The animals must come first

Why does the documentary film Farm and Red Moon need to be made? Haven’t we already learned about the horrors of the slaughterhouse (Earthlings), the trouble with factory farming (Food, Inc.), the global warming contribution of intensive animal agriculture (Conspiracy), and the heath hazards of eating animals (Forks Over Knives)?

What else is there to say?  What else needs to be done? I respect each individual’s food choices and I’m not getting involved head-on in the debate whether we should eat animals or not (at least not in this film), although I believe it’s one of the most important questions facing consumers today from an environmental sustainability, health, and animal welfare perspective.

I started out making this film as a vegan and for the time being I’m a seriously conflicted omnivore who continues to identify as a vegan. Where I end up at the end of the film remains to be seen, the story is still in progress. My focus with Farm and Red Moon, along with my co-director David Tamés, is that we want everyone, omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, etc. to learn about the missing link between pasture and plate. The issue of “decent death” has been kept out of the public conversation for way too long.

Meat-Market

Those who choose to to eat animal flesh often find comfort in the images of happy animals on pasture next to labels like “Humanely Raised,” “Certified Humane,” or “Animal Welfare Approved” in store displays and on food packaging. Many people sincerely believe that animals should lead a good life and be afforded a humane death if they are to become the food on our plates. Yet lurking behind these labels and “humane slaughter” rhetoric is a serious problem that we should not turn away from, regardless of whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan: All but one of the major certification/labelling systems conveniently avoids the process of slaughter.

rating-system-logos

In spite of “humane slaughter” being mandated by federal law in the United States and growing concern about where our food comes from, too many people wants to avoid dealing with what goes on behind the closed doors of the slaughterhouse. It’s outrageous when you think about that an organization will certify a product “humane” while ignoring what goes on in the slaughterhouse. We believe that everyone, regardless of their food choices, should understand how animals die to become our food.

If you’re going to eat meat I believe you should be aware of everything that’s involved in the transition from sentient animal to food. A focus on humane abuses is not enough. What happens when conscientious people committed to doing it right kill animals? Watching undercover videos of things gone wrong was not enough for me, it was not the whole story. I wanted to know and see for myself what goes everyday in industrial slaughterhouses, boutique abattoirs, and farmer’s backyards. These questions and the desire to see lead my co-director and I to begin production of Farm and Red Moon.

Precious Beau with Goat

The film will take you to the farms and slaughterhouses of different scales that I visited over a five-year period, several of them two, three, or four times. I gained unprecedented access to film legitimately so we did not have to sneak our cameras onto the kill floor.  Some of the animals I met had a horrible existence from birth, being caged or crated or chained. Others had a more comfortable fate, like at a small farm with children playing in the yard and giving names to the animals. Regardless, all of their lives will be cut dramatically short and they will be killed. That I was painfully aware of.

But what consumers don’t know is how the animals I met were killed in the best of circumstances. The well-traveled road for most consumers is lined with the deception of “humane slaughter” that is poorly understood, under-regulated, and often practiced incorrectly for a variety of reasons that we get into in the film. When I showed my footage of people trying to do it right to Temple Grandin (who serves on our advisory board and appears in the film) she said to me, “I don’t see any bad behavior in these videos, what I do see is that people don’t know what they are doing.” It’s often a murky grey area between unintended abuses and agregious abuse.

Farm and Red Moon takes you on the road less traveled. This road leads us to look at the suffering animals experience being slaughtered when no abuse is intended. This road will make all the difference to many animals. It’s not enough to turn away from animal agricultural and adopt a vegan diet. Animals continue suffer and something must be done, and for things to be done we must all take the time to see and engage in dialogue.

Constantly on my mind are:

Chickens, like the “humanely slaughtered” chickens I saw who gasped for air as they bled out.

Chicken

Goats, like the “humanely slaughtered” goat I saw who despite being stunned with a captive bolt gun, insisted on standing up and fighting for his life.

Goat

Cows, like the “humanely slaughtered” cow I saw who kept regaining consciousness as his throat was cut, and cut again, and hacked to the point of his head coming off.

Number 70

Lambs, like the “humanely slaughtered” lamb I saw die all too slowly and painfully on a kind and gentle farm by kind and gentle people who really care about their animals and want the best for them.

Shiva

Hal Herzog, acclaimed author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals,  says that Farm and Red Moon is an “extraordinarily intelligent and moving documentary on the human-meat relationship” that will have “wide appeal to both committed vegetarians and omnivores alike.” Because the animals can’t wait any longer for you to learn the truth about what happens to them between their FARM and their RED MOON.

The animals come first, we must see, understand, and respond on a personal level what they endure, and then we’ll be better informed when we debate our food choices and decide for ourselves what we make of the notion of “humane slaughter” and its discontents. Your comments on this post are welcome or you may contact us directly.

Audrey Kali, November 14, 2015.

Minor edits were made to this post on November 19, 2015. Image credits and acknowledgments:  Meat Department Design by I-5 Design & Manufacture, CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license; all other images from the film Farm and Red Moon, © 2015 by Audrey Kali and David Tamés. Trademarks referenced herein belong to their respective owners.

