Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Happy Easter, season of rebirth, etc etc to everyone.  In the spirit of rebirth and renewal, on Easter Sunday we went to the Gentle Barn.  If you've never heard of the Gentle Barn, and if you even so much as like animals, you must visit their site.  And if you're anywhere in Southern California, you must visit them in person.  The Gentle Barn is an animal rescue organization that saves abused animals - mostly farm animals - and then during the week they bring in at-risk and special needs kids who are able to see themselves in the stories of the animals, and thus are able to learn compassion and unconditional love from the animals.  It's a beautiful place.  They're open on Sundays for the public to drop in, so drop in we did.  

Our first stop was the Cow Barn where they gave us brushes so we could groom the cows.  This is me with Buttercup.  Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia helped The Gentle Barn rescue some cows last year, which they subsequently adopted, and hearing the stories of the horrific conditions of dairy cows is largely what turned me completely vegetarian, and largely non-dairy.  Cows only lactate when they're pregnant, so in order to keep their milk going, they have to stay pregnant.  All those baby cows that are born are killed, or slaughtered for veal.  And honestly, soy milk really doesn't taste that different than dairy milk, plus it's got more calcium and less calories.  Bargain!  Anyway, I had a good time petting Buttercup, who was, in fact, incredibly gentle.

J loves horses, so we had fun feeding them carrots and loving on them.  This guy, and his twin sister, were born to a mother who was being used to make Premarin.  I had no idea that this hormone replacement therapy drug was made with pregnant mare's urine (hence the name: PreMarIn) and there's a huge controversy over it.  Either way, this guy and his sister would have been slaughtered, but The Gentle Barn took them in, and so now they get to commune with visitors, like J.

This is my favorite scene - a whole barnyard full of animals and people, bonding with each other.  I love the lady loving the turkey.  They just sat like that for about 20 minutes, the entire time we were in that barnyard, just loving each other.  The turkey rested his head in her lap, and became a lap-turkey.  J was bonding with the sheep here, too.  You know, I don't mean to be some kind of animal-rights-nutjob, but you can't spend time with animals without realizing that they all have personalities, and they all have souls.  They are all God's creation.  I sometimes wonder how it was that I could have been so devoted to our cats, but still eaten cow. I think part of the problem is that we are so far removed from the food chain, and the slaughter and packaging of meat is something we never see.  When people knew that lamb chops came from a sheep, maybe even their own sheep, I think there was more respect for the animals, more gratitude for what they gave us.  I'm not inherently against eating meat.  But the process has become so sterilized, so sanitized, that we don't appreciate it anymore.  We grab a burger from McDonald's and we don't even think about the cow who was bred and died for that burger.  What kind of life did he have?  I think about our kittens when they were first learning to play and jump around, and then I think about the baby cows who are taken away from their mothers and siblings, and housed in terrible conditions, slaughtered as soon as possible, so that we can have cheap fast food and corporations can make more money.

That is not farming.  That isn't natural.  It's not right.  People can eat meat, but, in my opinion, they should do it humbly, recognizing that the meat we're eating was a living breathing animal not too long ago, and being grateful for that.  A few years ago the UK journalist Janet Street-Porter did a segment on Gordon Ramsay's F-Word show where she raised calves herself, knowing they were going to be slaughtered.  I can respect that; raising an animal purely for food consumption, but caring for it and making sure that while it is alive, it's happy.  And when the time comes to slaughter the animal, doing it with the respect that it deserves, for in many ways, it is a sacred act.  Many people think that God gave humans dominion over the animals (at my church we call it "stewardship", which I much prefer), but that only makes the bond that we have with them that much more sacred and holy, and if we are going to exercise that dominion, we should do it thoughtfully and respectfully.  None of that is present in modern "farming" with it's genetic engineering and mass slaughterhouses, which is why I am meat free.

This is Zeus, a perfect example of modern farming gone wrong.  He is a product of genetic engineering, and weighs almost 1000 pounds.  "That's crazy," I said, when they told us.  "Yes, it really is crazy," they responded.  Pigs are not supposed to weigh that much.  They do this to get more meat from them - bigger, better, faster, more, right?  That can't be healthy to eat, can it?  Poor Zeus has a hard time standing for too long because of all the weight; but in a perfect example of forgiveness and redemption, Zeus, who was rescued from a country fair where he was going to be slaughtered after being a feature in the fair, now trusts humans enough to lay sleeping and bask in belly rubs from strangers.  Forgiveness, putting the past in the past, and living in the present: yet another lesson we can learn from these animals.

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