something you see in a lot of forms all the way through the history of Western philosophy, is engage in detached, abstract, contemplative activity—contemplating the stars, contemplating the eternal truth, and so forth. And the logic was: OK, the way that you make yourself able to engage in contemplative activities is to satisfy your material needs. And from there it was a very, very short step to saying, “Well, OK, everything in the natural world that is not capable of rational contemplation is just an instrumentality to be used by rational beings.” And that’s how this sort of fundamental division got established between human and non-human beings where human beings were considered to be the only rational beings in creation and all non-human beings, including non-human animals, were considered just to be sort of almost inert instrumentalities.
(Caryn) I can go two ways with this—but either way I go with it I come to the same conclusion. So, one of the things that I think about is: we say that animals don’t think like we do, they don’t have the language skills like we do—but we’re learning more and more that that’s not true with many animals—and that they don’t have this awareness of the past and the future. And I say, “How do we know what animals think about? How do we know?” To me they have so much intelligence that we don’t have that we don’t even know how to get to, to communicate, to learn from them. They do so many incredible things.
(Gary) It’s a very, very interesting fact that is broadly overlooked in our culture because we’re so inured to this idea that we’re superior. And the way that we’ve sort of represented ourselves as superior is by playing to certain capacities that we think that we have or possess exclusively. So rationality, the capacity for abstract reasoning that you see in things like mathematics, the establishment of abstract principles in ethics and politics, the ability to engage in symbolic or use symbolic language—it’s as if we seized upon certain capacities that we at least arrogate to ourselves as being exclusively human in order to say that you have to have those capacities in order to be fully, morally worthy. And then when we can point out that non-human animals don’t appear to have those capacities, it’s as if they don’t have any other capacities whatsoever and, as you’ve said, we have been learning more and more about the extraordinary capabilities of a lot of animals that make us look a little stupid sometimes, not only in the fact that we can’t do a lot of those things but in the fact that we’re incapable of recognizing those kinds of intelligence on the part of those creatures. One kind of animal, one group of animals, that’s very, very interesting is corvids. Everybody thinks about higher primates but there are several other types of animals that are extraordinarily intelligent and do think about the past and future it would appear. And we can’t be absolutely certain because you can’t interview them in a language that we would take to be dispositive but there seems to be a lot of very compelling evidence that elephants, dolphins, higher primates, and this group of birds called corvids, which includes crows, ravens…I think myna birds are corvids. But crows in particular have been focused on quite a lot and they are quite extraordinary in what they’re capable of doing and I think they put us to shame in some ways in terms of what they’re able to communicate to their current specifics to their fellow corvids and their fellow crows in ways we just would not be able to do. The way they warn their fellow troop members of threats, impending threats, and so forth and the way they all react in a very appropriate way. It’s quite remarkable. They’re monkeys called vervets that have an elaborate system of alarm calls. Every time you turn around you’re finding that they’ve got another one they’ve discovered—that first they thought there were sort of three and now they think there are four or five. And it turns out it has to do with whether it’s an aerial predator or a ground predator, whether it’s a large mammal, or whether it’s a snake. It could be a martial eagle and it could be a martial eagle in the air versus on the ground. There are different distinct calls for each of these types of predators and the others in the group respond appropriately. They respond in a way that would…so, for instance, if it’s something like a large mammal, they run up a tree. If it turns out that it’s something like a snake or something like that they run into the bushes or something like that or they run away. It’s quite remarkable and I think increasingly implausible to suppose that we’re the only really smart creatures on Earth.
(Caryn) Well, we’re the only ones that are destroying the planet.
(Gary) It’s a good point. And there are philosophers who have said that…they’ve claimed in a kind of anthropocentric speciesist kind of way…
(Caryn) Can you define that?
(Gary) Yeah. Anthropocentrism is sort of the core idea of a lot of my work on animals and it’s the idea that humans beings are the central and highest beings in the scheme of things. And speciesism is to species as racism is to race or sexism is to sex. Anthropocentrism/speciesism is this idea that we arrogate to ourselves, as I said before, the position of the highest, most important, most morally worthwhile creature in the world and we give ourselves prerogatives to use other creatures. Where are we going with that?
(Caryn) Right. Well, you mentioned something about this anthropocentric…
(Gary) I lost my train of thought.
(Caryn) That’s OK. Maybe it will come back.
(Gary) It was this delicious vegan lunch that I had a little while ago.
