The urban livestock enthusiasts profiled in “Meet the farmer next door” in the Chronicle are pertinent to why Oakland residents should be concerned about encouraging neighbors to breed and kill animals as a hobby in our city. Look past the smiling faces and investigate the claims they use to justify urban animal agriculture in Oakland — an uncomfortable truth will come to light.
One of the animal farmers interviewed explains that it is important for people to have a “connection to their food source.” Another says that breeding, slaughtering and eating animals is a choice she is comfortable with, and that she is bothered when people “go to the grocery store and buy a chicken.” At first blush, this sounds like a good thing: knowing where your food comes from. But what is it really saying?
By choosing to only kill and eat animals they are personally connected to, the urban animal farmers interviewed demonstrate an awareness that killing these animals is unnecessary for their survival. It is a personal preference. They know they won’t go hungry tonight, next week, or next year if they don’t slaughter the goat munching on grass in their backyard. And inadequate nutrition isn’t something they will ever face in their lives.
No one should look down their nose at regular people who buy food at the grocery store. Consumers may be “disconnected” from their food source, but is that really their fault? Should we judge them? The real problem is the food system itself, which makes unhealthy, inhumane and environmentally destructive food choices seem like the only viable option to many people in the food deserts of Oakland. Buying food at a corner store isn’t “convenience capitalism,” as one animal farmer insinuates, it’s just what people have to do to survive.
The people profiled are not continuing the family farm out of economic necessity. Nor are they killing animals because they lack protein in their diet. They are educated, published and politically connected, and they choose to slaughter and eat their backyard animals because of a personal preference to consume a culinary delicacy: locally raised organic meat. Food empowerment this is not.
Food empowerment supports and educates people to make ecological, healthy and compassionate food choices. Food empowerment encourages people to grow abundant crops that feed themselves and their community.
We have an overburdened animal shelter and a police department that is in no position to enforce new animal welfare laws. Oakland doesn’t need policies that encourage people to breed, kill and eat animals for nothing more than gastronomic gratification.
To make the best use of our limited farmable land and to fight the obesity, diabetes and heart disease that plague our communities we need to grow our infrastructure and policy to encourage healthy, plant-centered agriculture.
Ian Elwood is an animal rescuer and volunteers with Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, the Central Valley Chapter of House Rabbit Society and is a former volunteer at Oakland Animal Services. His day job is as Web Producer at International Rivers.
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