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How to Stop the Torture of Downed Cows

I received eleven e-mails yesterday, two of which were from people who don’t eat meat, about the beef recall and the HSUS expose of torture of downed cows. I called the e-mailers to reach out and use this opportunity for some gentle conversion.

I kid you not when I say all nine non-vegans were apoplectic and wanted to know if there was anything they could do about the situation in California. Two wanted to send HSUS some cash to make sure the guilty parties were properly prosecuted or something like that. These individuals were so upset that I had to tread lightly while reminding them of their hypocrisy. Here’s what occurred with one of them.

I meekly suggest, "Well, there is one sure-fire way to make sure you don’t ever have that kind of blood on your hands."

At this point you’d think she’d finish the sentence for me, but she really didn’t know what I was getting at.


"You could stop eating animals."


"Yeah, but that’s not gonna stop horrible people from being so cruel to cows!"

"So you’re not gonna stop eating meat, then?"

"You know me, I’ll never stop"  (or something like that).

"So let me get this straight: You’re really upset about what’s happening in an industry that you can directly impact by boycotting it and making sure it never gets another penny from you, but you instead choose to continue to fund it? You want to do something, but the one thing you could is the one thing you’re not willing to do?"

"Isn’t the HSUS doing something about it? Doesn’t helping them help the cows?"

(At this point I’m vaguely feeling like I’m on the spinning teacup ride at the local fair. And although my self-monitor appears to be back in business, it’s still a bit vulnerable.)

"Look, Friend, the reality is that what happens to cows by the tens of thousands each day at each slaughterhouse isn’t that much better than what you saw. Not one non-crippled cow is treated humanely, is enjoying the experience and is not living and dying in abject terror. The ‘downer’ cow situation upsets most people because they don’t want to eat meat from an animal who was so sick before she was slaughtered."

"No, I saw what those evil men did to those cows! I’ll never forget it! I’m gonna have nightmares about it for the rest of my life! I would never want to eat meat from a situation like that. That’s bad karma!"

"Would you like to see what happens to cows who aren’t crippled? Do you think eating their meat is better karma?"

"I’m coming to you for help, not for you to impose your beliefs on me."

"The way I see it, you’re coming to me for help, and I’m giving you just that. I’m trying to get you to see that the downed cow situation isn’t the real problem. If the cows weren’t in the slaughterhouse at all, the problem of workers torturing crippled cows wouldn’t exist."

"Don’t change the subject."

"The way I see it, I’m not changing the subject–I’m trying to get you to see a larger picture. We have developed a system that by its very nature disrespects and abuses the animals. Though heaping further abuse on top of that abuse is certainly terrible, the real tragedy is that the entire system isn’t seen as barbaric."


Maybe I planted a seed. Maybe I failed completely. But one thing I learned–and I learn it at least once a week–is that for some people, no amount of gruesome truth seen with their own eyes is going to keep them from their filet mignon.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joseph #

    I'd be willing to guess that the whole "no amount of gruesome truth seen" thing is true for at least 75% of us. I also believe, though, if there was vegan/AR education for children, we'd have a lot more veg*ns in this world. Indoctrination sucks.

    February 19, 2008
  2. I think you handled that discussion perfectly, Mary.

    In addition to refusing to go vegan, giving cash to HSUS is a sure way to guarantee that the industry-welfare partnership-in-crime and the resultant murder and torture continues. HSUS just wants your cash; going vegan is not a solution for them because it doesn't pay their fat salaries (look for the word "vegan" on HSUS's website; you won't see it).

    February 19, 2008
  3. It seems this person was very willing to watch video, and was very motivated to do something after seeing it. I wonder if showing her clips of non-downer cows being abused as a matter of course would have helped her to reach these conclusions herself. That way she'd be coming to the ideas on her own instead of having them told to her, and would maybe be less resistant to them as a result…

    February 20, 2008
  4. "Look, Friend, the reality is that what happens to cows by the tens of thousands each day at each slaughterhouse isn't that much better than what you saw. Not one non-crippled cow is treated humanely, is enjoying the experience and is not living and dying in abject terror. The 'downer' cow situation upsets most people because they don't want to eat meat from an animal who was so sick before she was slaughtered."

    Thanks Mary for telling it like it is. Now we need to get ready for all those other slaughterhouses trying to convince the public that this was only an isolated incident. There has already been a news story on our local station of a local slaughterhouse telling the reporter they use no prods at all. They said they speak kindly (I think that is the word they used) to the animals to get the cows to go where they want them too. How rediculous! And how foolish is the public going to be? Will people stop supporting the cruelty or will they be content to remain ignorant for their few minutes of "tasty" (if you want to call dead animal flesh that) pleasures.

    February 20, 2008
  5. Great transcript. That was awesome. Thanks for sharing it, Mary.

    February 20, 2008
  6. One fact that is getting lost in the new stories, is that those cows in the HSUS video were DAIRY cows (check So for those who don't see the point of going vegan — "what do you think happens to dairy cows when they are used up as milk-producing machines?"

    February 21, 2008
  7. That's a really good point, Joellen. I'm going to go to the other sites where I post and people are all: "I'll never give up my cheese" and remind them.

