Don’t Give a Cow
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Tags: ark bees chicken cow donate animals goat guinea pigs Heifer Oxfam Save the Children WorldVision
Over the years, I have experienced much frustration and sadness over the growth in popularity of nonprofit organizations that send live animals to impoverished countries all around the world. This growing phenomenon is headed by the high-profile Heifer Project International, which – I believe – is doing a great disservice to the people it wishes to help, to the environment, to the public who is persuaded and mislead by celebrity sponsors, to the children who are desensitized to animal suffering, and to the animals themselves.
Heifer Project is so successful at making people think they’re actually helping animals that I know of several animal activists whose family members donated to Heifer on their behalf, thinking they were doing something for animals. They thought, because these activists “loved animals” they would appreciate having a goat bought in their name and sent to a needy family somewhere around the world. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me, but for awhile I was receiving their “catalog” – this is actually a full-color, very well-produced “catalog” of animals and children. You choose an animal – a goat, a llama, a cow, a chicken – or what they call an entire “ark” of animals and your donation is translated into live animals being transported to a family to be used. This, in my opinion, essentially amounts to nothing more than a slave trade – an animal slave trade.
Now, let me just say that I’m often perplexed by the claim that animal advocates are anti-human. You’ve probably heard that before or maybe you’ve made that claim yourself. What perplexes me about that accusation is that it implies that compassion for one species means lack of compassion for another; as if our capacity for mercy and kindness is limited. When we deem certain human groups unequal, we call it racism, sexism, or anti-Semitism. When we make this claim about non-human animals, we justify it – their inequality, that is – on the grounds of tradition, science, or religion. But there is a name for this – it’s called speciesism. The claim – that animal advocates are anti-human – seems really odd to me because though we are reminded every day that humans steal, lie, cheat, kill, rape, and hurt each other, I’ve never heard any of these people called “anti-human.” It seems to me that the accusation would better suit someone who actually acts against humans, which is something we see and hear about every day in the news, on the street, and in our own homes. Ironically, those who commit the worst crimes against humans are derisively called “animals.”
This societal premise leaves animal advocates reluctant to publicly object to such groups as Heifer Project International, lest they be accused of the perceived crime of caring more about animals than humans. Heifer’s mission is “to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.”
The model of sending live animals all around the world, then encouraging them to be brought into this world only to be used and then killed is inherently problematic whether we’re looking at it from the perspective of caring for the Earth (using resources to keep animals alive is inefficient), from an economic perspective, (raising animals for human consumption is expensive), or from the health perspective (globalizing our preventable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes hardly seems charitable. And despite the fact that two-thirds of non-Caucasians on the planet are lactose intolerant and cannot digest dairy, Heifer is spending millions on dairy programs in countries like Zimbabwe. The last thing a hungry child in Africa needs is the milk of a cow. Aside from these problems, and I’m skimming over only a few, Heifer perpetuates a speciesist paradigm, viewing animals as mere commodities with no regard for their own inherent value.
Heifer says “sharing the offspring of gift animals with others in need” is “fundamental” to its approach; however, a mother’s relationship with her offspring is sacred and not unique to humans—we even call ourselves “mother hens” when we fuss over our own children. We admire the fierceness with which a mother bear protects her cubs. Manipulating a female’s reproductive cycle is offensive enough (as with egg-laying hens and lactating cows), but to take away her offspring is – to my mind – the ultimate blow.
Their glossy “catalog of animals” reminds me of those depictions of happy slaves smiling and laughing while working in the fields, depictions designed to shape public opinion and squelch any potential uprising among the slaves themselves. Sending their glossy catalog to millions of homes every year for “holiday shopping,” Heifer egregiously exploits children’s affection for animals and manipulates our own sensibilities, as they depict beautiful gorgeous children hugging these animals – an egregious manipulation of our own appreciation for life, our appreciation of youth, our enthusiasm for babies – all babies, whether furred, feathered, or human.
But this carefully crafted public relations campaign succeeds in helping us forget that these catalog “products” are living, feeling beings who will be used up and killed. Sure, they say that this animal or that animal is valuable for “meat,” so it’s not like people aren’t aware of that, but as with any effective marketing campaign, the real truth is concealed. There are no pictures of slaughter, or of females yearning for their young, or of the animals’ living conditions. There are no depictions of what takes place after the cameras are put away. That’s the difference between the photo of me (or any of us) with rescued animals and sanctuaries and the manipulative photos of people hugging animals they will soon slaughter.
Because of the success of their marketing campaign, they have inspired other nonprofit organizations to also solicit donations, especially around the holidays – their biggest fundraising time. World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children, Send a Cow, and Christian Aid all send animals to people all around the world.
Now, this isn’t an all or nothing situation. I’m not suggesting we don’t help the hungry, but what I am suggesting is to do it in such a way that benefits EVERYONE and that doesn’t exploit ANYONE. We can do both.
There are many other programs dedicated to providing solutions to hunger without exploiting animals.
- Trees for Life and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation enable you to buy a fruit tree in someone’s name, providing a food source to communities in developing countries.
- Every time you buy a gift from the Women’s Bean Project, you help a woman break the cycle of poverty and unemployment by supporting their programs that provide skills and training to women.
- One of Plenty International’s programs includes training villages in soy bean agriculture and production as a way to improve nutrition, soil quality, and food security.
- VegFam, a UK charity, ifund ethically sound plant-food projects, which do not exploit animals or the environment: seeds and tools for vegetable growing, fruit and nut tree planting, irrigation and water wells. Also, emergency feeding in times of crisis.
- A Well-Fed World is a food justice and animal protection organization that supports sustainable agriculture in developing nations.
- International Fund for Africa is creating amazing life-saving projects for both people and animals.
If we claim to be a compassionate society—a compassionate species—don’t we have a duty to foster solutions that do not harm others? The great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer certainly thought so when he wrote, “The thinking [person] must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.”