I'll tell you a little about what I heard on today's Oprah show titled, “How we treat the animals we eat“, and then I'm curious if you will end up wondering about the same glaring elephant in the room that I did…
Oprah started by explaining that this show was all about getting educated, so that we could make our own informed choices. I was surprised to hear her admit that it was only this past summer that she began wondering about where her food comes from. I suppose it's an understatement to say that the majority of the population still care much more about the cost of their food than about how it was raised or where it came from before it hit their table, but I'm still surprised each time I hear about it for some reason. (Probably just because it has become such a big part of my own little world.)
The main focus of the show was on the issue up for vote soon in California, Proposition 2, related to the humane treatment of farm animals. It would require bigger cages or pens so that the animals have much more room to move around.
- Proponents say it is wrong to confine an animal to such tiny living spaces for the entirety of their short lives.
- Opponents say it would put many farmers out of business (“the egg industry would be wiped out in CA”) and that these living conditions are not harmful for their animals.
The farmers on the show who were against this seemed, to me anyway, to be good and sincere people who genuinely believe that the way their farms operate is fine. They claim the animals are safer separated into cages instead of roaming free where they could hurt one another and possibly not get enough to eat. I still disagree with them, but felt more empathy for today's farmer who must make a living.
Why not the natural way?
However, their philosophy just doesn't make sense. Especially when you look at the farms featured on the show that were doing things the old fashioned, natural way. Not only were they making a living just fine, but also everything worked together to make a healthy, peaceful farm. Content animals don't go after each other. Their manure is a natural fertilizer to get the ground ready for next year's crop. The soil becomes healthier, the crop is healthier, and the animals are healthier. Surprise! God's way is still best.
Seeing pictures of the differences between a conventional chicken farm and a traditional chicken farm was unsettling. The traditional farm had the chickens out pecking around the farm for bugs and freely roaming for a good share of the day; the conventional farm showed a long, dark stinky hallway with chickens covered in feces and crammed into tiny cages – their average sized living space is 2/3's the size of a 8½ x 11 piece of paper. 90% of the eggs we (not me!) consume are from these farms, which are providing eggs at the cheapest possible price for the consumer. (Apparently we consume 75 billion eggs per year, and only 5% of us buy cage-free eggs – I found that number surprising! I thought more people read my blog! Ha ha) Keep in mind, they made it clear that the conventional farm featured on the show totally adheres to the USDA standards…
Pig & cow farmers…
Again, the differences in the animals at the conventional farms compared to the traditional farms were staggering. The one looked so natural, and the other looked like a factory. Some of it was just downright terrible. They showed 2002 pictures of veal calves chained at the neck in 22″ wide crates for their entire lives of 16 weeks. Their diets were all liquid to keep them anemic (not sure why), which caused intestinal problems. Many had bad sores, others had pneumonia, and some couldn't even stand on their own. A guest on the show said this isn't an accurate representation of a typical farm, and that there are bad apples everywhere. I can appreciate this, but a typical conventional farm is still far from ideal. (Have you seen the Meatrix?) Then they showed a traditional farm in Wisconsin (“Strauss Veal”) and the farmers said the calves are always free roaming and with their mother at all times, drinking her milk. They receive no antibiotics or hormones.
Many companies are moving to support the farmers with animals on pasture:
- Chipotle gets all their pork from cage-free pigs.
- Whole Foods Market sells only cage-free eggs.
- Ben & Jerry's uses only cage-free eggs in their ice cream.
- Burger King gets 5% of their eggs and 10% of their pork from animals not confined. (Yippee, they're really going after it, huh? Makes me want to go get a whopper, NOT.)
ARE we willing to pay for it?
One of Oprah's guests commented that if the consumer wants the farmer to get away from conventional practices, they'd better be willing to pay for it. I don't think she is aware that more and more, people ARE willing to pay for better quality meat, eggs and milk. The point was made that the more there is a demand, the more prices will come down.
The elephant in the room that they all missed:
Oprah commented that many people wonder, “What do I care about all this?” Her guest replied that most people want animals to be treated humanely…I waited, and waited, but no one brought up what was OBVIOUS to me! Yes, we want animals to be treated humanely, but why ELSE is this important?
BECAUSE HEALTHIER ANIMALS PROVIDE HEALTHIER ANIMAL FOODS!
The only reference in the whole show related to the correlation between animals that were raised better and food quality was a stat: there are 20 times more cases of salmonella from conventional chicken farms than cage-free farms. But good health is so much more than that. The higher levels of omega 3's in animals on pasture, the CLA, the fact that healthy animals don't need medicines to keep them well, etc. (read more on all that at the links below) – all this translates to a vastly superior, more nutritious way to nourish our bodies compared to conventional animal foods. I can't believe no one brought that up on the show!
How can we vote?
Oprah said that soon California voters can decide for themselves and the rest of us can decide at the grocery store. I disagree. The rest of us can decide by not going to the grocery store and instead visiting a local farmer for our food.
photo by nayrb7
I’ve been out of town this week, so l hadn’t followed the comments on this post of Kelly’s until today.
I spent a very enjoyable few days up on the Mendocino coast at a friend’s new home, a rugged, rural location where local, humane, and naturally raised food is abundant and almost as much the norm as grocery store food (some people even barter as much or more than they use cash!). We cooked, looked through favorite and new food books, and enjoyed the local bounty (tri-tip, eggs, raw milk, cream, butter, produce, nuts, fruit, and more, not to mention excellent local wines).
On the way up there and back we took the shortest driving route, right through the CA’s Central Valley, through fecal dust-spewing feed lots, pesticide-laden cotton fields, past mountains of almonds waiting to be transported for processing. I made sure to point these out to my son, because he has been to the pasture based dairy where our milk comes from and I want him to see the differences. The Central Valley epitomizes American industrial scale agriculture in all it’s unnatural glory ;-).
Needless to say, that part of the drive wasn’t very appetizing for this local, seasonal food-seeking family. We spent one night and part of a day in SF, where it is possible to eat quite well from well-produced foods from the more traditional farms in to the north. We much preferred the normal farm smells of the green pasture-based dairies in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino, seeing the cattle out on the rugged coast and along along the US 1, and picking up a few items at Napa’s Fatted Calf Charcuterie shop.
Plus, I don’t watch Oprah’s show. Can’t remember the last time I saw it. I don’t find anything about the show appealing anymore, though I do think she’s a nice, well-intentioned woman. But if she’s just now realizing that there’s something seriously wrong with industrial-scale food production, she’s the last person I want to learn from (though I’d love to direct her to good places where she can learn more). She ought to have Joel Salatin as a guest and show photos of his farm.
Anything dealing with animals, including this Prop 2 that is focussed on more humane treatment of livestock animals (which is very, very different from the Animal Rights Campaign but that point sometimes gets lost) tends to polarize people rather than really inform them. Shows like Oprah’s do open up the discussion to the masses, but I fear the important points are glossed over and over-simplified, and ultimately they limit the issues to those with emotional appeal, partially because of the much too limited time-frame. Her show isn’t the best way to educate people, IMO, but too often, people look to Oprah, who has “crammed” for the show, to learn new stuff instead of watching PBS, reading and seeking out in-depth info. What a Catch-22.
Mort brings up some interesting points that have a lot of merit and we probably would find much on which we agree. My views have evolved over the past 20 years or so (unlike Oprah, this isn’t a new issue to me), as I’ve learned more about food issues from a variety of angles; at this point I tend to agree most with Karen Lubbers’s reasoning. And yes, like Kelly, I think this is also very important because it is a food quality and human health issue as much as it is about the animals. I’m sure there are some who view Prop 2 as a step toward furthering their vegetarian and vegan agendas, but that’s not the way I see Prop 2 at all.
I’ll be voting YES on Prop 2 in California on Tuesday.
I still disagree with Karen. They are NOT factory farms in the negative sense that people attach to that word. With all respect to Karen, I would like to know if she is involved in production agriculture or more of a hobby farm, because there are differences of scale related to the type of production.
Just as a farmer may have "free-range" chickens to lay a few dozen eggs, can get away with that type of system (free range labeling only means that the chicken has "access" to the outdoors, it doesn't mean they actually leave and still rarely do). However, producing food for the masses makes that kind of production unpractical, unprofitable, and is not comparable. It's like saying I know about the book writing business because I write in my journal. It's just not comparing apples with apples.
I work with a lot of farmers, and they hardly consider it 'serfdom' to be working with dairy coops and other companies. They DO still have control over production and care. The animal care decisions they make are based from generations of practice and are veterinarian approved. These farmers feed their family the same things they feed yours.
If you'd like to see some of these farmers, they have recently posted online videos to counter the stuff being put out their by animal rights extremists.
There is plenty there to show you how real farmers care for their animals. You can read more at this web address
Kelly the Kitchen Kop says
Since I’m not an expert on farming, I asked Karen Lubbers to give her take on some of the comments here, and she has given me permission to share them with you:
Looks like you stirred up a hornet’s nest. That’s good–we should be talking about these things.
I will offer a couple of observations from a farmer’s point of view to you and you can do with them what you will.
While most farms are owned by families, they are factory farms nonetheless. In fact, they are often under contract to large food corporations to produce chicken, pork, or whatever. Sadly, it’s kind of a modern version of serfdom. Under this system the farmers have relatively little control over the process. It’s attractive because they’re guaranteed an income. There is a lot of literature about the industrialization of American agriculture, and much of it is very good. I would direct you to Wendell Berry, Jerry Brunetti and Joel Salatin to name but a few.
