As a nutritionist living on a working farm, I feel that a deeper discussion into how people view food production is needed after reading the September 17th article, “The great rabbit pardon of 2016.” Although I think Ms. Cook is well intentioned, I believe she is misguided in her vilification of these local, sustainable farmers.
Many people relate to animals as pets, and see bunnies as “cute,” not food. Humans have thrived on rabbits for thousands of years. I’m always confounded by which animals certain people decide are “moral” to eat. It’s stated that Ms. Cook is an omnivore. How does she decide which animals she eats? Does she say a prayer before she picks up her plastic wrapped, boneless skinless chicken breasts at the grocery store? Does she feel that eating salmon builds up more “spiritual credit” than eating rabbits?
Most people aren’t familiar with small-scale, sustainable rabbit production and it makes them uncomfortable. How is life in a cage in Ms. Cook’s basement, listening to Buddhist monks on repeat, an optimal living situation for a rabbit? It sounds boring and depressing to me. The farm’s rabbits were stated as “healthy” and their techniques are considered humane by the Lincoln Animal Health officer, the MSPCA, and the vets that inspected the rabbits before Ms. Cook “adopted” them. In the case of the rabbit found with cancer on its leg, well sometimes these things happen. I know a lot of dog and cat owners whose animals get cancer and I certainly don’t blame the owners. Ms. Cook clearly feels uncomfortable with what is considered healthy and humane meat production. Is it really appropriate to call these farmers “Rabbit killers?” Why not Pig killers, Chicken killers, or Cow killers?
American culture is uncomfortable with the life and death cycle of livestock production. We no longer live in daily contact with our food producers. We anthropomorphize some animals while eating others. The truth is, everything eats and is eaten. Organic farmers require manure, bones and blood in order to fortify the soil with nutrients to grow vegetables. Conventional farmers do this with chemicals that kill butterflies, bees, and strip the soil of beneficial microbes that help bring nutrients to the plants and can sequester carbon. Tons of “cute” rabbits, mice and other field-dwelling creatures are decapitated when tractors harvest swaths of mono cropped grains with their sharp blades. The creation of our breadbasket eliminated the biodiversity of wildlife that once called these GMO cornfields their home. Maybe corn, wheat and soy farmers should be called “Biodiversity killers?”
Eating rabbits other animals raised in a sustainable way is also good for human health. Humans are omnivores and a diet void of any animal products is not advised without serious attention to dietary supplements. Supplements are often not enough. As a dietitian, I’ve seen an increasing population of clients looking to recover from their low protein, plant-centric diet. They’re tired, depressed, vitamin B12 depleted, and get sick often. Their stomachs hurt, they’ve lost muscle mass, and they’re anemic. While there are some who feel great initially on a meatless diet, we just don’t have any science-based evidence that it’s healthy to eat this way long term.
We need more small-scale, diversified producers like Pete and Jen at Codman Farm. Are these farmers really who Ms. Cook should spend her time, energy, and money going after? Is it better to just get our meat conveniently portioned and deboned, wrapped in plastic and shipped in from far away factory farms that we never have to see? I think we can all agree that factory farming of animals is not what we want. It’s time to stop vilifying farmers who raise healthy animals in a sustainable and humane way. We also need to stop equating our strange, selective and illogical food preferences with “good karma”, and support the producers who are doing the right thing in our communities before we lose more small farmers to “Big Ag.”