Photographing Feedlots

Feedlot 116 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

Feedlot 116 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

That day, the temperature hit 116 degrees Farenheit.  In the evening we arrived at a restaurant just minutes before closing.  Nevertheless, the waiter welcomed us.  He was tall, muscular, friendly, and flirty.  He brought us an extra treat: tofu kebabs that had been marinated in a savory sauce.  They were delicious. 

Then he announced that he was not vegan, he would never be vegan, he loves bacon.

I asked if it didn’t bother him, about the pigs.

And he said, “No, of course not.  Animals don’t have feelings.” 

We exclaimed that animals do have feelings. I would have said that we are all animals, that humans are animals, but he didn’t give me a chance.  

He insisted that animals don’t have feelings.  

We asked, “What about dogs?  Do you have a dog?” 

He said that maybe dogs might have feelings.  He said that the animals, they don’t know they’re going to die so it’s OK to kill them.  Maybe they’re scared but it’s not because they’re scared of death, they’re just scared.

I pointed out that fear is a feeling.

He agreed that fear is a feeling.  But he repeated that he would never stop eating animals.  That eating animals is the reason for his handsome body.

We didn’t pursue the conversation much further.  I didn’t want to waste more time in a tiresome discussion.  I just wanted to enjoy dinner with my dear friend.

After dinner, we spent the night at a golf resort nearby almost for free with points I’d racked up on my credit card.  It is luxurious in the way that’s popular among the not quite ultra-rich.  The lawns are perfectly manicured.  In this the fourth year of the California drought, the grass is watered daily. There are duck ponds, and four swimming pools. It was a freaky contrast to the acres of excrement-covered dirt on which cattle stand, or lie on, all day and night, day after day, the ammonia fumes searing their eyes, nostrils, mouths, and tongues, with no real shade, only water from a dirty concrete tub to drink, no respite until the dark night from that hell of over 100 degrees Farenheit.

The technical name for the places I photographed is CAFO - Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.  99% of meat, dairy, and eggs comes from CAFOs.  CAFOs known as feedlots confine cattle by the thousands for the beef or dairy industries.  The animals are young, most likely less than a year old. They are fed an unnatural grain diet to fatten them as quickly as possible, which causes gastric distress.  They have been branded, dehorned, and/or castrated with no anesthetic.

Comparisons have been made to the Nazi Camps.  Isaac Basevich Singer said, “For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.”  Some people jokingly call these places “Cowschwitz.” Of course, these comparisons only go so far.  Every oppression has a history and quality all its own.  Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor and founder of Farm Animal Rights Movement, has been quoted as saying, “I am not equating the Holocaust with the millions of animals slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways.  Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness and fear.”

I know that in that resort hotel there were people who were suffering, who were at odds with their spouses, maybe on the verge of divorce or going through a divorce, maybe frustrated with their jobs or careers, perhaps they had children who have drug problems or parents who are sick or dying. The ways in which humans suffer are endless.  And I knew that suffering cannot be quantified and that it can’t be compared.  And yet, I know that no one in that hotel would ever trade places with any one of those animals we had seen and wept for that day.  But that any of those animals would give anything to spend just a short time suffering in that luxury resort.

111 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES

111 Degrees Farenheit from the series CENSORED LANDSCAPES