From The Times of Trenton, July 9, 2002
Veal: Not the taste of elegance
BY MATTHEW SCULLY
Debates over the rights of animals can sometimes divert us from
our simplest duties of kindness to animals, which, in practice, are
more readily agreed upon and translated into law. A case in point is
a bill proposed in the New Jersey Assembly to give a break to veal
calves, the lowliest of all farm animals raised for the least
essential of all our meats.
Introduced by Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and Sen.
Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, the bill requires "that calves be raised
unchained or tethered in an enclosure of sufficient size to allow
the calf to move and groom itself, and be fed a diet sufficient to
prevent anemia or impairment of the digestive tract." Should the
bill become law, calves may still be raised for veal. They just
can't be denied their basic nutrition, or chained inside crates for
all of their brief time on Earth.
There are hard cases in animal welfare, but veal is not one of
them. Under current practices, a veal calf is by definition a sick,
deliberately malnourished animal. To create what Veal USA, the
industry's trade group, calls "the taste of elegance," the creatures
are denied maternal care, the iron and fiber ruminant animals crave,
the company of other animals, free movement (to prevent muscle
growth) and even straw to lie on in their miserable little crates
lest the merest scrap of roughage mar the "velvety smooth
succulence" of the meat.
Veal USA faults proponents of the bill for misguided
sentimentality toward calves, as if the afflictions of these animals
are somehow beneath the attention of serious minds. The industry and
its customers would do better to examine the sentimentality they
themselves lavish upon a luxury food item.
No mere food, says the trade group, veal is "the epitome of
refinement and taste _ gracefully surrendering its subtle yet
distinctive flavor to the most creative and savory seasonings
without ever being overpowered. But don't feel guilty about
It looks a lot less refined and graceful on the production end,
and most of us need not worry about feeling guilty because we do not
eat veal -- as witness a recent Zogby poll reporting that 85 percent
of New Jersey citizens disapprove of veal farming. America's
two-thirds decline in veal consumption over the last generation
reveals the same public repudiation of the industry. Veal, and the
pitiful images we associate with the product, mark exactly that
point in the public mind where unavoidable hardship in livestock
farming becomes inexcusable cruelty.
Veal producers view themselves as persecuted, unfairly singled
out for public reproach and, in a way, this complaint is justified.
Fowl like those in New Jersey's ISE America facility are stuffed
into sheds by the hundreds of thousands. Millions of creatures in
our mass-confinement hog farms live the life of veal calves, never
feeling soil, sunshine, or the least measure of human charity. A
reckless, unyielding spirit has spread across our farms, forgetting
that before animals are production units, before they are
commodities, they are living creatures with needs and natures of
America's 750,000 or so veal calves slaughtered every year are
numerically a small part of the problem, yet symbolize perfectly the
factory- farm mindset that any human desire, however frivolous,
trumps any animal need, however fundamental. "Calves are adorable,"
as columnist David Plotz expressed it in Slate magazine, "but veal
is delicious. God gave man dominion over the beasts of the Earth
(and) if any animal has economic utility, we should farm it."
Actually, if we are going to get pious about it, God gave us lots
of things, and one of them is conscience. Veal, no matter what
seasonings cover it, or what sanctimony defends it, does not carry
the "taste of elegance." Veal carries, as Alice Walker observes,
"the taste of a bitter life."
Veal USA cautions that the Weinberg-Bryant law would have little
effect in New Jersey and is intended rather as a "steppingstone" to
larger reforms elsewhere. This suspicion, too, is well-founded and
let us hope it happens just that way: The General Assembly setting a
standard of decent animal husbandry for other states to follow.
Do the calves have a right to be spared their miseries? It is
enough to know that we have a duty to be lenient, granting even
these creatures the little mercies that only human beings can bring
into the world.
Matthew Scully, a former New Jersey resident, served from January
2001 until this month as special assistant and senior speech writer
to President George W. Bush. He is a former literary editor of
National Review and author of the forthcoming "Dominion: The Power
of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy."