Most writers typically spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming up clever opening lines for whatever article they’re writing or story they want to tell.
Okay, as far as openings go, that last sentence was pretty lame, but it’s just to tee up a much better opening line:
“I am a monster, and so are millions of Americans who hunt, fish, and raise livestock.”
That was the lead of a lengthy article by one Cam Edwards in the National Review. After delivering that blockbuster, he spent the next 2,240 words deconstructing the anti-industry argument made by Matthew Scully — author of “Dominion” and a longtime presidential speechwriter — one that has been echoed for decades by a veritable legion of animal activists, who condemn not just hunting, but every aspect of raising livestock, butchering food animals and consuming meat and milk.
All of it is judged to be “cruel” and therefore immoral.
So how does Edwards counter the immorality of eating animals?
Well, first he plays the field-mice-and-rodents-are people-too card, noting that “rabbits, squirrels, moles, groundhogs, and other creatures great and small killed by the combines in the cornfields and green spaces where our vegetables are grown.”
A for effort; D- for traction.
Sorry, bro. Nobody cares about rodents — I mean, other than the millions of gerbils and hamsters whose owners spend multi-millions on them every year so they can watch them run on those little wheels inside their cages. Which, curiously enough, never seems to get animal activists all that worked up.
Next, Edwards argued that Nature does a pretty good job of setting a low bar for cruelty all by herself, without any help from heartless producers or greedy meatpackers. He noted that, “We all eat to survive, and that means that something had to die in order for you to live. Chances are, even if you’re the most committed vegan you know, animals died in the making of your last, and next, meal.”
That argument is better but still not convincing (at least not to anyone who’s a born-again veggie believer), mainly because the animals that died did so far away from any witnesses, or any undercover videocams.
Anyone ever seen a mouse get slaughtered? Maybe your pet cat drops off a few dead ones on the front steps now and then, but there’s no constituency for non-iconic wildlife that get killed far away from the urban habitats of committed vegetarians.
Failure to Move the Needle
So what about hunting, the pastime that turns Americans into monsters? Sadly, Edwards doesn’t fare much better on that issue.
“Hunting is conservation, and beyond the economic impact in rural areas around the globe provided by hunters, local communities benefit from the meat that is harvested, research dollars are raised to help protect species,” he wrote, “and wildlife populations are treated as valuable renewable resources worthy of management and protection.”
For starters, hunting is not considered conservation, not by people who oppose its very existence. Even the folks who aren’t necessarily opposed to hunting have a hard time embracing the idea that the best way to conserve animals is by killing them.
As for rural economic impact, eco-activists can come up with a hundred ways rural areas could generate economic impact without having people tromping around with high-powered rifles gunning down wildlife. Trashing that argument is pretty much a slam dunk for hunting haters.
The last piece of Edwards’ argument – that when wildlife are treated as a valuable, renewable resource, they enjoy more protection – has some merit. Problem is, to “cash in” on the resource, whatever agency or entity that controls the population has to encourage high-priced trophy hunting, and that feeds into the worst stereotypes of hunters as slaughterers who’re in it for the thrill of the kill.
So let’s cut to the chase: A percentage of modern society is offended by the very thought of killing a food animal, or a wild creature, and nothing is going to change their minds. They are who they are.
Another small slice of the population could care less about where meat comes from, or how it was produced. They’re going to fill their shopping carts with beef, pork and chicken, and spend not a single second agonizing over the morality of any of it.
The majority of contemporary America, however, are concerned about animal cruelty and supportive of what they understand as humane, sustainable agriculture. But they won’t ever go hunting, and even fewer will ever visit a working farm or ranch to understand the business of animal husbandry.
Edwards’ closing argument, strong as it is, still doesn’t move the needle.
“I don’t believe it would make humankind any less capable of cruelty if we were to stop eating meat,” he wrote. “We would simply be even more removed from that most basic fact of Nature. We need more Americans to know what their food looks like before it ends up shrink-wrapped and packaged on a grocery-store shelf.”
Absolutely true, except for this fact: People want their food shrink-wrapped on grocery-store shelves. They want to be distanced from food production. They want to enjoy “Nature” from inside an RV in a nice clean campground, or on well-groomed ski slopes, or on a leisurely hike some summer afternoon with a snack bar waiting at the end of the trail.
That’s the reality of 21st century lifestyles. It doesn’t make us monsters, but it sure doesn’t connect us with the often dirty, often harsh and frequently unforgiving business of raising food animals.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Farm Journal Media, Inc.