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August 29, 2014

The Reality of 4H Clubs

I really dislike this time of year in Armstrong, BC. Not only are the vast amounts of tourists making life difficult for those of us who live here, but also it’s the season of the Interior Provincial Exhibition. The IPE is based on agriculture and has evolved into a mode of convincing consumers that it’s okay to use and abuse animals.

This year they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of 4H. Although I’m sure the organization is certain it is benefitting the youth, I can’t help but wonder exactly what it is teaching.

Although there are areas of 4H that teach sewing, crops, computers, etc., it is teaching the kids to raise animals for slaughter, or milking (which slaughters their babies and eventually, the cows themselves) with which I have profound problems. I’ve spoken to many 4H kids over the years and have seen the tears when their animal is led away.

Often these young people take in very young calves; they nurse them through illnesses, groom them, hug them, adore them and often sleep with them when the calf is vulnerable. They teach them to walk on the lead, to stand correctly for the show ring and to put up with frequent baths. To sum it up, these kids love their calves (or lambs, etc.) and the animals trust and love them back.

Then comes the day at the IPE or any other agricultural fair. Into the ring these friends go, and when it’s all over, the child knows he or she will have money towards a college fund, and their beloved friend will head towards the terror and pain of the slaughterhouse. It is the ultimate betrayal.

This is life, says the organizers. These kids are being taught a good life lesson and besides, they get money and they’ll get another calf soon.

Ah. So we’ve just taught them that it’s okay to sell out your best friend, as long as you make money by doing so and you will soon replace him anyway. This is not a life lesson that will serve our society well.

And this doesn’t have to be life. Study after study shows that the healthiest diet is the vegan diet. Not only is it healthier for us, it is far healthier for our planet. Raising animals for food causes more greenhouse gasses than all forms of transportation, combined!

So why are we still doing this? Why are we putting sentient, feeling, emotive Earth creatures through such horrors for the sake of products that not only aren’t necessary, but also cause our bodies and our very home, huge damage?

Most of it comes down to socialization. From the moment we’re born, we live in a society that equates food with love. Well, not love, per se, but love from our peers.  Certainly it is not love for our fellow life forms. We are bombarded with ads of hamburgers, “happy” dairy cows out in a field with their calves (a total lie), celebrities telling us that cow’s milk yogurt will keep us regular.  Happy Meals abound but only at MacDonald’s.  Cow’s milk does the body good! (Yes, if you’re a calf.)  And on and on it goes….

We are encouraged to love dogs and cats and discouraged to love pigs, cows, chickens and fish. And we are very much discouraged to visit slaughter houses, or dairy farms during the times that they are prying yet another newborn from his mother. They too, love their babies. They too, grieve.

But those of us who have had the opportunity to work with these “food” animals, know that they are no different from our dogs and cats, and in fact are often more intelligent, and more personable.

The 4H clubs need to take a good look at themselves and the instructions they are giving our youth. 100 years ago, our world was far different. Things have changed and are changing quickly. It is time for 4H to evolve and encourage our young people to be part of a kinder, gentler, and more environmentally friendly society.

For those who have not had the opportunity to get to know cows or pigs, goats or sheep, have a look around the net. One of the best ways to learn about the real personalities of pigs is to keep up with Esther the Wonder Pig. She, her two dads and her sibling dogs and cats, are not only educational, but are also amazingly funny!