Reviewing the 2008 November California propositions — Prop 2

Basic information about Proposition 2 — “STANDARDS FOR CONFINING FARM ANIMALS. INITIATIVE STATUTE.”

Umbrella yes-vote site.

Umbrella no-vote site.

This one is rather easier in comparison to the first.

Regular readers will know that every so often I’ve tried to speak in some detail, if not at diatribe length, regarding what I see as the importance not merely of a healthy diet in general but an awareness of how and where one gets one’s food in general. That this is part of a larger trend in society is something I’ll always acknowledge, and I am no leader, merely a follower. At the same time this is simply a logical conclusion to so much that has occurred and developed over time, no matter the wide variety of impulses that have fed into it. If we wanted to look at the past hundred years alone, one could look back to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration as a particular turning point, one of many in the mass American consciousness that followed. It ranges from cooking shows to living carbon neutral, a greater understanding of nutrition to an emphasis on what grows and thrives where you live.

The closest thing I’ll have to a manifesto, I suppose, can be found here, and there I quoted Mark Bittman:

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

With that in mind, Prop 2.

I find it telling that in reviewing the ‘no’ statements on Prop 2 in the official voter guide I see a lot of paranoia whipped up over salmonella and bird flu. Applying Occam’s razor here — they’re trying to convince me that keeping animals in a healthier, better state is supposed to *increase* the chance of disease? Frankly, they lost me right there, and I suspect I’m not the only one.

Instead, a different story, courtesy of a good friend and fellow cook — to paraphrase her, she has spoken before about how there is something powerful in honoring an animal to the full in the course of cooking, not necessarily in a ritualistic sense, but in a sense of acknowledging what has occurred and then understanding what it involves — and seeking to waste as little of, say, a whole chicken as possible, when making soups, stocks and more.

It puts me in mind of what I have read before reading dietary laws for certain religions — this discussion of kosher foods, for instance, strikes me as relevant:

The primary principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures. Judaism expresses no definitive opinion as to whether animals actually experience physical or psychological pain in the same way that humans do; however, Judaism has always recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way a person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people.

In the Torah, humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food; animal skins can be used for clothing. The Torah itself must be written on parchment (animal hides), as must mezuzah scrolls, and tefillin must be made out of leather.

However, dominion does not give us the right to cause indiscriminate pain and destruction. We are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering. Kosher slaughtering is designed to be as fast and painless as possible, and if anything occurs that might cause pain (such as a nick in the slaughtering knife or a delay in the cutting), the flesh may not be consumed. Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible.

Naturally, vegetarians and vegans would consider this and similar dicta a half-measure. But the point is that this half-measure is far greater than none at all. We do not live in a world of perfection, but we can and do live in a world of potential improvement.

Prop 2 discusses the fate of animals doomed to die, to be used, consumed. It seems to me that there is little to lose, and much to gain, in seeking a better path, for those animals doomed to die, for those of us who use and consume.

I conclude by drawing your attention again to the story of Steve Mendell.

Let us not be so willfully blind.

I vote a clear, untroubled YES.

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3 Responses to “Reviewing the 2008 November California propositions — Prop 2”

  1. Jim Says:

    I agree and I think the references to Bird-Flu and other diseases came from (as the opponents argued) importing food from Mexico because (for some reason) US/California farmers would just give up and leave the state/country. I think these statements were proven to be false even by the group who initial stated that. The state of Arizona passed a very similar proposition a couple years ago with the same threats of disease and their industries have fared well since then.

  2. Jayne Steinmetz Says:

    Mr. Ragget,
    Thank you so much for these words of wisdom. In another snippet from the Official Voter Information Guide those against Prop 2 say that “egg prices could skyrocket for California Consumers”. Moark LLC, a major egg producer and one of the largest contributors to the fight against Prop 2 ($504,334) is under investigation for price fixing. Here’s a link to the article.
    http://www.pe.com/business/local/stories/PE_Biz_S_eggs10.3ec4f98.html
    The article can be found in the Press Enterprise on 10/9/08.

    Jayne Steinmetz

  3. Ned Raggett Says:

    Thanks to you both. Much about the opposition to this proposition seems incredibly egregious. Unfortunate, but not surprising.


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