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Dock (definition four)

I’m not sure why I even read this morning’s yesterday’s NYT Op-Ed contribution called The Unkindest Cut, by Nicolette Hahn Niman. Perhaps it was the title. Which just goes to show. Or perhaps it was the word ‘dock’ which had come up in this context over the weekend. Coincidence?

Anyway, Your Humble Blogger knows little about animal husbandry, so expecting me to have a position on tail-docking seems a trifle odd. In fact, Ms. Hahn Niman doesn’t really seem to think I should have a well-thought-out position; she wants me to say ‘Ew!’, and then to guide me from that visceral reaction to an appreciation of the farming techniques that obviate the need for tail-docking. She wants me to see tail-docking as the straw that broke the camel’s back of my meat-purchasing habits.

But, here’s the thing: Your Humble Blogger, like the preponderance of this column’s readers, is what we used to refer to as a Times Reader. I know about the horrific conditions of the factory farms. I have lots of friends who won’t eat meat, many of whom have expressed their informed views eloquently and intelligently. I haven’t actually read Fast Food Nation, but you know, I know about it. I know about the chicken-flickers locked into firetraps. I know about the ordure, the dangerous levels of whatnot, the horrific conditions of this and that. And I still eat Jimmy Dean premium pork sausage (Maple flavor—it’s so good). I’ve got to figure that any Times reader who still eats Jimmy Dean is not going to be suddenly shocked out of that particular bad habit by the discovery that they cut off the pig’s tails with a carving knife.

Digression: Your Humble Blogger does not mean to imply that all or even most readers of the New York Times have watched Babe whilst eating leftover Redbone’s sausage. As far as I know, that’s just Your Humble Blogger and his Best Reader. End Digression.

One reason why the tail-docking is such a bad device for changing my mind is that I am aware that they dock sheep’s tails, and have done so for generations. I mean, there are nursery rhymes about it. I doubt I’ve ever seen a sheep with its natural tail, although I must say I’ve actually seen very few sheep in my life. Anyway, if Ms. Hahn Niman tells me that a cow without a tail is “a sad sight”, she’d better tell me why a sheep without a tail is just terrific. Now, I suspect that there are very good reasons why farmers have been docking sheep’s tails for generations, and not docking cows’ and pigs’ tails. I suspect Ms. Hahn Niman is correct that this is a new practice born out of new farming practices, and that the practice and the practices that make it desirable should be eschewed. But that’s pretty much from my knowledge independent of that column; the column itself doesn’t address that at all.

Anyway, although Ms. Hahn Niman may have an aesthetic appreciation for cows’ tails and pigs’ tails, I don’t. I doubt many Times readers do. The final line, where a good hog farmer says “I like seeing pigs with their tails”, is cute, but mostly sounds quaint. Frankly, I think the video that’s been making the rounds of the E-Z Catch Harvester is much more startling, if only because the Bright Coop folks are using the video to promote their product.

I should also point out that Ms. Hahn Niman isn’t trying to get people to give up beef or ham, only to patronize farms that she finds more humane. Yes, she’s arguing for a regulatory ban on tail-docking, but that’s not really the thrust of the article. She doesn’t want you, after reading the thing, to contact your representatives in the government or to change your voting pattern but to change your shopping pattern. That’s hard to do. In fact, I don’t think, in general, that large-scale shifts in meat-purchasing patterns have ever been affected by outrage over inhumane farming practices. Health scares work better, but aren’t usually long-lasting. It’s easier to get people to avoid pork by claiming that pigs are inherently disgusting or unclean. On that note, next time you order duck l’orange, try not to think of this Ig Nobel-winning research.

Thank you,