(Caryn) Well, you’re in New York City right now, the greatest city in the world where we have so many vegan options. This isn’t a commercial break, but I love the fact that the one thing that’s wonderful about this lifestyle—and we may get into the fact that it’s not just the lifestyle, it’s something more—is that the food is fabulous. We’re talking about all this heavy stuff and the conclusion is that the life is wonderful once you take it on. And delicious.
(Gary) Absolutely. And I have an interesting anecdote to share which is that my lovely wife, Paula, who is with us here in the studio, she and I went on a belated honeymoon to Northern Italy recently. In a restaurant in one of the cities, one of the popular tourist destinations—Venice or Florence I think it was—we were in a restaurant explaining to the waiter that we don’t eat meat and we don’t eat butter and we don’t eat fish and we don’t eat cheese and we don’t eat eggs. He looked at me very quizzically and said, “What do you eat?” And if he only knew what wonderful things you can eat.
(Caryn) It opens the door.
(Gary) If you just use a little bit of imagination and especially…you know, we’re so accustomed to wanting to eat processed foods, foods that you can take out of the freezer and throw in the microwave or something, but if you’re really willing to prepare whole, fresh food, you can eat very, very well. It’s yummy; it’s much better for your health, as you know.
(Caryn) We’re really getting off the subject here, but this is the subject: food. You made me think of when I was working as an engineer in the semiconductor industry. I traveled quite a bit, and I went to Milan and worked with a company there and they were one of my favorite clients to visit because I loved their cafeteria. This was Italy and in their cafeteria they always had this antipasto available with all of these wonderful grilled vegetables that were always there and then you could choose pasta or rice and a different sauce: tomato sauce or something else. There was always mineral water on the table and olive oil. I didn’t even have to see any of the other food. It was just incredible. I was surprised that they said that.
(Gary) Well, I don’t know what the guy was thinking because then five minutes later he brought out a beautiful plate of grilled vegetables. We pretty much lived on grilled vegetables for two weeks. It was really wonderful. So, what I was saying before I think was simply that it’s troubling and interesting. What you said was we’re the only creatures that are destroying the planet and there are philosophers…what I was saying is there are philosophers in this anthropocentric tradition that proclaim that human beings are the highest beings—the only really God-like beings in creation. We tell ourselves that we have the right to do all sorts of things to animals and that there are no moral consequences to it at all. There have been philosophers in that tradition who say that only human beings are capable of true moral virtue because a certain amount of contemplation is required in order to achieve that. But then they also tend to acknowledge that only human beings are capable of radical evil for the very same reason. That was the point that I think I was trying to make before I got a little addled there, which is that I think if you just look at the way the world is, it’s pretty evident that only human beings are able to sort of undertake deliberate harm on such a large scale with deliberate forethought.
(Caryn) Absolutely. It takes my breath away.
(Gary) Can I ask you a question? Do you know the work of Mark Bekoff?
(Caryn) Yes. I spoke with him once on this show.
(Gary) He is absolutely wonderful. He’s written a book with Jessica Pierce called Wild Justice. He’s written many, many, many books. He is a pioneer in candid play behavior in dogs, the social structures of communities of animals such as dogs and wolves and so forth. He’s done more than a lot of people in the contemporary generation of researches to show that human beings have not cornered the market not only on intelligence but on other regarding behavior—behavior that expresses concern for others. There’s evidence of altruism in various sorts of animals. I think many people know the story about the gorilla at that zoo in the United States maybe in the last ten years. Somebody’s child fell into that pit that separates the gorillas from the spectators. The gorilla climbed down in there and brought the child out and handed it to the parents.
(Caryn) Yeah. There are so many incredible stories if we take the time to pay attention. What I’m thinking of is the stories we hear about the dogs where a family’s either moved away or the dog somehow or other was placed in a place very far away and managed to find either the old home that he lived in or the family who had moved away. You can’t say that the animal isn’t aware of its past when it’s so driven to do that and then to figure out how to find them.
(Gary) Yeah. Cats too.
(Caryn) Please. There’s something there that we need to tap into.
(Gary) And just one other anecdote: I was telling my veterinarian, who’s a good friend of ours, one day a few years ago about this claim that animals don’t really have a sense of their lives as a whole and they don’t really remember pain and these sorts of—I can only call them excuses that people make because…We were talking before about the interview with Gary Francione and Gary Francione has this wonderful idea of moral schizophrenia: that on the one hand we love our pet animals and there are certain aspects of animal life that we embrace and love, but on the other hand we kill—and this is a United Nation number—53 billion land animals worldwide every year just to eat them, just because they taste good and it’s convenient to consume them. That doesn’t even count fish or crustaceans or anything. I said to my veterinarian that I’ve heard people say only human beings really have a sense of time and the future and the past. Therefore when an animal dies, a non-human animal, it’s not really losing anything because it doesn’t have a…it can’t contemplate the future, it doesn’t have an expectation of a long future, it doesn’t really have memories of the past, and so forth. She just looked at me with this angry look and said, “Spend five minutes in any veterinary ER and you will know that animals remember their pain.”
