Imagine a world where tigers were so prized for their tender, tasty flesh, that entire herds of them—were crammed into dirty, desolate spaces where they have just enough room to eat, drink and shit.
Millions of tigers - bred and raised every year to live just long enough to be fattened up and then carted en masse to a slaughterhouse, so you could enjoy them on a burger or BBQ?
Some people might think these questions are facetious, because it’s unrealistic to talk about tigers being farmed. That it’s different, because tigers are rare.
But the point of my line of questioning is to examine how it makes you feel to think about tigers being treated this way. It probably feels wrong.
It feels wrong because we are not blasé about tigers - we see see them as more than food - we view them as an animal with more inherent value, an animal with a right to exist in the world and live a natural, wild life.
The idea of them being constrained and subjugated through the mechanics of modern agriculture seems wrong. And it is.
Is the gentle animal less worthy?
In any given year, in the US alone, around 30 million cows will be slaughtered according to Department of Agriculture statistics.
The fact that these animals die is not the problem. The problem is that they exist just to die. Just to be eaten. Because they are a product, they are treated like it.
In our system of industrial agriculture the value of beef cattle is literally in its flesh. A cow’s innate value and right to live its life will always be secondary to its value as a product.
Cows are the kind of animal that are able to farmed, amenable to being herded and forced into mass production facilities that care nothing for their natural preferences.
A cow may be more placid than a tiger, but of course they are both sentient beings that experience the world much like we do.
Is a cow any less conscious than a tiger? No.
Does a cow have less desire to live than a tiger? No.
Life on the production line is unjust
Many cows end up in feedlots towards the end of their short lives, to be fattened up before slaughter, standing in vast paddocks of dirt in close quarters with thousands of other animals.
It’s not like they’re all beaten with sticks—their diet and health is often carefully monitored. But they’re not pretty places. The industry rejects the term ‘factory farm’. The reason that term does makes sense is that each cow is seen as a commodity.
Once they’re the desired weight they’ll be transported to be killed—a number of animals won’t survive the trip, squashed into a truck, train or ship (it’s accepted some will die from heat exhaustion or injury—the price that has to be paid).
Each cow that experiences this production line is conscious and wants to live. Each cow is capable of feeling fear and pain, the same way humans do.
Do cows deserve to die because they are less majestic?
It feels wrong to suggest a scenario where tigers are treated like a product, on a massive scale, simply so we can enjoy the way they taste. Tigers belong slinking through the jungle, they’re exotic and impressive.
Some people are more attuned to the plight of the tiger because the loss of such creatures reflects a loss of biodiversity that affects entire natural ecosystems. That is an important issue, and deserve our attention.
But the truth is, the biggest barrier to seeing a cow’s life as being as valuable as a tiger’s is purely psychological.
If tigers weren’t endangered, if they were able to be farmed on a large-scale, if they were tasty—would humans forget that the tiger is a worthwhile, living creature after a few burgers?
Animals are not ours to breed, use and exploit as we see fit. As a society we must expand our concern to include all sentient beings.