Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Farm Friends"

During a recent trip to the pediatrician I came across an illustrated children's picture book titled Farm Friends. On the cover is a barn with a bright red roof and a tractor sitting on top of green rolling hills under a blue sky with three adorable yellow chicks in the foreground. To the side of this image there are cutouts of various smiling "farm animals" that serve as page tabs.

A flip to the first page and the reader is introduced to chickens. There is an illustration of a chicken on a nest where four eggs (presumably hers) sit. A caption reads, "A female chicken is called a hen. Hens lay eggs." The illustration to the right shows that the eggs have hatched and little yellow chicks sit where the eggs once were. The caption reads, "Baby chickens are called chicks. Chicks hatch from eggs."

The next page is the pig page. There is an illustration of an "oinking" pig behind a gate with a caption that reads, "Pigs live in sties." At the bottom of the page is an illustration of three happy pigs running behind their mother on a patch of grass with flowers growing on it.

Sheep are the subject of the following page. There is an illustration of two lambs skipping and jumping behind their mother with a caption that reads, "They love to skip and jump." Above that there are illustrations of a hat, a sweater, and socks with a caption that reads, "We get wool from sheep. All these things can be made from sheep's wool."

The next to last page is the cows' page. "Cows live in fields. They eat grass," reads the captions under an illustration of three cows grazing in a field guarded by a bright red fence. Underneath this is an illustration of a mother cow and her calf. "A baby cow is called a calf," reads the caption. On the opposite page a caption reads, "Cow's help us make all these foods, and under this are illustrations of, and captions reading, "milk", "butter", and "cheese".

The last "farm friend" we are introduced to is the horse. There is an illustration of a horse neighing with his or her head sticking out of a stable window. The caption reads, "Horses live in stables. They like to eat hay". Below this are illustrations of four horseshoes and the reader is encouraged to count how many there are.

This book is a perfect example of speciesist indoctrination. Not only is it assumed that there is no ethical problem with using these animals for human purposes, it is clearly a gross distortion of the reality of the exploitation taking place. And this is presented to the youngest amongst us. Children, the targeted readers, know no better, but we adults should.

Here are some examples of our "friendly" relationships with these animals:

Virtually all chickens, from backyard operations to factory farms, come from hatcheries. Most male chicks are brutally killed as soon as they are hatched and the female chicks live lives of constantly having their reproductive cycles manipulated and exploited before they themselves are killed for no longer serving a purpose to humans. Some 9 billion chickens are killed each year in the US for the taste of their flesh and the taste of their bodily functions.

Pigs only live in sties (or whatever confinement we put them in) because we humans confine them there. Aside from sanctuary settings, they live in confinement for one reason only: so humans can kill them and eat their bodies. Around 120 millions pigs are killed each year for the taste of their muscles.

The wool of sheep is their hair and they have evolved to grow just enough for protection from the cold or to keep cool, depending on the season. Sheep that are not domesticated do not need to be shorn. Regardless of the conditions the sheep are kept in, they are all killed when they no longer serve their purpose to humans and their lambs are killed particularly because of the taste and texture of their flesh. Approximately 3 million sheep and lambs are killed each year in the US.

The vast majority of cows do not live in fields and eat only grass, but even if they did that would not deny the fact that they are exploited and killed for completely unnecessary human purposes. The milk, butter, and cheese that cows "help us" to make is actually derived from the human exploitation of their reproductive cycles and necessarily involves forced impregnation and the killing of unwanted (uneconomical) male calves after they, as well as female calves, are separated from their grieving mothers. The male calves very often become "veal", the flesh of calves. 35 million or so cows are killed every year in the US alone.

Finally, horses do not naturally live in stables. Horses that are feral or have not been domesticated (a rarity) do not by any means enjoy being confined; they may actually travel dozen of miles per day. It is only when they are trained, or "broken", that they become pliant and obedient enough to be used for human service, enjoyment and amusement. Horseshoes are attached (commonly nailed) onto horses' hooves only so horses can be of service to humans. In captivity horses' hooves harden much less than in the "wild" and are more vulnerable to injury. And yes, horses are also killed when they no longer serve a purpose to their human "owners". Tens of thousands of horses are killed for consumption each year but scores more are exploited for mere entertainment, amusement, or obsolete modes of transportation.

A book like Farm Friends denies that animals, particularly "farm animals", have any value other than the value humans give to them, or have a purpose beyond the purpose for which humans exploit them. It denies that these animals have interests in not being exploited and killed, and, in fact, it denies that these animals are exploited and killed at all. This is dishonest and untruthful but unfortunately it is a common tale forced upon our impressionable children from day 1.

It's time that we start teaching our naturally compassionate and empathetic children to respect the interests and intrinsic value of other animals. It's time to stop perpetuating the myth of human superiority to all other animals. It's time to stop forcing the notion of the acceptability of human use of other animals on our children because it's all unnecessary and, in reality, involves committing violence and inflicting suffering and death on fellow sentient beings.

It's time to put books like Farm Friends into the historical archives right next to the many other outdated and embarrassing texts that sought to normalize the exploitation of sentient beings and the privileging of one group at the expense of another group that has been deemed inferior. It's time to reject speciesism and go vegan. It's consistent with the values most of us claim to hold, and it's the truly friendly thing to do for humans, other animals, and the planet we all inhabit.


  1. Great post! When I think of how many books I had "about" animals when I was a kid, I realize that they did little other than convince me of lies about our relationships with non-humans. When will this stop?

  2. Farm friends looks very much like one of those bible picture books made for kids. Showing how kind and loving God and his son were when in fact the bible is loaded with violence and cruelty to both non human animals and human . The indoctrination of children in both religion and speciesism are strikingly similar.

  3. Fantastic post. Thank you.

  4. Mylene, I had the same experiences with books "about" other animals as a child. And that's not to mention all the mindless singing of schoolhouse songs like Old Macdonald Had A Farm I'm not sure when it will stop. Hell, I even know of self-identified vegans who give their children plastic "riding horses" and barnyard play sets equipped with "laying hens" that lay plastic eggs. Sigh... Still I'm confident it will stop one day. More and more people are challenging speciesism than ever before so it's really only a matter of time.

    Philip, great point! As someone who was raised (unsuccessfully) as a Catholic I know exactly what you mean. I think what makes the indoctrination of children into religion and speciesism most similar is that no child would choose either on their own without the indoctrination process.

    Al, you're most welcome! Thanks!