Since it’s just us here, I’m going to admit something embarrassing about myself. Though I’ve always exercised my American right to vote during elections, I have to admit that I have never really spent much time studying propositions – opting instead to base my vote on anecdotal conversations with like-minded friends and the brief narratives provided in the voting booth. That doesn’t exactly qualify as being socially and politically “informed.” Now, I’m fixin’ to do better.
In these divisive times, I have come to know that political apathy is a huge part of the problem – and I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore. This time around, I truly invested the time to understand what was at stake this election – and when I went out to the polls last week, I had done my homework.
One measure, Proposition 12, was of particular importance to me as a voter – and my experience as a farmer and rare livestock conservationist made it very personal. So when it passed last week, I felt a tremendous sense of pride knowing that my vote, along with many others, helped California take a huge step forward in animal welfare.
As a result of Prop 12 passing, extreme confinement of baby veal calves, mother pigs and egg-laying hens inside tiny cages for their entire lives on industrial “factory farms” is now banned in California. It also ensures that products sold in California will come from cage-free environments by 2022.
Way to go California!
Being a Los Angeles native raised in an urban melting pot with a “big city” sense of style, it came as a pretty big shock to my friends and family when I decided to leave my career in health care administration to start a farm in a small rural town in Wisconsin several years ago.
I know what you’re thinking. “What?” “Farm?” “Wisconsin?” “Wait, WHAT?”
It’s true. I sold everything in my downtown loft, traded my fancy German convertible and designer suits for a truck and muck boots to raise rare livestock on a bucolic farm wonderland nestled in the hills of the “driftless” region of western Wisconsin.
At first, farming started out as a hobby with a handful of goats, a few chickens and two beautiful horses. Within a year though, the conservation effort grew exponentially until I was caring for more 300 animals in 17 different critically endangered species. I guess you can say I’m the “go big” type.
I am modern-day guy who believes in an “old school” approach to farming that is kind to the earth and animals, and supports sustainability. My animals were well socialized, happy, and living the way they were intended to – grazing off the land, cared for like family, and thoughtfully bred for excellent quality. They had an amazing life with lots of space to roam, graze, and exercise. And they repaid that by giving me endless comic relief with their funny antics and hijinks.
Among the many species of livestock I worked to conserve, I raised chickens, cows, and pigs – who all got to live very different lives than most others in the world today. They could roam around outside freely, taking in the fresh air while leisurely grazing on organic land. Mothers could raise their young and teach them the ways of the world. They had shelter and more than enough space to truly live a happy life.
This isn’t the case for “factory farm” animals though. Until last week in California, it was still legal to sell veal from a baby calf taken from his mother to early and forced to live in a narrow crate until it’s slaughtered.
It was also still legal to raise pigs in confinements so small, they do not have enough room to turn around – and kept in this way for up to 4 years.
And the eggs you buy at most supermarkets are laid by hens in cages so small, they are forced to eat, sleep, and lay in their own waste – never seeing the light of day.
Even if your heart doesn’t break at the image of this kind of life in prison, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that these types of conditions for animals spreads more disease – which translates into food being less safe to eat. Multiple studies have found that Salmonella is more prevalent in caged egg facilities than in cage-free farms. It’s not a coincidence that the FDA reports that nearly 80,000 people get sick from eggs contaminated with Salmonella every year.
You don’t have to be an animal activist to see the practical logic here.
Until I had a farm of my own, I didn’t have a relationship to the food I consumed. I grew up poor in an urban environment, so it never occurred to me to think about where the hamburger in my Happy Meal actually came from. Food just magically appeared on the shelves of the super market, and I didn’t question how it got there.
Raising these beautiful animals gave me a profound sense of gratitude for the circle of life – and it reinforced my commitment to humane advocacy.
It’s been 10 years since California has passed a measure improving the living conditions for animals. Many states have surpassed us in creating better, safer animal welfare requirements – and it’s time for California to update ours and set the example nationally for anti-cruelty measures.
Thanks to those who turned out to vote last week, that time is now!