Calling Farm Animals!

In the latest issue of the Brooklyn Rail, I’ve got an essay about this wonderful new organization co-led by my friend Aaron Gross called Farm Forward. Though they’ve already done a ton of work on a shoestring budget, just last month they officially launched at the Tribeca penthouse of Alexis Stewart, daughter of Martha.

What its leading lights envision is something at once quaint, radical, and practical: end the practice of factory farming that makes misery for animals and pollution for the planet on an enormous scale. They want to encourage a gentler, more sustainable kind of animal agriculture, one carried out by family farmers who live on their land and take pride in their animals. And they’ve got help.

In the article I explore the sensation of being around do-gooding celebrities, what they can do for animals, what Farm Forward means for the animal welfare movement.

I’ve been actually quite inspired by Aaron’s work—both his advocacy at Farm Forward and his scholarship in the religious studies department of UC Santa Barbara, where we met. Conversations with him and with Bryan Farrell, who joined me at the event, have actually been leaning me toward a very modest inclination to veganism. Well, to be honest, the people really pushing me there are my mother and uncle. Stay tuned (perhaps for a long time) for their fantastic upcoming cookbook. If there’s any desire, maybe I’ll start posting recipes from it on the blog! Let me know.





5 responses to “Calling Farm Animals!”

  1. Fr. B

    (What a world! Just this morning I got an email inviting me to join a group called PITA: People for the Ingestion of Tasty Animals.)
    I support the romantic vision of smaller, more humane farms and lament the waste of land for suburban plats that could have been left open for pasturage and truck farming. If we lived together in towns and villages, as they do in Europe, we could improve the effectiveness of public transportation and either leave the surrounding countryside in its natural state or use some of it for agriculture and animal husbandry.
    I also join the objection to factory farms and feed lots where animals are force-fed indigestible corn mash, filled with growth hormones, and kept alive with high doses of antibiotics.
    Are we being too unrealistic to hope for a radical restructuring of our style of living?
    In your article, everyone’s concern seems limited to the condition of the animals. Not much mention is made of the appalling working conditions of the people employed at these meat mills.

  2. Bryan

    Nice work, Nathan. I think you accurately captured the event. I’m also glad you mentioned some of the things that weren’t talked about that night, namely the effect of the livestock industry on global warming.

    Another thing that wasn’t spoken of that night, but something Aaron later pointed out, is their Michael Pollan-esque message of “Eat conscientiously—as few animals as possible, ideally none.”

    I think this is definitely key and something they may want to consider pushing a little harder in future gatherings. Not only does it speak to the environmental cause of lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but it also addresses the only way sustainable farms can replace factory farms. There’s a reason the latter exist and it has to do with our unparalleled consumption of meat. Americans eat twice the global average per day. That number has to go down if sustainable farms are to stand a chance.

  3. Fr. B—I think you’re so right to raise the question of humans. This does happen to be a concern of FF’s, which I allude to when I say, “shepherded by humans who are often underpaid for working under unhealthy conditions.” At the event, I met a fellow (who sent me an email yesterday, actually) named Arieh Lebowitz, the communications director for the Jewish Labor Committee. His work is very much connected with Farm Forward’s efforts to improve conditions in kosher slaughterhouses, for both humans and animals.

    More broadly, however, I think it’s important to recognize that the two issues are connected, the humans and the animals. A slaughterhouse that is appallingly brutal to animals can’t help but be so, on some level, for humans (unless, perhaps, it were thoroughly mechanized). The same goes for prisons. The people who inflict violence, whether on humans or on animals, become victims of their own violence. Violence becomes a way of life, and providing poor conditions for one’s employees is a matter of course.

    I think that fundamentally, animal welfare must be about human welfare first and foremost—otherwise it would be crass paternalism, thinking we know what’s best for creatures that are not ourselves. It is about what kind of society we want and how we want to behave as neighbors and stewards of our fellow creatures.

  4. […] my former UCSB colleague Aaron Gross, a remarkable scholar and activist. For the Brooklyn Rail, I covered the launch event for his organization, Farm Forward, which is working to end factory farming. Aaron […]

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