(Caryn) Oh yeah. I don’t doubt it. I was going to say there are more studies now coming out about how we don’t just have memory in our brains, we have memory in all parts of our bodies, which is really fascinating to me and I’ve personally experienced it. So if we can think in different parts of our bodies, why can’t animals think not just in their brains but in other parts of their bodies too? That’s a whole other subject. But what I was talking about in the beginning was that I had two ways to go with this. So, my second way to go, which brings me to the same conclusion is: whether or not animals do think or have memory or have some moral feelings or whatever, whether they do or not, how is it that we can decide it’s OK to inflict pain and suffering?
(Gary) Yeah, it’s kind of a God-complex I think. I’m often asking myself and others this question: what difference does it make whether they can think about the future or think about the past? The way I put it in my last book, Animals in the Moral Community, was like this: there are people who say that human lives matter more in the cosmic scheme of things than animal lives because those lives matter more to their possessors. I absolutely reject that claim. What I argue in Animals in the Moral Community is that our cat Pindar cares about his life every bit as much as any of the humans in this room care about their lives, which is to say to an incalculable, non-quantifiable degree. It’s kind of an infinite regard for one’s own life. When love and other regarding conduct works correctly, it’s possible to have that kind of infinite concern for another. I don’t think the fact that we can think about our lives or think about our futures means our lives matter any more than the life of my cat, Pindar. The problem that a lot of people have with that kind of reasoning is we’re so accustomed to thinking about human life as obviously worth more than animal life. Then people start to try to pigeonhole me and say, “Look, if it were your wife’s life or the life of your cat, which would you choose?” Again I’ve got to appeal to Gary Francione, who is the most lucid thinker in animal rights in the contemporary generation. I think he’s really, really remade the landscape of animal rights thinking. In his book, Introduction to Animal Rights, the subtitle is Your Child Or Your Dog. It seems like you’re familiar with this. The idea is: philosophers, when they try to justify the human use of animals, are often talking about the situation as if it’s one of an emergency like it’s life or death—either the animal’s life or mine. Gary Francione’s point is that is rarely the case. Most of the time, the house is not on fire. You don’t have to decide between your child or the dog. And yet we treat every single instance of the use of animals as if it were some kind of a life-threatening emergency in which if we don’t use the animals, we’re all going to die. It’s just not the case. He says something very interesting, which is, look, if the house is really on fire and you really only can save your child or your dog, you might well save your child. But that would have not so much a moral basis or motivation as what he calls a psychological or emotional one, which is you might just relate more immediately to your child because of things like shared language and so forth. Let’s face it: I love my cat, Pindar, very, very dearly. But the fact that we cannot communicate in human language poses challenges and obstacles for me in my endeavor to understand him. As you were alluding to before, I’m willing to say that might well be at least as much inefficiency in me as it is in him.
(Caryn) That’s a good point. Well, people often use distracting techniques to get us off the point of what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about here is: eliminating pain and suffering, that it is not morally appropriate to cause pain and suffering to sentient beings, that factory farming of animals for food is bad for the environment, it’s bad for our health, it’s bad, bad, bad. When people come along and say, “Yeah, but don’t plants feel pain?”…
(Gary) You’ve seen some of these things in the New York Times over the last three or four years. Since I published in November of 2009 this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times the Sunday before Thanksgiving, “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” since then there have been at least three articles in which different writers have made this move. “Well, don’t plants feel pain? How can you say that animals are morally significant and plants are not?” Natalie Onjille did one and Carol Youn did one and most recently Michael Martyr, who is publishing a book this year with my publisher, Colombia University Press, and it’s on plant ethics. He had a little piece in this Philosophy Section of the Opinion Page of the New York Times called “The Stone,” in the last, I don’t know, five or six weeks in which he’s kind of appraisee of the book and it’s this argument that: look, there’s all kinds of interesting signs of communication in plants. He was talking about a certain type of pea-pod that communicates drought condition to the other pea-pod plants in the area and therefore we’re being a little bit glib if we think that animals have moral status and that plants don’t. How can you make that kind of arbitrary distinction? My thinking on that has always been: yeah, and the electric eye on my garage door opener “sees” when there’s a tricycle in the doorway, therefore it has moral status. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. There’s a difference between response and reaction. Reaction is something that happens in a completely non-conscious, non-sentient way. There’s no evidence whatsoever that plants have any kind of conscious awareness of anything. They don’t have central nervous systems. They don’t have nerve receptors or pain receptors. Can I categorically, logically prove that they don’t have sentience? The answer is no. But there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that it’s any more likely that plants have sentience than rocks do.