    February 21, 2008
  8. I'm glad that the HSUS undercover investigation has stimulated discussions about food safety and (some of) the horrific ways we treat farmed animals. As would be expected, many people, addicted and married to a lifetime of eating animals, are resistant to the idea of completely giving up that major portion of their diet. I'm sure a large percentage think they'd die from lack of protein or have to eat tofu and bland meals every night.

    Yet, thanks in part to steadfast reminders such as the ones you dispensed, I suspect many meat-eaters are a bit less wedded to meat now, and/or are more circumspect.

    Let's leverage this recent attention (and in many cases, shock) at animal cruelty to inform people of the vegan solution, as you have done. You probably did plant a seed; vague, defensive reactions, such as the ones you ran into, are often a sign of internal turmoil.

    Good point about the fact that these were dairy cows.

    HSUS generally uses "vegetarian" when they mean "vegan." Whether or not that's a good policy is not my point; but all their recipes are vegan, and that part of the site is steadily expanding. The specific products they recommend on the site are all vegan. If they really wanted the meat industry to prosper, why wouldn't they promote recipes with meat and dairy in them? Could they do more to promote veganism? You bet. But if all they wanted was cash and a partnership with the meat industry, there are far more lucrative and surefire ways to it than potentially shutting down slaughterhouses, which may happen now as a result of the investigation: Furthermore, I would bet my house that the people I know at HSUS who are working in the farm animal division would be elated if the organization could disband because the world went vegan.

    Back to your post… I wonder often about the psychology that happens when someone can surely see the viable, doable, rather airtight solution to animal suffering in the meat industry (boycotting meat and dairy in this example, and, by extension, all animal products), yet refuses to do it – in fact, reacts defensively to the suggestion. Lifelong eating habits hit so close to home; the degree to which people cling to them, even if those habits are arbitrary, even if they're violently destructive and violate basic, widely-held morals, is formidable. We should strive to understand them as much as possible.

    February 24, 2008
  9. Dan #

    On Why People Consume Animal Products:

    Based on my experience, I agree with John Stuart Mill when he says: “It is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak.”

    Also based on experience, I agree with Arthur Schopenhauer when he says that there are three primary reasons why most people (probably around 90%) act morally: 1) social approbation/disapprobation, 2) fear of law enforcement, and 3) the superstitious fear of afterlife consequences (hell or a bad reincarnation). Only about 10% of the human population acts morally primarily out of genuine empathy and/or moral principle.

    There are no clear-cut boundaries between the above-stated reasons people act morally, and the reasons vary in strength in each individual to make up a complex continuum of reasons, but the main point is that genuine empathy and principles are a minority reason why people behave morally in general; the majority reason is our psychological need to follow the herd and/or stay out of jail, hell, etc.

    Given the above understanding of human nature, I conclude that: 1) Most people eat animal products primarily because they don’t care about animal cruelty and slaughter, and only secondarily because it tastes good or they’re “addicted and married” to it; 2) The primary reason most people (about 90%) don’t care about animal cruelty and slaughter is because the Big Human Herd doesn’t care about it and most religions don’t condemn it.

    This leaves us with the approximately 10% who have a fairly strong natural tendency toward empathy/moral principles and therefore a fairly strong potential to go vegan, but just need to be educated about why and maybe a little how. Eventually, the 10% can influence the 10% who are next in the continuum, this next 10% having some natural tendency toward genuine morality, but not as much as the previous 10%, and so on, until the “vegan herd” gets large enough to affect more and more herd-followers who lack as much genuine morality themselves as those who went before, but will follow the herd more and more as the herd grows larger.

    So, we’ll eventually get there, but it isn’t as much as matter of “overcoming the herd’s addictions” as it is educating the moral minority and gaining a bigger herd over time. Veganism is easy. There may be some fear of the unknown and fear of herd rejection, but the food itself is amazingly delicious if one has even a remote clue of how to cook.

    On HSUS:

    HSUS is a self-perpetuating big business. They sell “animal welfare” to that sector of the *mainstream public* who love their cats and dogs, but mostly have no problem eating or using animals, as long as it is “more ‘humane’ than current practices” (even though it’s never humane). HSUS cannot maintain themselves financially as an animal rights organization or an org that promotes veganism (especially by name) because most of their donors will not support it at this time.

    That’s not to say HSUS can do no good whatsoever, it’s just to say that they are very limited in what they can do by the current mainstream’s expectations to which they must adhere. Getting the video on national news (because they’re a mainstream org) is a good thing. Their reaction to the video (“let’s regulate more”; no mention of going vegan) is a bad thing (but I’ll admit that if they are to remain mainstream and financially as large as they are and pay those salaries, that’s the reaction they must have).

    There’s nothing wrong with vegan abolitionists criticizing the whole welfarist reaction to the video as absurd. It *is* absurd to think that we can “regulate” the production and make the scene of slaughtering animals “humane”. Vegan abolitionists are merely stating the truth: the only way to be humane to animals is to not intentionally slaughter them, which entails veganism as a moral baseline.

    February 25, 2008
  10. Sara #

    I am a young child and I am also a vegitarian. I think that if you don't agree with somethng that they say or do at slaughterhouses that you should boycout it. I know I did. I got my mom to also be a vegitarian and quite a few other people as well. I will continue to get people to turn vegan for as long as I live.

    October 6, 2008
  11. Bea Elliott #

    Sara… "I will continue to get people to turn vegan for as long as I live." Now that's a life worth living! May you find much success in your efforts. 🙂

    October 9, 2008

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