She's one in a billion

On Monday, after two weeks in quarantine, the cow that entranced our readership with her daring escape and recapture in Upper Darby finally reached her new home, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. This write-up by Bonnie Cook gives a vivid report on her arrival.

Kayli was off-loaded from an animal carrier this morning and got her first look at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York where she will graze and chew her cud for the rest of her life.

Kayli the runaway cow gets a welcoming "kiss" from Andy the steer, her new pasture mate. (Photo: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)

She met her new handler, Jenny Brown, and bumped noses with two enormous steers, one of whom seemed to be smitten. Kayli batted her long white eyelashes at him, and a quick lick from him on the forehead sealed their friendship.

The week-long saga of Kayli's escape and negotiations to save her, culminating with an out-of-right-field "pardon" from Governor Corbett, is but the latest in a weird news genre, which goes like this: One of the billions of animals we kill for food, by asserting a will to live (that is of course shared by all of these animals), suddenly goes from 'thing' to 'person' in the eyes of the public. And the logical conclusion of that is a reprieve for the newly significant individual.

But it's not a done deal. There is of course no legal construct backing up this logic, and indeed, in this case it seemed that the hoped-for resolution was being obstructed specifically by the law. As lawyer Marianne Bessey (of Animal ACTivists of Philly), who was instrumental in effecting the rescue of Kayli, noted earlier today: "Even with all of the publicity surrounding the 'runaway cow,' it still took days of non-stop work and negotiations to save Kayli's life. Because she had entered the chain of slaughter, her only legal standing was as packaged meat."

True, and of course, the happy resolution for one cow - "pardoned" for the crime of being born a non-human animal - only throws into relief the grief, misery and injustice pervading the lives of all the others that we don't happen to see out on the street. Just as sentient and worthy of compassion as is Kayli, they die in enormous numbers simply because of well-entrenched eating habits. Not because eating them is necessary - despite the fact, actually, that it's demonstrably unhealthy - but because most of us are used to a certain flavor or texture in our food and don't want to change.

I was reminded of this upon reading an essay in The Atlantic this morning on the new vogue of "Conscientious Carnivores," those who want to "change" without actually changing. The phrase has a lot in common with "Clean Coal," where an absolute adjective is wrongly used in place of a comparative. (And that's not the only eco-overlap on this issue; as my colleague Sandy Bauers said earlier this week, "What is green living if not respect for the planet and its creatures?")

In this piece, James McWilliams points up the central moral dissonance of this new breed of consumer, who tries to eschew factory-farmed meat in favor of organic, grass-fed, locally-raised... meat.

Supporters of alternative meat base their advocacy on the belief that an animal should never be subjected to the pain and suffering endemic to a factory farm. This kernel of compassion is critical. It confirms the fact that conscientious carnivores know full well that an animal has intrinsic value as a living, breathing, and feeling organism. That's precisely why they want it freed from the factory farm in the first place. Nonetheless, despite the evident presence of this compassion, the conscientious carnivore supports killing that animal for a reason as arbitrary as, for example, some fancy restaurant in Manhattan deciding it's time for the animal to die because pork bellies are all the rage. How can this sentiment (concern for animal welfare) and this act (killing the animal) coexist? To this question, there is no compassionate answer.

It's good that many people are acting on their qualms about animal agriculture, but it would be even better is more carried it through to a logically consistent point. As McWilliams notes in summing up, "It might feel good to call ourselves 'conscientious carnivores,' but at some point we'll have to recognize that the only conscientious carnivore is, alas, an herbivore."

Go herbivore!