(Caryn) Yeah. And even if they did, by eating only plants and not animals we’re inflicting pain on far fewer plants because many, many plants have to be grown to feed animals to feed people and it’s inefficient, it’s energy-intensive.
(Gary) It’s a very interesting point that I was asked to address in the Animals and the Limits of Post-Modernism book that will be out this fall. The question was, “What would it be like to make a worldwide shift to veganism? Wouldn’t that be economically and environmentally disastrous?
(Caryn) Oh, it’d be beautiful heaven on Earth.
(Gary) Absolutely. I’m not an agronomist; I don’t know. But, I’ve read a lot of different estimates of how many pounds of plant protein it takes or grain it takes to produce one pound of beef. I’ve read anything from seven to 25 pounds and 2500 gallons of water for one pound of beef. It turns out that over half the arable land in North America is grazing land and that grazing land reduces biodiversity and there’s soil erosion and there’s methane production and there’s all these horrible environmentally devastating things that if these 53 billion animals…What is that? That’s something like almost nine times the world population or something like that or seven times; it’s many, many times the world population. That’s every year they’re being raised and killed. I can only imagine that things would be a lot better environmentally if we didn’t do those things, not to mention the fact that I think it’s an encroachment upon a basic, natural right that animals have not to be killed. My attitude is maybe in a life and death, face-to-face confrontation you’re entitled to defend yourself with deadly force but my guess is that probably nobody listening to this radio program right now is ever going to be in that situation. Now, I sometimes get somebody calling me or e-mailing me angrily saying, “Well, as a matter of fact, I am in that situation or I was in that situation.” I had one person after the Op-Ed piece leave me a very incensed phone message at work saying that she is highly allergic to plant estrogen and therefore she has to eat animal products in her diet. Now, I don’t know medically whether that’s the case. If it were, maybe there’s a justification for that but my point is that I don’t think that many, if any, of the people who read my work or are in the position to make an intelligent decision about these things really is in that kind of position.
(Caryn) Right. OK, we just have a few more minutes before we take a break and I wanted to ask you about your work at Bucknell University. So you teach philosophy. Do you have an opportunity to share these thoughts with your students and does the administration have an opinion on that?
(Gary) The administration has been surprisingly supportive. They have given me an alarming amount of freedom throughout my career to do whatever I want—almost whatever I want—in my teaching. I’ve been encouraged and remunerated to develop courses. I’m teaching this fall, for example, three courses—two of which bear directly upon animals. One of them is…actually all three of these courses this fall will. One’s an introductory course for incoming first-year students on philosophy and literature and there’s a lot of stuff about animals in there, including J. M. Coetzee’s work. I’m teaching an introductory philosophy course called “Gods, Humans, and Animals,” where we are going to read Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights and another book. And I’m also teaching a whole course, an intermediate-level course, called “Western Perspectives on Animals.”
(Caryn) Nice. Well, I think it’s really important that everybody know what’s going on and think about these things because it’s been in the shadows for way too long.
(Gary) It’s true. And it’s a niche subject; it’s an uphill battle. Right?
(Caryn) Well, when I was at Bucknell a long time ago we actually had a vegetarian meal plan. It wasn’t vegan but it was vegetarian. I don’t think they have one anymore. They were kind of ahead of their time at that time.
(Gary) I think there are some vegetarian options in the dining room but it’s certainly not a basic focus. I’m just giving the overwhelming emphasis on the consumption of animal products in our society—it’s not economically appealing to them to do that. Do you know what I mean? Lamentably.
(Caryn) Yeah, unfortunately. OK, well, let’s take a break and then we’re going to invite Sue Coe to join us. So stay with us. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food.
Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass and we’re back. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m here with Gary Steiner in the studio. He is a professor of philosophy at Bucknell University and the author of a number of books about animals and the moral community. Now I want to invite Sue Coe to join us. She was born in England and grew up next to a slaughterthouse. She studied at the Royal College of Art in London and emigrated to New York in 1972. Early in her career, she was featured in almost every issue of Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking magazine Raw and has since contributed illustrations to the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Nation, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Details, Village Voice, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Esquire and Mother Jones, among other publications. She is widely regarded as one of the best and most scathing artists of her time. Her paintings have been exhibited in galleries and museum around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art. Her previous books include Dead Meat, How to Commit Suicide in South Africa, X, and Pit’s Letter. Sue currently lives in a small cabin in upstate New York that she converted into a solar-powered sustainable home, built largely from recycled materials. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Sue!
(Sue) Thank you.
(Caryn) Thank you for joining me. I am so honored to have you on the show today. I have read your book Cruel and I am going to try and talk about it. It’s difficult because there are so many issues in here. (dog barks) Oh! We’ve got another guest on the show.
(Sue) Yes, I have three pit bulls. Don’t bark, pit bulls.
(Caryn) OK, well, we welcome their comments at any time. I wish we could understand them actually. We were just talking about that. Sue, I read a lot of books about veganism, the importance of being a vegan, and how it impacts health, the environment, and animals. But many of them don’t really get to me because I’ve read all of the information over and over and over. And, yeah, I’ve read about the 50+ billion animals in factory farms. And after you read all of these numbers, somehow we get a little numb to it. I continue my work because it’s very important but I read your book and I want to tell you it got to me. It’s incredible on so many levels. I want to say I love it but that’s not really the right way to describe my feelings about it.
(Sue) Well, that’s very kind of you. I just can’t do that sort of numerical research. The numbers seem just so overwhelming to me. I’m living here in the woods and a few feet away are two dairy farms. I can hear, as we’re speaking—and we might be able to hear—a calf that’s been torn away from the mother where the cow will cry for three days solid. That’s the reality. It’s not…I think those numbers are very important but I’m just overwhelmed with them. Every time I try and do a book, I just can’t do it well enough. I can’t do those numbers well enough.
(Caryn) Well, I think what you do is beyond numbers and that’s why it’s so important. But, first, I want to say that I know that I’m just going to be teary-eyed during this whole half hour. One of the things that I have difficulty doing is reading about factory farming and watching the videos because when I open my heart up to that information, I hear those cries. I hear them. And so it’s really hard to talk about it.
(Sue) I know. But could I just suggest something which is we don’t just talk about factory farming? It’s all factory farming. If we get into…I mean, I’m just learning about this now…but I think if we use “factory farming” the implication is that the small, family farm is OK. It is not. Anything that is about animal agriculture is very wrong.
(Caryn) Very wrong.
(Sue) And I think that’s just a way then we’re going to get into the locavore movement, and we’re going to get into the labeling something as more humane—the minuscule manipulation of things we can do about cruelty. And I don’t think we need to enter that. I think what we need to deal with is: we don’t need animals to live. They are very precious words like “compassion,” “humane protection,” and “care.” These words have been debased by part of the meat-industrial complex that’s suggesting it can be humane. I think this one thing is they are a dominant voice and we are a tiny voice—even though your voice sounds extremely strong. That dominant voice is sending a message that this is OK to eat other animals when it’s absolutely not.
(Caryn) It’s not.
(Sue) The mass of people are ready to hear about a vegan message. Not a mixed message but a vegan message: that you don’t need animal products to be healthy.
(Caryn) I want to say one more thing and then I want to get right back to this because this is really the crux of it all. But this thing about talking about big numbers that’s so overwhelming and people can’t comprehend it but what we can comprehend is when we look at your pictures and these images are incredible. And you see…the way you’ve done so many of them you can see the magnitude, you can see so many animals. It’s just overwhelming. But visually I think it’s easier to understand the magnitude of it.
(Sue) Well, even if you’re an artist and you try and draw fifty different cows or fifty different sheep, that’s exhausting drawing fifty and they’re all different characters and different personalities. And if you go to a sanctuary and you start drawing them, they’ll lean against you and you feel their jaws and you smell the sweet breath of hay. Each one is so individual and different. Just to draw fifty—let alone fifty billion—is almost impossible. So that’s where we need to look at the eyes on the one sheep or all the animals I’ve seen in the slaughterhouse, which is only a tiny drop of all the animals’ blood that’s been massacred. It’s that they’ve looked at me. Many of those animals have made eye contact with my eyes and what they say—and I’ve said this in the book—what they say, and it’s as clear as if they’re writing in English and in giant letters, is, “Why are you doing this to me?” That’s what they’re saying.
(Caryn) I’ve seen that. I’ve heard that.
(Sue) Any species has an idea of justice. For them to survive as a group, they have justice within their group and to do that to them is an abomination. They know it’s not justice and they don’t understand.
