You got your ethics on my Sunday afternoon

I know a good number of people who don't believe in factory farms. I don't mean that in the sense that they disapprove, I mean it in the sense that they regard the concept as they do the monster under the bed and spider eggs in bubble gum. I never used to understand how anyone could simply not think that factory farms and feedlots and battery cages exist. Until I hopped the pond to Scotland, and remembered the days when I didn't believe in factory farms, either.

My school is surrounded on all sides by farmland. Fields of grain, flocks of sheep, the odd herd of cows, and a fair number of pigs. Well, more seagulls than pigs, but the pigs are the ones the farmers intend to raise. I can sit on a drystone wall, with the chilly breeze in my hair and the sounds of birds in my ears, and watch any number of even-toed ungulates amble about the pastures as they please.

When I was little, I recall seeing a lot of farm animals in the conditions I think all too many people assume are the norm: along the sides of roads, rolling green meadows housing a few fat and furry cows or a clump of sheep huddled out of the rain. Cows resting in the shade of an old oak tree, while their calves nibbled on dry grass, and an old swaybacked horse fended off the attempts at play of its coltish young successor. Chickens scratching about in the dirt around a small wooden coop; turkeys wandering the length and breadth of a farmyard, having escaped confinement for the hundredth time. I thought all farms in the world were family farms, all farmed animals in the world living the quiet life of idyll I read about in storybooks and saw in the hokiest daytime television.

And, on an emotional level at least, I understand the comfort of that delusion. I see why until that misconception is soundly proven false, it's so very easy to look the other way and ignore suffering because it's more comforting to pretend what's out of sight is out of existence. I guess I can kind of grasp the base emotional response at work there.

But I don't know why that should be any kind of excuse. I'm not saying that in a judgmental way - unless I'm judging myself right along with everyone else - because walking along by those fields of snuffling pigs, I did have the thought cross my mind: "Why is this so bad?" The reason I don't think I should even let 'happy meat' cross my mind as an excuse is not so much because happy meat is a load of crap, but rather because my core reason for veganism isn't a matter of animal rights or even, really, animal welfare. I'm not saying those things haven't become very important to me. But the spark that lit the fuse wasn't the suffering of individuals; it was damage inflicted on the environment. Ungulates trotting to slaughter with happy little hearts and the fresh scent of daisies in their lungs are still an intense drain on land and natural resources.

Yep, you heard me, all you green consumers with your grass-fed local beef and your cage-free organic eggs. Feedlots and battery cages look bad and evil and rapacious, and that's why people think they're doing a good turn. The sad reality is that giving animals more space, better food, more time, more attention just means they take up even more resources and spread the drain over a larger area. Grass-fed beef is worse in terms of carbon emissions and ecological footprint than factory farmed feedlot meat.

I mean, that still won't convince the omni crowd that meat is evil. And it's pretty much a downer that it seems it has to be a zero-sum game between suffering and environmental destruction. But I guess that just means the only real easy way out isn't trying to consume different animal products. It's consuming less animal product. ;)

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