Jenny Courtney, a student in Professor Chris Papouchis' Natural Resources course at American River College in Sacramento, CA, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "What's the Harm in Hunting," by Alyssa Johnson. She is our college winner for the Winter 2012 writing competition.
Writing prompt: "Is hunting moral?"
The Double Standard of Killing Animals
by Jenny Courtney
In Alyssa B. Johnson's article, "What's the Harm in Hunting?” the author states that her interest in hunting was piqued by the idea that our access to modern agriculture has made the age-old practice of hunting seem superfluous and gratuitously violent. To further this point, Johnson asks the rhetorical question, " Modern agriculture has freed us to be better than that, right?.” It becomes clear by the end of the article that the author's answer to this question would be no. I agree with Johnson in this respect and believe that thoughtfully regulated hunting has done more to advance the welfare of animals than modern agriculture ever has. As a vegetarian, I believe that when people engage in the act of hunting with the goal of procuring meat, it is a moral enterprise. In fact, I see it as more moral than our industrial food production system—even though the former is seen by many as unnecessary, and the latter is cast as a requisite for maintaining the average American's quality of life.
Our modern agricultural system has created such distance between man and his meat that we are no longer cognizant of all the costs involved in its procurement. Because of this, I believe that the only thing modern agriculture has freed us from is a sense of personal responsibility. We now fail to make connections between the plastic-wrapped meat we find in the supermarket aisle and all of the environmentally destructive actions that were required to deliver it. Since we no longer have to get blood on our hands to obtain meat, it has allowed us to treat other sentient creatures in a callous manner. To meet our country’s great demand for beef, cows are kept in incredibly close quarters, which encourages the spreading of infections and the need for large amounts of antibiotics. Large-scale poultry production requires that chickens be kept in very small cages.This environment is stress-producing and causes many neurotic behaviors, such as feather pecking and cannibalism. To discourage this behavior, chicken beaks are cut off, and chickens are fed anti-stress drugs and kept in dimly lit rooms.
A double standard exists in this country when it comes to the issue of killing animals. When it happens on a large scale and in a mechanized environment, the majority of the population sanctions it. However, if the killing occurs in nature and is done by an individual with a gun, a portion of the population sees it as cruel and perverse. The meat industry kills millions of animals each year, and, in some places, this occurs under inhumane and unsanitary conditions. But, because factory farming occurs behind closed doors, it is never thought of as egregious or excessive. Hunting, on the other hand, is a tightly regulated practice by means of seasons and bag limits. Yet, is seen by some as a barbaric activity that is only done by cold-blooded individuals.
It seems to me that the interpretations of these two different activities need to be reversed. Hunters in general seem to have much more respect for animals than factory farms in the meat industry. Many hunters put a lot of emphasis in the ethics of “fair chase.” Hunters following these principles will not shoot at prey that have been corralled by mechanized vehicles, confined by artificial barriers, spotted from the air, or helpless in any capacity. More than half of these tactics are used in the meat industry. Proficient hunters also take pride in not drawing out the death of a prey and try to make each kill as clean as possible. Hunters appreciate the true cost of their meat because of the money, time, and energy that goes into a successful hunt. When meat is hunted through "fair chase," there are fewer environmental costs (i.e. habitat fragmentation, decline in biodiversity and large scale use fossil fuels for transportation) that are required to keep our agricultural system afloat. Unlike the meat industry, hunters play an active role in the conservation of the habitats of the species that they kill.
Five years ago, I became a vegetarian because I realized that I could no longer condone the actions of an industry that causes so much undue suffering to such a large amount of animals. I am able to support hunting as a morally sound practice because the animals being hunted have had the chance to have a better quality of life, and are not just viewed as commodities. If I ever had to eat meat again, I would rather it come from an individual that took pleasure in a single kill, rather than from someone who felt nothing while killing hundreds of animals in a single day.
Jenny Courtney attends American River College in Sacramento, California and is pursuing a major in Environmental Conservation. Jenny enjoys potluck dinners, documentaries, and the outdoors. She plans to spend this summer hiking, expanding her vegetable garden, and volunteering at a raptor rehabilitation center.