Animals cannibalize each other when they are under stress. Confinement operations provide a great deal of stress. Animals on pasture sometimes experience stress as well. They could cannibalize a sick animal–nature’s way of culling the herd/flock. They could be overcrowded (yes, even outside), have insufficient feed or feed laced with chemicals or stuffs they would not normally eat. Sometimes they fight for dominance, although that rarely results in death. Also, much of our livestock today has been so genetically selected to be productive that it has comprised its ability to function normally. A really fascinating book about this is “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin who, interestingly enough, is autistic and holds a Ph.D.
Finally, it is true that industrial agriculture outproduces traditional agriculture IN THE BEGINNING YEARS. Then the soil becomes depleted to the point that the petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides become less effective. The yields shrink over time, the nutritive value goes down, pests become immune to the sprays, top soils erode. A crisis is likely brewing. Michigan State University has some interesting studies demonstrating that after about year 5 the organic fields begin outproducing the conventional fields when all other factors are the same.
Regarding livestock, this nation supported far more bison on natural grasses than it is now supporting in feed lots and raising grains to feed them. There is no doubt there would be a monumental restructuring of our entire food system. I happen to think that would be good, but it would be hard. I suspect there will come a time when we won’t have a choice.
Good luck with this.
Yes Holly, I do remember that. It was because of the information that Howard Lyman(who was sued with her)gave about what was happening with cattle farming. Thank God the lawsuit failed. In his book, Mad Cowboy, Howard tells the story.
I applaud Oprah for doing the show. It took courage. I know that many don’t feel she went far enough. But I believe it’s better to do something than nothing. After the puppy mill expose’, it was only a matter of time before factory farming had to be addressed as well.
Frankly, I’m a little surprised she’s touching this subject at all…remember when she was taken to court for saying she wouldn’t eat hamburger (I think)? That was more than a decade ago, I believe, and I’ve heard her comment on that experience fairly recently (as in, saying something like “I’m not saying anything bad about beef!”)
I agree that Oprah and Lisa Ling could have gone farther in the information about farming that they presented. BUT, I am still thankful that they are giving a platform for these issues to be discussed. I was also surprised that Oprah hadn’t thought of these things before. Didn’t Howard Lyman fill her in on the horrible treatment of farm animals when she had him on her show back in the 90’s?? In case you’re not familiar with Howard, check out his story and site. http://www.madcowboy.com. Howard is a 4th generation former cattle rancher. He knows ALL the ins and outs of family and factory farming.
Oh, I forgot one thing. To , whoever mentioned the meatrix. That video is HIGHLY biased. Just look at who produced it? It comes from ties to PETA. This group is not concerned about healthy animal ag practices. They want it all gone. They push veganism. Let's remember. This is the group that wants Ben & Jerry's to replace cow's milk with human breast milk for ice cream, and who prints billboards saying milk causes autism. That video is just a propoganda piece.
I’m sorry, but I have to completely disagree with the comments here. I watched the show and found it completely biased and disturbing. Oprah clearly had her motives in trying to sway people here, despite the fact that the NAACP, L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, veterinarian groups and many others have come out AGAINST prop 2.
I need to clear up what I feel are some misconceptions out there. Many of you have talked about how they exposed “factory farms”. This is just a moniker put on farmers by anti-meat radicals to try and denigrate agriculture. Did you know that 98% of farms in the U.S. are owned and operated by families not corporations?
What you think are “factories” are what has happened in agriculture in order to feed the world. With populations as they are, the U.S. supplies more than 10% of the world’s food. Were we to change to all organic, there would not be enough food to feed the world, nor would there be enough land to produce it.
The Country of Denmark recently thought of going all organic with their food, and commissioned a study to research it. It came back that a switch to all organic would result in 47% less food.
I also take exception that “God’s way” is this free-range, cage free stuff. I believe God has inspired man (men and women) with innovation to be able to feed our world. You think that those free-range animals are content and don’t attack others? That’s not true. That’s the magic of cameras and editing. I’m here to tell you that there is always a dominant, bully sow with pigs. That’s why they are separated. So that sows can deliver babies without fear of losing food and getting trampled on and attacked.
With the chickens, I’ve been to many hen houses. They are not covered in feces. And the reason they are kept inside is to prevent against things like avian/bird flu, which is a great likelihood for these “free range” farmers. I’d rather be concerned with avian/bird which I can’t control, than salmonella which I can control. Birds in houses are able to be checked by vets, ensured a comfortable, clean environment. These farms with a few animals outdoors do not represent a reality in which we can produce enough food for the world. Unless you’ve tried raising these animals, I don’t think you can legitimately voice your opinion on production standards.
