by Joan Harrison
Chief Executive Officer and President,
The Humane Society of the United States
"It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid
recognition of the suffering it produces, and
there is a straight line of development between
the gospel of happiness and the construction of
camps of extermination so far off in Poland that
each of our own countrymen can convince himself
that he cannot hear the screams of pain."
(Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia)
August 27, 2014
Dear Mr. Pacelle,
I am trying to understand how the Humane Society of the United States--an
organization that has done so much for animals, that claims to champion veganism
on ethical grounds, that educates large portions of the public so effectively,
and that urges ending and preventing horse slaughter because it's "fraught with
terror, pain, and suffering"--is able to back an event such as the "Hoofin It" in
Denver, an event premised on and tacitly promoting an indifference toward the
torment and premature deaths by slaughter of other once living beings. That
event is said proudly to "showcase" the flesh of a different animal corpse each
night for five nights, August 17 through 21--bison one night, goat another, pig
another, cow another, and sheep another. The Humboldt is one among many
restaurants participating in that event--restaurants that claim to use "humane
ranchers" as their source. The mission of the Humane Society, according to your
website, is "to prevent cruelty before it occurs." Are you not,
however, sponsoring and, indeed, endorsing cruelty by donating to the Humboldt
Restaurant or any other such place?
The Heroes Like Us website states that the Hoofin It event would not have been
possible without the Humane Society’s sponsorship. And it vaunts the fact
"Hoofin It is a benefit for the Colorado Food Guild, a project of the Mile High
Business Alliance, in their collective efforts to build a healthy and
sustainable food system in Colorado."
There is, however, nothing healthy or sustainable about slaughter. Even the
jingle advertising the event, superimposed on a photograph of a bison ("Respect
your dinner, Move your feet, Get to hoofin it") shows a completely alienated way
of relating to animals--and not merely because bison are being persecuted unto
annihilation by federal agents. The jingle makes light of a crime against
creatures of whose torment it is in complete denial, and its presumed erasure of
that crime is already a template among the general population. A cow is not
dinner for anyone advocating cow protection as Gandhi, for example, did.
Gandhi called the cow "a poem of pity"-- maybe because he looked into the eyes of
one and perceived a kindred spirit. Maybe he felt her breath on his hand
and knew her fragility. Maybe he hugged her and felt the euphoria all
animals bring. Maybe he watched her and easily inferred her sublime sensitivity
and preternatural wisdom.
Niman Ranch is one of the sources at the Hoofin It celebration of the animals
"showcased"--animals who, like those of any so-called sustainable farm, are
coerced into slaughter. Slaughter is not only obscenely cruel, as you
know, and its victims’ pain a bottomless hell. Those victims, in addition, are
wrenched from their families and communities, leaving grieving everywhere. Their
lives are cut short by decades. And the moment the wagon appears, if not
before, they know full well whence they are going. The habit of animal
sacrifice needs to end.
The Humane Society is said to be America’s leading animal protection
organization and it boasts a membership of over a million. Are you not
aware that by donating freely a significant amount of money for such a slaughter
fest you are sending a destructive message to your members, a message completely
opposed to everything for which you claim to stand? If you are not aware,
then why should anyone take you seriously as a protector of animals? And
if you are aware--as the absence of any mention of Hoofin It from your website
suggests--why would you knowingly and willingly support slaughter?
To tolerate slaughter is not to protect. It is to fail to recognize the
intrinsic worth of animals. It is to buy into the party line of ownership, to
perceive animals as property not persons, commodities not individuals, slave not
free. It is a failure of empathy.
I don't think this is merely a matter of new welfarism--as opposed to
abolitionism--showing its true stripes, as some might say. Some of the most vocal
people perceived as new welfarists (whether or not they define themselves that
way) are impassioned ethical vegans who have contributed significantly to animal
well-being--Martin Balluch and Bruce Friedrich, for example. Farm
Sanctuary, of which Mr. Friedrich is the policy director, does not even allow
anyone onto its property who does not first agree to maintain a vegan diet for
the duration of his or her stay. I can't imagine either of those men agreeing
to finance a meat eating bonanza such as the one in Denver.
A part of the proceeds from Hoofin It goes to the "Miles High Business
Alliance," a locavore group. The locavores--who seek out and pride themselves on
their use of local food--are an offshoot of the sustainability movement, a
movement that seems to speak about the natural world as if animals were not part
of it, about animal agriculture as if slaughter were not integral to it, and
(when pushed) about slaughter as if gross injustice were not at its core.
The injustice of slaughter is THE issue here, however. The absence of pain, the
absence of terror, even if achievable or guaranteed, would not erase the
atrocity of snuffing out an innocent life--all the more so when for something so
frivolous as the human palate's fleeting delectation. Porphyry says that
pleasure and justice are opposites--a seeming hyperbole the Hoofin It
choreography would now appear to bring into relief.
To regard as Gandhi did the control of the palate as an ethical imperative is to
recognize the need to end the barbaric custom of eating flesh. The integrity of
creatures needs to be addressed and not only their physical pain…their souls,
their understanding, and not only their bodies. Though there’s no one who
does not backslide at one time or another, and maybe your donating was merely a
backsliding, even so, the thought of an ethical vegan backsliding into funding
slaughter strains the imagination. If to liberate is at the very least to
release from the yoke of another, this event would seem to demonstrate the
difference between animal liberation and mere protection. It makes clear
why the only true protecting is by liberating.
Joan C. Harrison, PhD
Independent Advocate for Animals