2014 Conscious Eating Conference: Session #2: Food, Animals and Popular Culture
Speaker: Robert Grillo, Director, Free From Harm
Robert Grillo is the director of Free From Harm, a nonprofit animal rescue, education and advocacy organization.
Grillo’s perspective is one from the lens of how popular culture views food animals today and how the exploitation industrial farming has imposed on animals has distorted people’s thinking that exploiting animals for food is acceptable. Grillo challenges, “we need to see farm animals or all animals as the living individuals they are.” He illustrates how the food industry has distorted people’s attitudes into thinking that it’s all right to treat factory farm animals this way, as if they’re not the living, breathing beings that they are. We not understanding and comprehending that these animals suffer on a level we can’t even imagine—daily.
Grillo says that the images and narrative about our food in popular culture are so engrained in us, and into our existence, that we have come to accept them. These are images from corporate and industry advertising and product advertising and marketing. For example, he relates how Cargill spends over one billion dollars on promoting animal products worldwide. Grillo pulls up a slide about “Lily, the milking cow,” who must endure a “rape rack” to be artificially inseminated in order to stay forcibly pregnant to produce a constant flow of milk. He talks about how her babies are stolen from her at birth after a long pregnancy, and how the mother cow’s spirit is literally broken from having her baby removed as soon as it’s born. His slides show how much they suffer from having their calves immediately taken away from them, and how the calves cry for their mothers.
The U.S. government subsidizes milk production even though dairy consumption is falling and plant-based milks are increasing in popularity. He says the messaging from billion dollar corporate marketers around denigrating animals is so subtle, yet so powerful.
Grillo raises the “fictional narrative” we have by touting the importance of economic prosperity and the success of our industrial revolution, in contrast with the animals that suffer and are tortured for it daily. He goes on to discuss the popular myth about not wasting meat, based of the notion of “eating the whole hog,” that it somehow honors the pig to eat the whole body. Grillo warns this is distorted thinking to justify eating the animal. Animals kill to survive, they are carnivores. But Grillo argues, “we have a choice.”
When talking about Temple Grandin, Grillo asks us to question the seemingly universal opinion that Temple Grandin is a hero to the animals and made a great contribution to them. But who employs her? Grandin works for the beef industry, where she’s an industry spokesperson and promotes eating and selling beef. She willingly endorses a fundamental disconnect between loving animals and killing animals for food, and Grillo says, “she’s no savior to animals.”
The misconception about cow’s milk as a good replacement for human mother’s milk, is another myth proposed by the milk industry, and is especially pervasive in industry advertising. In the “Got Milk” campaign there’s an underlying blurred similarity between mother’s milk and cows milk, but Grillo notes that there’s nothing natural about drinking the milk of another species, “we are the only species that drinks the milk of another species, even if we have to kill her babies to get to it.” And furthers that cows don’t willingly give milk or enjoy it, but that they are forced to be milk producing machines by the milk industry. Americans are inured by corporate marketing to think that it’s perfectly natural to drink milk into and through adulthood, but he says, “we’re the only species on the planet that drinks (another species milk) mother’s milk beyond infancy.” I guess this is thanks to the effective marketing campaigns of the milk industry and U.S. government subsidies and marketing support from the Department of Agriculture.
Grillo went on to talk about the horrific sexual exploitation of female farm animals, and points out the 40 billion chickens killed every year as 6-week-old babies (males are killed immediately), but if left to live a natural life, would normally live up to 15-20 years old. In the book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, Grillo reflects on the objectification and oppression of female animals by the meat, dairy and egg industry, and how they are subjected to more extreme brutality and torture for their reproductive benefits. He contends they are treated “as mere or inert objects, like they don’t feel or suffer, or aren’t a living, breathing being,” but rather a food producing machine.
At the conclusion of the session, Grillo noted the “Blackfish” Bill—Bill AB-2140 that would ban captive orcas in the state of California. Again, it comes back to money and corporate profits, with multi-million dollar lawyers and their business interests versus animals and animal welfare and rights. He argues, “this shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue, it’s about animals lives and what’s good for them.”
Speaker: Robert Grillo
Conference: 2014 Conscious Eating Conference
Date: April 2014
Place: David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA