By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
I tend to think of us as the good guys. We are farmers, a breed of people who take good care of our animals and cultivate the soil to feed families.
It saddens me to realize the Ontario government felt compelled to introduce new legislation, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, to protect farmers against trespassers. That somehow, in the evolving culture of Western civilization, farmers are seen by some as the “bad guys.”
For the “greater good” of animal rights, farmers, transporters and processing plant workers are now at risk of being judged, hated and even attacked for doing what civilizations have been doing for thousands of years — raising/hunting meat to feed their villages.
Oh, I get the disconnect.
Younger generations are removed from their farming roots. They don’t see or experience how animals are raised in our barns. In order to contain disease and protect the food supply, most farms have a “Do Not Enter” sign at the door, leaving people to wonder what really goes on behind those doors.
Misleading photos, videos and rants insinuate that farmers are cruel to their animals when in fact, farmers would not be successful if they mistreated the animals in their care.
Does it happen? Sometimes it does, unfortunately. There are ne’er do wells in every profession. As a broader farming community we have to live with that shame in the same way that society as a whole has to bear the social responsibility of child/spousal/elder abuse.
Taking it to a cosmic level, one of my favourite podcasters, Rich Roll, suggests that animal death creates a negative energy which affects planetary health and human well-being. Roll is an ultra-athlete vegan who is a vocal advocate for eating a plant-based diet and throws around the phrase “factory farm” like it’s swear word. He clearly has an agenda, but that is still a heavy load to dump on farmers!
There’s so much to unpack here, I’m almost overwhelmed by this culture shift.
I do think when these shifts occur, it’s wise to take a minute to ponder if they are true. First off, is it really just a minority of animal right’s activists who happen to be able to make a huge noise? Or, are we on the wrong side of the argument here? Are we, as a meat-raising, milk-drinking, egg-eating omnivores, who raise animals for meat, in the wrong? After all, I don’t eat horse meat. In my mind, horses are companions, not meat animals. I do understand the reluctance to eat the meat of certain animals. So why not all animals?
I find myself at a loss, actually, to fully defend my position or decry theirs. I do think profitability has forced some farmers to push animal growth to excessive levels and reap more from the soil that it can replenish.
Yet, I am proud to be a farmer! I do not want to relinquish the trust and respect farmers have held in the past as growers of food. So how do we proceed without further alienating each other?
Part of it is listening to other people’s viewpoints and being respectful of alternate ways of eating and being. It’s good to learn the “why” of people’s choices and really listening is such an easy way to respect someone.
My farm-raised daughter, who has a strong environmental and animal-care focus, points out that farmers should welcome criticism from the animal rights activists. “Sometimes we need an outside perspective on these things; especially if we have lived our life enmeshed in farming culture.” She suggests that it is a good thing to be pressured to increase the standards of care for animals we are responsible for. Especially if we are vocal about being good stewards.
My farming son, who has less temperament to deal with opposing viewpoints, suggests that with the abundance of food in grocery stories, people have a lot of time and energy for alternate views. If they had to grow that food themselves to feed their families, they might not have the energy to trespass. His other argument is for activists to watch a nature show of wolves eating a deer, butt side first, while the deer lives on. Nature is crueler than the worst farmer could ever be.
How we care for animals has to be forefront. We should all be doing our best to ensure we would not be ashamed to open our barn doors to show the world how we take care of our animals. We shouldn’t just meet the practices outlined in the Provincial Animals Welfare Service Act, we should exceed them! Plus, we need to hold each other accountable. Share our stories! Share this magazine with your non-farming neighbour!
We also need to encourage each other to be collectively proud of what we grow and raise to provide for our families and the country as a whole. Whether someone chooses meat or plants, we, the farmers, grow it all.
Lastly, we can remember to be thankful at each meal and for the freedom to choose our diet. Thankfulness is a super-power energy that must surely counteract any negative energy meat-eating creates in our planet.
We can also be thankful for a government that recognizes opinions matter and should be voiced, but also states that people and their safety is still more important than illegally acting on opposite opinions.
If nothing else, perhaps our collective New Year’s Resolution this year might be to look around in our barns with fresh eyes. If we really believe we are the good guys (and I do!) then we gotta live it and prove it, the same as anyone else. ◊