A former 5-year-old of our acquaintance used to point through the car window whenever she saw some ruminant mammals grazing in a field, and ask, “Daddy, are those milk cows or meat cows?”
This being Sonoma County, most of the bovine critters she saw were dairy cows. But whenever a steer was identified she knew at once she was looking at hamburger-on-the-hoof and became simultaneously sad and outraged.
Like her older sister, that daughter became a temporary vegetarian, going a full year – with frequent relapses – during which she proudly proclaimed she didn’t eat meat. She found it hard to imagine she would some day dine on the gentle, moon-eyed mammals she considered her friends.
With that, she joined – if only briefly – the ranks of 7 million or so Americans who claimed, in a 2008 Harris poll, that they followed a “vegetarian-based-diet.”
Not all vegetarians eschew meat for moral or spiritual reasons, but horror at the necessity to kill in order to eat can be a compelling motive force. And clearly, if we all had to personally slaughter all the cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and salmon we consume, there would be a lot more vegetarians, and soybeans might become the world’s top crop.
But all that said, we seem to be products of a long, omnivorous history. Many scientists argue that, according to fossil evidence, humans have been omnivores for more than 2.5-million years and have the specialized colons, stomachs and teeth to prove it. Meat, therefore, is a natural part of our diet.
Which brings us, circuitously, to California’s July 1 ban on foie gras – fattened goose or duck liver, for those deprived of the pleasure. Animal-rights activists assume that gavage, the act of force feeding the birds with plastic tubes to fatten their livers about two weeks before slaughter, is inhumane, but not everyone agrees. The House of Delegates of the American Veterinary Medical Association dismissed such concerns several years ago and one delegate, after visiting a foie gras farm, reported that gavage is less distressing than taking a cat’s temperature with a rectal thermometer.
What brings the issue close to home, of course, is the fact that Guillermo Gonzalez – owner of Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras – the only producer in the state - was shut down. Faced with the prospect of losing a business he had built for nearly 27 years, Gonzalez agreed in 2004 to support the ban if the state would commit to funding research that would prove or disprove gavage is inhumane. Alas, the state never funded the research and the proof remains elusive and perhaps illusory.
We’re not unsympathetic to the issue of animal welfare, but we think much of the focus of animal rights activists is misplaced. If you’ve ever been to or near the Harris Ranch feedlot along Interstate 5 near Coalinga, where typically 100,000 head of beef are congregated into a manure-mired space dubbed by some critics as “cowschwitz,” then you’ve seen animals undergoing an experience that could more credibly be described as inhumane.
Behind the foie gras ban, we suspect, is yet another vegetarian agenda. A lawsuit is now in motion to overturn the ban and, omnivores that most of us are, we hope it succeeds.