Reflections on the Vegan backlash

This past Friday and Saturday were pivotal days for me in the course of our Kickstarter Campaign. My request for funding from the vegan community resulted in a social media Blitzkrieg that is still reverberating as I write this.  First there was backlash from vegans about our Kickstarter Fundraising trailer posted on their Twitter Feeds. Here are some examples of the comments made on Twitter:Ruby1

  • Chantal:  You might want to pick other funding targets than me! I absolutely WILL NOT fund your film supporting ‘humane slaughter’
  • David Lewis Miller: Beware vegans.  Do not support Farm and Red Moon . Disgusting!
  • Farm365: We need documentaries showing that animal products are UNNECESSARY which makes every USE unacceptable
  • NonPorkPerry: Will the documentary explain that killing is unnecessary and therefore unethical?
  • Ellen H. Ullman: Do you support the animal welfare philosophy over an abolitionist one and see Temple Grandin as an expert?

Then, there was an outcry from vegans against Ruby Roth, also a vegan and the world’s leading author and illustrator of vegan and vegetarian books for children. She agreed to post news about our film Kickstarter on her Facebook Page. She said, “You’ve seen the power of film to change hearts and minds — fund Farm and Red Moon — with unprecedented access to slaughterhouses, this film takes an unflinching look at the moral quandaries between pasture and plate.

There were many replies and comments along the lines of the following:

  • Rachelle Belcourt: Is this some kind of sick joke?? There’s no way in hell that I would support a film in which a passionate vegan becomes an omnivore.
  • Rose Gallant: What the Fuck is going on here??????? Are you insane??? I think you made a huge mistake when posting this video.
  • Bibi Asgher: I hope they don’t get their funding… this woman seems deranged… a good death. . . WFT!
  • Helen Mackenzie: WTF. I’m not watching this, you stupid woman. Take it down! Page UNLIKED.

Ruby2I was mistaken to think that the vegan community would be one of my strongest supporters since they so strongly advocate for animals. Apparently,  wanting to assure that animals do not suffer when they are slaughtered is not as significant to most vegans as being an abolitionist. The ideology is not to participate in animal agriculture at all. Unfortunately, the fallacy of this false dichotomy is only going to perpetuate the continuance of humane violations in the slaughterhouses.

However, it is promising to see that Chantal is willing to engage in the dialogue:

Chantal 1

Chantal 2

Wanting animals to have a painless death does not mean wanting them to die. Similarly, being pro-choice does not mean wanting fetuses to die. There is something intrinsically wrong with these equations. I don’t get the logic where advocating for the abolition of factory farming could be incongruent with wanting to stop abuses in slaughterhouses.

Farm and Red Moon is a nexus for all food factions  — vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore — to come together and have a conversation, with solidarity, for the welfare of farm animals in slaughterhouses.

Many vegan organizations have worked together with vegetarians and omnivores for initiatives that are taking hens out of cages, veal calves out of confinement, and pigs out of gestation crates. Even PETA and the Humane Society of the United States are on board with those actions. Is it because I am asking for people to look at animal welfare when the animal is being killed rather than when the animal is being raised? In both cases, farm animals deserve our attention in order to limit the extent of their suffering.

I say in this video clip that I believe that all animals have a right to life and the right to express their own instincts. I believe this if I am a vegan or an omnivore. They also have a right not to be subject to unnecessary suffering in any circumstance. I became a reluctant omnivore during the production of this film, and I continue with my identification as a vegan, and remain deeply conflicted. Where I stand at the end of the film remains to be seen.

Please support our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter with a pledge right now so that David Tamés (my co-director) and I can finish this five year journey to make a film about humane animal slaughter the is non-propagandist and philosophically sophisticated.

Audrey Kali, November 10, 2015.

Ethics of Humane Slaughter with Bernie Rollin

We met with the philosopher, Dr. Bernard Rollin, an internationally respected animal ethicist, to discuss the treatment of animals at the time of slaughter.

Dr. Bernard E. Rollin is Colorado State University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and University Bioethicist. He has dedicated his life to improving animal welfare in veterinary schools, medical schools, research laboratories, and agriculture. He is the author of more than five hundred articles and seventeen books. His latest book, an autobiography about his work on animal ethics, was just published in 2011: Putting the Horse before Descartes: My Life’s Work on Behalf of Animals.

We met with Bernie at his friend’s farm on Tuesday, September 11th, outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. Since we have been filming a lot of slaughter over the past two years, we knew it was important to get his philosophical perspectives on methods of stunning. The science involved in determining insensibility is critical, of course, but not worth practical consideration without coming at it from an ethical position. The person best equipped to answer our questions was Bernie.

He is the quintessential animal magnet, which humorously made it a bit difficult to get our interview off the ground.

It took us some time to realize that we should conduct the interview standing up with the horses inside of a corral.

We gained some valuable perspectives on pain and sentience from speaking to Bernie at length about his thoughts on stunning practices (captive bolt gun, gas and electrocution). First of all, we learned that he does not like electrocution because he believes that the animal feels it for a while. He also is opposed to CO2 gas stunning. He argues that the animals experience suffocation and that it can take up to 40 seconds to lose consciousness. With a captive bolt gun, he said that there might be a microsecond of pain on impact, but then consciousness is ablated immediately.

We also knew it was important to get Bernie’s perspectives on kosher and halal slaughter, which do not permit stunning the animal prior to bleed out. He is very clear about his position, as he says, “There is no question in my mind – zero – that it’s gonna hurt more than being stunned ideally with a captive bolt.”

Before Bernie headed home, we asked him what he thought about the public’s role in advocating for humane slaughter.  He said, “The only way we’re going to get the sorts of improvements that we’ve been talking about is for the public to demand it.”  I responded by saying that consumers don’t want to think about slaughter. With the kind of wisdom I would expect from him, he replied, “In my experience, it’s not that consumers don’t care. It’s that consumers don’t know.”  Yet another reason for slaughterhouses to have glass walls. . .