(Gary) Sue, this is Gary Steiner. I am really pleased to be on the program together with you. I was looking at your book here while we were talking. There’s a big direct connection between my work, which is more sort of detached and theoretical, and your work, which is exactly this idea that one has to see the kinship between human and non-human animals. There’s a real power, especially in the visual representation. It’s powerful and very upsetting. I think people really need to be jarred out of their detachment. All of the theorizing in the world is great but it’s not going to change anybody’s heart about these things until they recognize I think exactly what you just said, which is that animals are making an appeal to us. They’re asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” And they’re absolutely helpless at our hands.
(Sue) They have voices and in their voices it’s like…you know Munch? I mean this is art talk, and thank you for saying what you just said. Munch did “The Scream.” Do you remember that image?
(Sue) And it’s actually called…he called it: “The Cry of Nature.” And it was something so loud to him as he crossed that bridge when he made “The Scream” woodcut and the painting. Next door to the mental hospital where his sister was incarcerated was the municipal slaughterhouse. They said you could hear the screams of the patients and the animals. The only reason Munch was crossing that bridge was to go to the mental hospital to visit his sister. And although we cannot prove it, I think when he said this, “The Scream of Nature,” that’s what he meant, that he could hear it. And I think if we open up our hearts to hear this cry, animals are speaking through themselves.
(Gary) You have a representation in the book that uses that title, don’t you?
(Sue) Yes. Karen Davis, who I think is just like this genius and I’ve never met her so it’s not personal…
(Gary) You know her poultry concerns, right?
(Sue) Exactly. You know, I’ve read her work and I think she’s absolutely a great leader of the animal liberation movement. She said, “Oh, why don’t you do this—“The Scream” with chickens in the enriched cages screaming?” Then I started to research “The Scream.” So that’s her thinking, because she’s so profound. She researches and everything. I thought that’s a brilliant idea because in the “enriched cage,” so-called…you know when you start to talk about this legislation, it just poisons your brain to even discuss this. I’m sorry to even bring this up. But the enriched cage—the fear level for the hen in enriched or regular battery cages is identical. So do they care if they’ve got a bit more plastic furniture in their cages if the fear level is identical?
(Gary) You’re talking about a few more square inches to move around in.
(Sue) Yes. And I think when you travel around the country, which you probably do, people are ready to hear this vegan “don’t do this anymore.” They’re not..you can’t get into the nuances of “humane slaughtering” and “gas chambers are more humane.” That’s Orwellian insanity.
(Caryn) You talk about that certainly in the book and you refer to Temple Grandin and she’s certainly gotten a lot of press and made us all feel a little better about what we’re doing because she has this special innate talent or something because of her autism where she can tell whether animals are feeling better or worse in different situations and somehow we allow ourselves to believe that it’s OK.
(Sue) My answer to that, which is a very simple answer, is on youtube there is video of gassing, CO2 gassing of hogs done I think it’s in Sweden. You can watch this video for 90 seconds and you can watch these hogs climb the walls in vertical climbing—like magic—to get out of there as they’re slowly being suffocated; they’re slowly being gassed to death. The seconds tick off. You know, this is a window into a gas chamber…there’s nothing…I mean, that’s all I can say in response to Temple Grandin. Her solution in her paper to do with gassing hogs is that these are the wrong breed of pigs. Those pigs in those gas chambers suffer more because they’re the wrong breed. So she’s a sort of “fix it” person. You know, that’s the essence. But there are also autistic people writing about “if you love animals, don’t kill them.” She’s not the only voice.
(Caryn) That’s true.
(Sue) It’s just the meat industry’s convenience that they’ve made her the only voice. There are many voices in the autistic community—as in any community—and some animal liberation rights people within that community too.
(Gary) You know, it’s interesting. I’ve often thought about this. Temple Grandin’s great claim to fame is having designed more humane slaughterhouses, more humane means and situations for killing sentient beings that we have absolutely no need to kill, who pose no threat to us, who have every bit as much a right to life as we have. And as you say…this is where my friend Gary Francione, who’s a law professor at Rutgers, calls the Happy Meat. The Happy Meat Campaign. It just makes us feel better about exploiting animals.
(Sue) You know, Gary was so right all those years ago. He was so right.
(Caryn) The lone voice.
(Sue) I was just thinking, “Why didn’t I listen to him?”
