A couple weeks ago, this question showed up in my inbox: “How do you handle sending your animals off to the slaughterhouse, or if you put them down yourselves, how do you live with that?”
How do you answer a question like that? How do you justify to a total stranger the slaughter of a living thing?
This isn’t the only time I’ve been asked that question. While serving as a camp counselor in Pennsylvania, right before bed one of my eight-year-old girls asks me, “How do you kill cows for steak?” How do you tell a first grader whose only experience with animals is her pet dog how you kill your pet cow?
When my family slaughtered our first group of cattle, I was nine. My sister Brianna was seven. Brianna decided she wanted to be a vegetarian because she didn’t want to eat Minnie. Her decision did not last long and now she eats steak with my family at dinner.
In agriculture, we face hard questions. We must make ethical decisions that the average person does not have to make. Today, the entire population does not have to focus on whether or not they will have enough to feed their family. They do not have to spend their livelihoods producing food. Instead, only 2% of the population is dedicated to feeding the entire world. The other 98% has so many options now that they can choose what is on their plate, whether it be gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan. This is amazing! How great is it that we can be picky about our plates?
For those of us involved in animal agriculture, slaughter is part of the production process. It is something many of us grew up accepting that we never really had to think as much about the ethics and the morals. All too often, we just scoff at those who do not prescribe to our diet. We never think about why they are asking.
When the tough questions get thrown at us, we cannot just brush it off. We cannot throwback science and statistics as proof for our actions. Why would someone want to ask about slaughter? The people thoughtful enough and brave enough to ask this question are asking because they value animals and they believe that we must too if we are to go into the animal agriculture industry. The question isn’t “How do you handle slaughtering animals,” but “Does slaughtering animals compromise your values?”
When I get this question, I am completely transparent. I admit that sometimes I have a hard time sending an animal to the slaughter. Sometimes, an animal is so special that I personally cannot have it on my plate and instead I sell the meat to another family. I love my animals and while they are alive I give them the best care that I can because they are giving up their life for me. I explain it is my understanding that animals are not equivalent to humans, that part of the circle of life includes meat consumption. I tell the person that they do not have to agree, that I understand that this is a difficult choice to make and for some that choice means not eating meat.
Sometimes, people are still not happy with my answer. They cannot understand my choices and that is okay. But most of the time, people respect my answer and my choices, even if they do not agree. Because I made an effort to understand them and because I identified their values, they make an effort to understand me.
Being a part of the agriculture industry is no easy task. Our passion is questioned every day. The next time someone asks you the tough questions, I urge you to not fight back with facts and figures and instead base your answer off of values. The tough questions will come – are you up for the challenge?