Animals

Humane activists and the meat industry may argue over many issues, but on one point they agree: Temple Grandin is a godsend for animals. She is the only person in the world who has been honored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as a visionary and has been inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame.

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[…] But before Temple came on the scene, modern kosher slaughterhouses obeyed the letter of the sacred laws while trashing their humane intent. Poking the cows with electric prods, making them slip and fall, hoisting them upside down to dangle by a broken leg—nothing like that is specified by Jewish law. The only part of the law the system honored was the rabbi slitting the animal’s throat.

The rabbis told Temple they hated the system. They weren’t cruel men, and they knew the animals suffered terribly. The employees hated it, too. Even those who didn’t care about the suffering of the animals hated the process because it was so dangerous for them. Many employees wore football helmets, but even so they were often kicked in the head and hurt badly by terrified, thrashing cows.

Just imagine this awful scene—angry rabbis, endangered workers, suffering cattle, blood everywhere—and add the soundtrack of Temple’s favorite animals bellowing in pain and fear. No wonder that after her visit, she wrote this in her diary: “If Hell exists, I am in it.”

How could she stand it? Because she had seen even worse. Early in her career, at a ranch she visited in Arizona, Temple had come upon a little calf who had been attacked by coyotes. The baby, half skinned and partially eaten, was still alive. “Nature can be very harsh,” Temple says. “I’m not saying it’s cruel, because cruelty entails intent. But a slaughterhouse is nice compared to having your hide ripped off.”

Temple is often asked how someone who loves animals can witness all this animal suffering. How can an animal lover work for an industry that raises animals to be killed for food? How can she eat a steak when she loves living cattle?

In fact, at one point Temple quit eating steak. She was so sick of all the cruelty she had witnessed on farms and in slaughterhouses that she gave up eating meat altogether. Polls show that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians, and most of them are very healthy on a meat-free diet (including the author of this book). Another million Americans are vegans, whose diet includes no animal products at all—no eggs or milk or cheese. But when Temple gave up meat, she felt lightheaded and dizzy. She suffers from Ménière’s disease, a poorly understood ailment that she feels could be related to her autism. (There might be something different about her metabolism as well as her brain.) When she started eating meat again, she felt better.

“If I had my druthers,” Temple says, “people would have evolved as plant-eaters and wouldn’t kill animals for food at all. But I don’t see the whole human race converting to vegetarianism anytime soon.” Ten billion animals in the United States alone, including laying hens, provide food for people each year. What about the quality of all these animals’ lives? Don’t they matter? By choosing not to eat meat or animal products, a vegetarian or vegan saves thousands of animals from slaughter over the course of his or her lifetime. But Temple points out that if all use of animals for food—including laying hens and milking cows—were eliminated, organic agriculture wouldn’t work, because manure from animals is an essential part this method of farming. Besides, 95 percent of Americans do eat meat, and even more eat eggs.

Even if you never eat a hamburger or a pork chop, you’ll find animal products everywhere. The thickening agent in Jell-O is made from the boiled bones and hides of cattle and pigs. Heparin, a blood thinner that’s used to prevent blood clots, is made from pigs’ intestines. Unless the label of a bar of soap specifies otherwise, or says it’s kosher, it’s almost certainly made from the fat of slaughtered animals. Even the strictest vegans use animal products in daily life whether they know it, or like it, or not: dyes that color dollar bills, oils that lubricate parts of computers and airplanes, and medicines that save human and animal lives are among the hundreds of common nonfood products made from the bodies of slain animals.

Unless we find alternatives that everyone wants to use, “we’re going to have feedlots and slaughterhouses,” Temple reasons. “So the question is, what should a humane feedlot and slaughterhouse be like?”

She has seen the answer. “I’ve seen the ranches and feedlots and meat plants that are really good, where the people treat the animals right. My aunt’s ranch. Her neighbor, Singing Valley Ranch. The animals were happy and healthy. They can live better lives on a ranch than most animals live in the wild. And I’d rather die in a good slaughterhouse than be eaten alive by a coyote or a lion!”

This is what helps Temple get through a visit like the one she made to the Spencer slaughterhouse: “I can see how good things could be.”

Each farm animal deserves a good life, and if it is to be killed, it deserves as good a death as possible. “Many people forget that most farm animals would never have existed at all if people had not bred them,” Temple says. She has been criticized for designing slaughterhouses by people who feel animals shouldn’t be killed for food—and by those who feel it’s a waste of time to care about animals who are going to be killed anyway. “Some people say that since they are going to be killed, being kind to them is not necessary,” Temple has written. “My answer is this: What if your grandmother was in the hospital dying? How would you like it if the doctor said, ‘She’s just a terminal patient. We can throw her over in a corner.’”

Temple believes that food animals deserve a dignified death, free of pain and fear. They shouldn’t have to be driven to slaughter by people yelling at them and poking them with electric prods. They shouldn’t be forced to slip on slanty floors. They shouldn’t need to cry out in fear, frightening the others. Temple designed one slaughterhouse system in which cattle calmly walk up a flight of stairs—which they much prefer to a slippery ramp—to a quick and painless death with a blow to the brain from a captive bolt stunner. She named her system after the 1971 song “The Stairway to Heaven” by the British rock group Led Zeppelin.

But heaven was a long way from what Temple saw at the Spencer Foods Plant. There her stairway system could not be used because kosher law demands that the animals’ throats be cut.

Temple drove home and went straight to her drawing board. “I thought, I’ve got to get rid of this,” she says. Right then and there, she started planning a new design without shackles or hoists. She designed a narrow metal stall to hold the steer still in a standing position. A yoke kept the animal’s head still, and a belly restraint held the underside snugly. Hydraulic controls position the steer gently and safely. And just so cost wouldn’t stand in the way of the new system, Temple gave the drawings to the plant for free. The drawing sat taped to the plant manager’s office wall for two years. The management didn’t want to bother to change. Finally, though, there was a change of management at the plant. The new managers were eager to adopt the design. Temple returned to work on its construction and was there for its successful start-up.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

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