The other day I woke up to the news that billionaire Governor Pritzker has become the proud owner of this year’s “grand champion steer,” Lucius, for whom he offered over $75,000 at the Illinois State Fair. While the state fair’s livestock auction is presented to us as a nostalgic, Norman Rockwell-like expression of hard-working, rural family farming, in reality it is strategic PR for animal agribusiness. Politicians like Pritzker attend these events — not because they are looking for a day of family fun — but because they are beholden to uber-powerful meat, dairy and egg lobbying interests.
13-year-old Cole Caldwell raised Lucius the calf through the 4-H program which trains children to abandon their animals at the fair’s auction to the highest bidder for slaughter. Like many 4-H children indoctrinated into this program, Cole expressed remorse for betraying the animal he had raised and come to love, telling the Chicago Tribune, “I think I got just a little bit too attached…” “I love him very much.”
In fact, University of Colorado researchers reporting on the 4-H livestock program describe “an active socialization process through which the children learn emotions that make both caring for animals and killing them acceptable. They learn to emotionally distance themselves from animals… and rely on socially accepted justifications for their deaths, such as that livestock only exist to die or that the money from selling animals goes toward college.” And they point to much broader implications of their findings, indicating that “… the means through which people learn to justify the treatment of … ‘livestock’ can shed light on the mechanisms involved in generic processes of inequality.”
Still other important research shows that those who believe in human supremacy and dominion are more likely to also hold other prejudicial views against women, people of color and other marginalized groups. And while there are important differences among forms of discrimination, the sources of oppression are all too often the same. In this case, the industry that commodifies and kills billions of animals for profit also exploits workers and subjects them to some of the most dangerous and squalid conditions and treats our planet like a disposable resource.
Aside from these social and cultural disconnects, the Governor expresses an equally disturbing denial of animal agriculture’s devastating impact on the climate crisis. In fact, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent report just days before Pritzker’s visit to the state fair, stating that “land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. As part of the prescription, “meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced.” The report also proposes a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.
While the IPCC report focuses on land use as a means to mitigate the climate crisis, we already know that animal agriculture is also the single greatest human-caused source of greenhouse gases, deforestation and freshwater pollution. It is also a major contributor to air pollution, habitat loss, and species extinction, and a highly-inefficient use of limited natural resources. The United Nations has called for a global shift to a vegan diet wherever possible as the most effective way to combat climate change, world hunger, and ecological devastation.
The question we must ask as Illinoisans is whether our governor can claim to have a progressive agenda as he gleefully supports an industry that profits on climate catastrophe, environmental devastation and systemic animal abuse. I say No!
Let’s take this opportunity to urge Governor Pritzker to drop his support of animal agriculture and publicly denounce this industry’s devastating toll on the animals it exploits, the climate crisis and the billions of marginalized people who are adversely effected by it in our state and across the globe.
If you are not an Illinois resident, please contact the governor of your own state instead!