Safari 2012 part II: Perspectives
I have been called ~affectionately~ the World’s Worst Vegetarian. Slouching toward veganism, knowing I’ll never make it, I’m not still trying because I believe it is inherently wrong or unhealthy to eat meat; all things in moderation. But rather, I’m still trying because we have lost our way. Animals have become just another product to create as cheaply as possible and sell for maximum profit, to their unconscienable detriment, and our own. I preach free-range, local, organic, humane, and learning as much as possible about what we put into our bodies and the world in which we live. If I know an animal had a good life, grew up with its mother, lived under the sky in the fresh air, rested in comforting shelter, and died with minimal pain and fear*, I will have a few bites and enjoy them. It breaks my heart that pigs taste so good. I have seen industrial feed lots, too: cattle shoulder to rump, breathing in their own filth, pumped full of drugs to keep them alive until slaughter, standing with their heads through a bike rack to eat and be fattened on grain. It’s about as far from wandering an open pasture, munching grass, and chewing cud as you’re going to find. For creatures made to live that way, modern meat factories are certainly hell. We put them in it to satisfy our bellies and our budgets. People do not want to pay what a life is worth. Criminy, we won’t pay what the humans’ lives are worth who harvest and prepare our fruit and veg. But I digress into undocumented laborers. I’m talking about animals.
Maasai tribes in Africa are cattlemen. They neither sow nor reap (traditionally and for the most part), tending their cattle herds and flocks of sheep and goats. Under the endless Tanzanian sky, their animals walk and graze, living the free-range life. Every day, they walk to the watering hole for their drink. At the end of a long dry season it’s an even longer walk, all day there and back, to get their one drink, as they share the dwindling supply with so many others. Then they return to their home pasture, dry and practically devoid of green. These cows are hungry, skinny, their dusty hides stretched over ribs and hips, looking as though the tanner has already gotten to them.
Want and plenty: what would these Maasai cattle think, clinging to life while they wait for the rains to renew their fields, if they found themselves in a Modesto feedlot? Would it be heaven to have all the food they could eat? To be bumping friendly, fleshy bodies? Not to have to walk all day, every day, in the heat and dust just to have one drink of water?
The grass is always greener, as the cliché goes, and we cannot know. Perhaps, like us, every individual would have its own preferences and priorities. Cows do mourn when their calves are taken from them and will keep lifelong relationships when they are not. Is family worth sacrifice? We seem to believe so for ourselves, some of us. Some of us trade our health for convenience, too. Instead of exercise, fresh air, and good food, we choose medication, more work, and fast food. But the animals cannot tell us what they would choose, so we, their stewards, must choose for them.
The Maasai have little choice. They are as rail-thin as their cattle. They all make do as best they can, waiting for the life-giving rain. But we are rich, in resources as well as knowledge. We can do better. We must.
*Nature herself is red of tooth and claw. Gazelles do not go gentle into that good night when lion cubs are hungry.