(Gary) You know, and it goes on and on, Sue. Now we have Jonathan Safran Foer telling us we should be concerned about animals but he’s not arguing that killing animals is ultimately a bad thing. And Michael Pollan and it just goes on and on. And you were saying earlier that you think that people are ready for this vegan message. I feel so conflicted about that and I feel such opposition from so many people on this. Could you say a little bit more about what you think about that when you say you think people are ready for this message?
(Sue) Could I just respond a little bit to what you said before?
(Gary) Oh please.
(Sue) When we’re discussing Temple Grandin in terms of hog slaughter, yes, absolutely, they are better off going in six at time and not single-file system, which is how all slaughterhouses have been designed since Ford car manufacturing. It’s called “single line.” Yes, they are better going in six at a time but a friend of mine that just got into a slaughterhouse in Canada where they have a gas chamber for hogs, they’ve just got the gas chambers but the hogs are still going in in the single line system which means, in case people don’t understand that completely, is the hogs will try and back up and they will do everything they can to climb out of that single file. In that process they’re electrocuted in the eye, which is the most sensitive part as it would be on us, where they’re cattle-prodded to keep them going in the single line system. So the net result of humane manipulation is double the torture. This is why when animal protections get involved with this they should be very careful because the meat industry’s only about making a profit. And in they can add on gas chambers, which of course are cheaper because it’s six at a time, to a single line system then yes, they will. That’s why I think it’s incredibly naïve—or something worse—for animal protectionists to be involved in this type of manipulation of the meat industry or presumed manipulation of the meat industry. The second part of your question: As I travel a lot giving talks about art mostly, it’s not to animal rights activists, it’s to communities—just regular people in those communities. I used to say factory farming is wrong and then we’d all discuss it and the number one question wasn’t even a question, it was, “I’m going to quit eating animal products right now.” Now the number one question I get is, “Is it OK to eat humanely raised animal products.” Of course I say, “No.” So now I’ve sort of stepped it up a bit and I say, “It’s not OK to eat any animals, from small/large factory farm, anything.” And people get it. And I think they get it. It may be I’m just over-generalizing but we can’t take back all our work of twenty years. We’ve been educating for twenty years now and people are finally getting it. Even the New York Times gets it. So the New York Times is more radical than animal protectionists? What does that say? Why are we walking back on a message that we’ve struggled for for two decades?
(Caryn) Well, this is really important and I think I’m learning something right here in terms of how I do my activism and I think I’m going to be changing a few things. One of the things that Gary’s come up with in his new book that’s coming out is a phrase that he’s coined: “the vegan imperative.” I think that’s what you’re talking about as well. It’s not just this vegan lifestyle of fun food that’s healthy and good for the environment; it’s bigger than that.
(Sue) Yes. I mean I want to read the book but I think when you say, well, the head of Whole Foods is a vegan, that’s supposed to mean something to me. Like Mackey, the head of Whole Foods. The farmer down below here, the retired farmer, that I can see his house from sitting here talking to you on the phone, he’s also a vegan because he’s had ten heart attacks. He can’t eat the products that he creates, which is dairy.
(Caryn) He’s a vegan but he’s still producing milk?
(Sue) His son is. He says that “Oh, Sue, I can’t eat this stuff anymore and I love it. I’m a vegan like you.”
(Gary) Well, there’s plenty of meat in Whole Foods too, right Sue?
(Sue) Exactly. See, this is what I’m saying. Being a vegan is about other things than what you put in your mouth. It’s about social justice. This is a social justice movement. It’s not about consumer choice. Go, Gary, go.
(Gary) It’s about how to live, about how you live your life and what you believe in, the principles that you stand for, and whether you believe in true non-violence. To me, that’s what it’s about.
(Sue) Thank you.
(Caryn) You’ve got…there are just so many amazing pictures in here but I’m thumbing through and I’m looking at the picture of the little chick who’s been debeaked and then the picture of the guy whose doing the debeaking. People need to see this. Even in this format where it’s not a real photograph but just to understand that these things are going on. I don’t think most people have a clue.
(Sue) No, they don’t because it’s hidden from them; it’s concealed.
(Caryn) So how did you…where do you get the models for most of your drawings because like you said, most of it is concealed?
(Sue) Well, I’m trying to get into decompression facilities now, which we didn’t discuss. We discussed gassing hogs; we didn’t discuss decompression of chickens, which is fairly new to this country. That will be hard for me to get access to but…
(Caryn) Can you explain what that is?
