The Abatement Of Cruelty, Ctd

Remaining thoughts on the popular thread:

In response to your Aussie reader suggesting kangaroo meat, there’s another very good option in Wild Pigs A Growing Problem In Berlinthe US, if a bit expensive and hard to find.  I’ve almost completely cut pork out of my diet for all of the reasons discussed, but being from North Carolina, giving up pulled pork permanently would be tantamount to treason.  It’s not common yet, but there is an alternative.

Wild boar have been exploding in numbers, particularly in Texas, for reasons that aren’t fully determined (more on that caveat to eating boar in a minute). They’re aggressive, dangerous, very damaging to local flora and wildlife, and incredibly delicious.  They’re also incredibly difficult to hunt, being fairly intelligent and swift of foot, which to me is a healthy challenge to our increasingly complacent collective backsides. Eating boar means you’re eating a gamier pork that needs to be reduced in numbers, and at the very least has lived its life in a natural environment. I’ve had wild boar sausage, and it was amazing.

The caveat, of course, is that there most certainly are boar that are intentionally released for hunts and which contribute to the problem.  We definitely need some way of distinguishing boar that’s killed in wildlife control and boar that’s killed after being intentionally released for sport, which turns the moral equation upside down.

Another zooms out:

I’ve been following your thread about how we can be more humane in killing the animals we eat.  It is fine for those of us who live in a place where we can actually get to a farmer’s market and find grass-fed beef that is killed humanely; however, I think there is a huge disconnect about how we feed the people who live in the United States who barely have access to a grocery store in their neighborhood much less barnyard raised chickens … and even if there were such a thing, they would never be able to afford to buy it.

In 1940, there were approximately 128 million people in the US and lots of family farms; now there are 308 million (probably more since that number is from the 2010 census) that we need to figure out a way to feed.  My dad had a grocery store in a small town and my aunt and uncle had a farm where they raised chickens, cattle and pigs.  In the fall, my dad and two uncles would slaughter a steer and a calf for meat for my dad to sell at his store.  And I am sorry, but when I saw my first calf with his neck cut, bleeding and stumbling around the barnyard until he fell over, I didn’t feel like that calf was treated humanely.  But I understood that that calf was going to feed a lot of people in my hometown (population 500) and at a not very expensive cost. The only expense my dad had was the slaughterhouse he took the animals to be cut up into smaller chunks so that he could store them more easily.  I can still remember the smell – a mix of blood and meat – that permeated the place.

So please tell me how, without factory farming, we are going to be able to feed 310 million people at an affordable price.  And please, if we all became vegetarians/vegans, don’t think that there wouldn’t be factory vegetable gardens (there already are in California and other farm states) and we would probably run out of arable land to feed everyone.  And if there weren’t factory cattle farms, we would quickly run out of space for meat too.

Now what we can do is regulate the hell out of them – which of course, our deregulating Congress wants nothing to do with.  Make sure that the conditions that the animals are kept in and the meat harvested are as safe as we can make it … chickens and pigs, too.  Of course that would mean adding inspectors and following up to make sure, etc. etc.  And how is that going to be accomplished?

I just think it’s really naïve to say that we can all just check out how our meat is harvested and not buy from certain suppliers and the market will force a change.  Until everyone makes enough money to put real pressure on the ranchers, meat producers, etc. it is not going to happen.

Another notes:

I wanted to comment on the research you cited on dog fMRI from the Berns lab that argues that “dogs are people” based on the fact that dogs show emotional processing that activates the caudate nucleus. In my own work I also use fMRI, and the caudate nucleus (part of the basal ganglia) is my primary research speciality.

I think that the methods for training and scanning dogs developed by Dr. Berns and his colleagues are very exciting and will lead to much greater understanding of the mind and brain of dogs. However, I think his emphasis on the caudate nucleus is very misleading. The basal ganglia in general, and the caudate in particular, are actually conserved across all vertebrate species, to a very remarkable degree; there is nothing special about dogs having a caudate nucleus, or using it to feel emotions. Stan Grillner at the Karolinska institute is a leader in the field and has found basal ganglia homologs in axolotl, lampreys, and pretty much every vertebrate ever tested. Even more impressive is recent research that found a basal ganglia like structure in the fly (drosophila)!

A goal of many scientists has historically been to try to find the special thing about our minds and brains that makes us human. Most of these (enlarged prefrontal cortex, ability to use tools) have ultimately been shown to not be unique to our species. So the lesson here might not be that dogs, specifically, are like humans – but that we humans are more closely related to other vertebrates, and even invertebrates, to a much greater degree than we appreciate. That lesson is certainly consistent with the moral argument made by Matthew Scully.

(Photo of a wild boar from Getty)