Cognitive Dissonance at the Niman Ranch
Let’s start with the teaser from The New York Times online:
By NICOLETTE HAHN NIMAN
Because we ask the ultimate sacrifice of the animals we eat, it is incumbent on us to ensure that they have decent lives.
Niman is a lawyer and cattle rancher. As a lawyer, she is probably more aware of the power of language than most people (my brief stint in law school supports that only lawyers are more obsessed with language than linguists). She misuses language in a most egregious manner in this op-ed.
We ask the ultimate sacrifice . . .
We don’t ask any farm animal anything. We have decided that we will raise and slaughter certain animals for food, and they have no say in the matter. They aren’t offering themselves to us, as per the definition of sacrifice. They don’t willingly, joyfully give their lives so that we may . . . nosh on their flesh when we don’t even need to. Furthermore, implicit in the idea of sacrifice is that it’s all worth it in the end, because some higher, grander idea is being honored. What’s the higher idea here? The taste buds of Americans?
A legitimate sacrifice would be: Stop eating pigs, even if you think they taste good, because killing without necessity is unjustifiable. Do you see the sacrifice? You give something up to honor a more important notion.
Now, let’s deconstruct "Pig Out."
- Niman notes the horrifying conditions for pigs in gestation crates. She is mighty upset that their "sensitive nostrils" are assaulted, their tails have been cut off without anesthesia, and they "subsist in inherently hostile settings." I believe she is genuinely upset by what the pigs must endure, at least during their lives in gestation crates.
- Then comes the most comical sentence in parenthesis I’ve ever seen in this context. "Disclosure: my husband founded a network of farms that raise pigs using traditional, non-confinement methods." I did happen to know that, but reading it makes me cringe nonetheless, as Niman’s agenda is painfully transparent.
- Considering pigs are as smart as dogs, she continues.
- "Imagine keeping a dog in a tight cage or crowded pen day after day with absolutely nothing to chew on, play with or otherwise occupy its mind. Americans would universally denounce that as inhumane." Once you say that, you’re just begging me to say, "Imagine if we raised dogs for slaughter and then ate them?" You can’t introduce the comparison between dogs and pigs and then abandon it. You’ve got to take it to its conclusion.
- She’s appalled by the idea of gestation crates and knows that "Americans expect more — they want animals to be humanely treated throughout their lives, not just at slaughter." First of all, that’s not true. Forget what you think they expect, Mrs. Niman, and look at what they do. Americans know how veal is produced and they eat it anyway. They know how fur becomes a coat and leather becomes their shoes, and it doesn’t stop them from buying these products. Second, "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron. I’m not sure why Niman doesn’t think slaughter equals suffering. If I provide you with what I consider are nice living conditions,
in a place of my choice from which you are not allowed to leave, and
then I kill you when I choose to kill you, there’s no suffering in there? I just ended your life, for heaven’s sake!
- "As a cattle rancher," she concludes, "I am comfortable raising animals for human consumption, but they should not be made to suffer. Because we ask the ultimate sacrifice of these creatures, it is incumbent on us to ensure that they have decent lives." The lady doth protest too much. The cognitive dissonance of Niman (which she claims she doesn’t have)
is screaming so loud I can hear it from thousands of miles away. As an
empathetic human being, I actually feel bad for her.
- Then comes the clincher final sentence: "Let us view the elimination of gestation crates as just a small first step in the right direction."
Let us not. Niman and others (I used to be one of them, and as we all know, there’s no one more confident than a convert) believe that gestation crates are a step toward eliminating suffering. But they eliminate one form of suffering, and leave the ultimate form intact, and make you feel less bad about it. And the one that’s intact is the only one that really matters. If you want to stop the suffering, stop the demand for the product of suffering. In this case, stop eating pigs.