(Sue) It’s like “the bends.” So chickens, instead of being electrocuted, water-bathed, or probably nothing because chickens don’t have any humane slaughter rights, it’s just throat cut, estrangulation one at a time. Now they can go into this giant tube—it’s like a decompression tube—and slowly be decompressed. The first thing that happens is that the chickens have very sensitive ears and their eardrums rupture. And this again…I think would be 90 seconds. Ninety seconds is a very long time to die, but this is considered more humane.
(Gary) They’re essentially exploded.
(Caryn) Or imploded.
(Sue) Yes. That’s a better way to say it. I think…so my intent is to get in with a paper and pencil. You know, when I give talks, there’s always a slaughterhouse worker in the audience or a brother or sister of a slaughterhouse worker and they say, “I’ll get you into a slaughterhouse. No problem.” And I say, “OK, good. When then?” And so that happens all the time and because I’m going in there with a pencil and paper, people can see what I’m doing. I’m not stealing anything. I’m not taking away anything. If they want the drawings, they can have them. As long as I don’t depict workers as monsters, which I never do anyway, although sometimes I have done that I have to admit…
(Caryn) I see a few monsters in some of these pictures.
(Sue) There are a couple of them in there shark fishing. But they can have a portrait of themselves and if it’s inaccurate or if I’ve done anything wrong, then I’ll change it and it won’t ever see the light of day. So those people, the staff in slaughterhouses, are very concerned about losing their jobs. They’re very concerned; that’s the only job they could get. They don’t want to be attacked by animals rights activists. So they see me and we just talk about politics or whatever they want to talk about. Most likely they’re going to be Spanish-speaking. And then I give them a drawing and they can look at the drawings and they say where is the equipment wrong, did I get that wrong. Anywhere down on these farms I can go and draw. I know these guys and so I can go and draw and they just look at it and say, “Oh, that’s good. You could be a court reporter.”
(Caryn) That’s amazing.
(Sue) It doesn’t have evil intent, it’s just to draw what goes on. If they don’t like it, they can have the drawings and I can leave with no drawings.
(Caryn) That’s amazing. That’s brilliant.
(Gary) I think one of the most powerful things, as I said at the beginning about these drawings, is they’re so evocative. Sue, you mentioned Munch’s “The Scream.” I think one of the things that makes that such a famous and treasured image, or set of images because as we know there are a number of them, is that they have a real claim on people’s souls. That’s what I think is really needed: more than just a lot of words or statistics, as you’ve said but something that will really get people to look animals in the eye and take them as if they’re looking at themselves when they look at an animal.
(Sue) Exactly. There’s this great photographer in Canada, she’s called Jo-Anne, and you can find her work on Toronto Pig Save. It’s called Toronto Pig Save. If anyone’s interested they can google that and these are some of the greatest photographs. What they’re doing up there in Toronto is they’re witnessing animals going into a slaughterhouse. It is the most powerful set of photographs you’ll ever see. It’s the last few…Jo-Anne’s got a camera in through the slats of the hog transport and how they’re looking back at her and it’s so poignant—the last sight they see. It started out with one woman just witnessing. And this woman called Anita, who’s so advanced in terms of animal activism, she’s so advanced—it’s the same with Karen. You know this is happening all over the world. I’m just talking about her. She started this movement called Toronto Pig Save where people in the local community take responsibility for living next door to a slaughterhouse. Instead of denying it’s there, they’re starting to stand outside and just stand there. That slows down the staff in the slaughterhouses. It slows down the truck drivers. It makes them start to engage with the people standing there. It’s a very powerful thing they’ve done and now they’re getting 20 or 40 a day. These are neighbors.
(Caryn) I love that story. That’s one of the problems today. People feel so overwhelmed and so powerless. We are all responsible and we all need to take responsibility even if it’s just standing outside of a place and something that we don’t condone. We have to take a stand. We can’t just sit back, and watch TV, look at the Internet, and complain. We need to take responsibility.
(Sue) Yeah, we’re so isolated when we do that—just sitting in front of a piece of plastic plasma something. But when you go out and do that witnessing…when it started off with one woman, she’s not alone anymore because then there were two women and then they were two women and a guy and then they were more. And so they’re not witnessing something in isolation and despair, they’re witnessing something as a community.
(Caryn) That’s so important: community. Sue, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.
(Sue) Oh, it’s been a pleasure talking to you both!
(Caryn) I’m just…I feel like, well, there are no words to explain your book and I will do my best to get it into the hands of as many people as I can. Thank you so much. Thank you Sue Coe. And Gary Steiner, thanks for joining me today.
(Gary) Thank you. It’s been a great pleasure.
(Caryn) It has. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by: Jennie Steinhagen, 02/03/13