True, there are bad actors. There are farmers who don’t do things as they should. But that is a minority. Just as there are some bad parents out there, who abuse. But that’s not the majority of parents, right? So we punish the bad actors, not everyone. I have visited many dairies, with cows that are fed great, veterinarian approved diets of grains, grasses, etc. They are not just fed some liquid diet.
What I’m trying to say is that what you saw or read on Oprah does not reflect reality. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. Food in the stores comes from farmers, not some factory. These farmers care about their animals, stay up all hours of the night caring for a newborn calf, and working to produce the healthiest, safest animals because they eat the same food you do. They want safe food for their kids too. Please, get your information from visiting farms, not from Oprah. If you want some good information, go to https://www.ageducate.org/.
I read about the show, didn’t see it, but was thinking the same thoughts you were.
I am shocked that Oprah has only recently heard about these practices. I think most people know about factory farming, but don’t want to think about it. It’s been going on for quite a while now.
I hate that it has to come down to bigger gov’t in this case.
That is a BIG “elephant-in-the-room,” isn’t it?!
It never ceases to amaze me how doing things “God’s way” ends up with better long-term consequences. The Bible does talk about treating animals humanely, but it also clearly states that it is FINE for us to use animals to provide humans with food.
I am so glad I didn’t watch this Oprah because I HATE those awful pictures. I am glad she showed them to people, tho! I wish she talked more about the health benefits of cage-free or humane-treatment of animals. Maybe if enough of us write emails or send letters, we can expect a future show on the health benefits of farming more naturally? Maybe one on raw milk too?!!
BTW — Have you read Crunchy Cons?
Kelly the Kitchen Kop says
Kent has suggested I ask that we don’t get a big political back and forth thing going here…
Kelly the Kitchen Kop says
Go Green Mom!
Julie L. says
I just wanted to put a little shout-out of support to Green Mom for Jesus and what she had to say about the incredibly sad discrepancy between Obama’s views on protecting animals v. children.
He was one of very few liberal senators to basically vote for infanticide, giving lectures about why children who had undergone abortion attempts and yet lived (!)should be left to die. You can check it out on you tube.
Thanks, Green Mom for Jesus!
P.S. I realize that this is NOT a political forum, but when someone opened the door….
I am glad that this was featured on Oprah, but it is imporant for people to realize how much more the nutritional the food is for us and the potential harm conventionally raised foods can cause.
I agree with green mom’s comment – Obama’s stance seems a little ironic to me.
green mom for Jesus says
I didn’t see Oprah, but it’s good that she is exposing people to the inhumane treatment of animals. Perhaps, she is wading only so far right now to get people comfortable about the topic before she goes deeper.
Just a side note about Obama being for the humane treatment of animals – what about his INHUMANE TREATMENT OF BABIES IN THE WOMB!
He’s ok with killing an unborn child up to full term, but not ok with caging up an animal?
Where is the disconnect here?
Our country is in a heep of trouble when we place animal rights above the rights of humans.
Wow, I knew conventional farming was bad but I didn’t know it was THAT bad.
I love your remark about BK. And, umm, PORK? Excuse me, since when do we put PORK in hamburgers? Although it doesn’t surprise me; I have always suspected that more than a few mice and rats find their way into those grinders. *shudder*
And you are so right about skipping the grocery store. I wish I had more time to search out local markets, but at least I can get my eggs and milk from a local farm. And when I can make it to the Saturday market in a neighboring town, I can get organic farm-raised meat. But that will be closing for the winter soon. Still, I can get it from the Amish market; and while it may not be organic or free of additives, at least the animals aren’t penned up 24/7.
What you’re saying is true, but perhaps you’re nitpicking just a bit? I think it was a GREAT show.
Oprah says she had no idea about any of this until she read that article in the NY Times this summer. The fact that she is exposing factory farms is AWESOME!
When I first started learning about all of this, I didn’t really understand yet about how much more nutritious pasture raised animals are. But just learning about factory farming did make me want to seek out a better way — and I stopped shopping in grocery stores.
I’m so happy that Oprah is talking about this. This is a first step to making people aware. I watched the show with my inlaws in NY and my MIL said, “We’re never buying factory eggs again.” My FIL said he still supported factory farming — UNTIL he saw the part about the veal. He agreed that that was awful. (Of course he had eaten veal for dinner that night.)
The impact this one show can have on Prop 2 in California is HUGE! She really pushed for Prop 2 — she must have talked about the proposition at least 10 times. She majorly impacted the success of this passing.
And as we know, what happens in CA does affect the rest of the nation. If we can pass this in CA, it is likely that it will spread to the rest of the country.
And yes, I’m voting YES on Prop 2.
PS: The Humane Society, who endorses this bill, also unamimously voted to endorse Obama for President based on his voting record for animal welfare.