The sometimes blurry line between pets and food


Veterinarians help their clients and society navigate the weirdness.

I was speaking not long ago with a veterinary industry analyst about the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and a controversy in which it is currently embroiled (an update on the specific issue were discussing can be found on p. 12 of this issue). We were observing that the AVMA has a particularly challenging job in representing so many different types of constituents-food animal veterinarians, companion animal doctors, public health officials and so on-and he remarked that the AVMA is really the only U.S. association of its kind that does indeed attempt to represent an entire profession in all its segmented glory. And all things considered, it does a pretty good job, he said.

That diversity is one of the things that's always fascinated me about veterinary medicine. But the segmented components of the profession do not necessarily fall into nice clean categories. Take backyard chickens, for example (and check out the Medicine360 section of this issue as well). When a small animal veterinarian starts seeing egg-laying hens in her practice because her clientele have jumped on the urban farming bandwagon, she becomes a food animal veterinarian as well as a companion animal doctor.

For that matter, veterinary patients themselves can straddle the line between production animal and pet. Many backyard chicken owners who may have originally intended to use the animals for meat get so attached to their birds that they could no more fathom eating them than they could their dog or cat. The food animal has become a pet.

But it works the other way as well-the animal is a pet until it becomes food. My grandmother used to talk about her mother's geese. The geese were terribly attached to my great-grandmother, following her around the farm while she did her chores, and she doted on them as well-right up until the time she slit their throats, hung them up by their feet, plucked their down and dressed them for Sunday dinner.

At my local county fair last summer, I attended the 4H judging of the “meat goat” category. One older girl in particular had a fine specimen who yielded to her every subtle touch in the ring to display its excellent conformation. At one point the goat leaned solidly against the girl's leg, and she rested her hand on its head. This was the bond, pure and simple. But this was also a meat goat.

Those of us who eat meat and also love animals live (often uneasily) with this tension. We try to consume as responsibly and humanely as we can in our factory-dominated society. And veterinarians find their place on this continuum as well. As individuals dealing with clients, and as a larger profession finding dialogue among its various groups, veterinarians are important guides to learning what it means to share this planet with other living creatures who both sustain us and make our lives richer.

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.