PETA recently sent a letter toZynga (creator of social media games such as Petville, Fishville, Farmville, Treasure Isle and Mafia Wars) protesting their plan to use virtual dogs for fighting in their Mafia Wars game. PETA was concerned that the use of such dogs in fantasy play might lead to an increase in dogfighting in the real world. PETA requested that Zynga remove fighting dogs from their games.
This brought to mind what I had been noticing in their other games – the exploitation of animals, much as they are exploited in the real world. But PETA never complained about the animals on Farmville. A quick glance around the farms in Farmville land will show animals crammed so close together that they cannot move at all — sound familiar to anyone? Just like a factory farm, only these farms have daylight. Animal hoarding was really becoming a problem over in Farmville. The vegans I know who play this game have their farms looking more like sanctuaries, either without animals or a few free-moving animals in a garden setting.
I began noticing – sorry, it is the therapist in me – that people playing Farmville had farms that often represented traits about that person. The obsessive type A’s had all their trees neatly lined us, all their plots evenly spaced; the laid back people had things spread across the landscape haphazardly. The creative types had beautifully landscaped gardens and the super achievers went straight for the gold (or in this case, the XP). When Farmville introduced co-op farming, even more was revealed. Those with management genes went into overdrive to coordinate the type of seeds to be planted, when the co-op would open, who would be invited, and precisely when the crop would be harvested. All for fun, of course. It seemed like people just loved the idea of farming, at least in the virtual world.
Romancing the Farm
While I was noticing what was going on in Farmville, I was also noticing how farming in general is being romanced. I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was surprised at this glowing reports he related about farmers who grew animals for consumption the old way. Of course the old way meant slaughter as baby animals, too – just a much less horrific life until that time. (More on Foer’s book in another podcast.) The recent push, even with the support of animal protection organizations like PETA and HSUS, towards “humane” meat seems like more of the same – a way to romance the family farm.
As far back as the 1970s, George McGovern called on people in the United States to limit the amount of dairy and meat they consumed in order to improve the health of the general population. Here is a quote from a New York Times article:
Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called ”Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.
(Here is a clip of Robert Kennedy Jr. talking about this disregard for what McGovern found.)
Power of Agribusiness
The same moral confusion that allows us to think we love animals while subjecting billions of them to hell on earth allows a people who pride themselves on unrestricted free market capitalism to simultaneously have institutionalized farm subsidies that ensnare an entire nation into unhealthy eating habits that damage the globe while damaging our health – and still allow a good portion of the population to fight doing anything about health care, either. Farm subsidies promote dairy and meat consumption despite volumes of scientific information decrying their harmful effects on health and increasing diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol. The actual cost of these products would be enormous if they weren’t backloaded, with everyone paying the costs to the environment, to the farmers, to the poor health of the nation.
Farms are not as numerous as they once were; they have been replaced by industrial operations that dismember animals while they are still fully conscious and destroy, injure, and traumatize the human beings, often undocumented workers, who are forced to work in their polluted, demanding mechanized death chambers. These workers have a very high turnover rate and very high incidence of injury and worker mortality. They are destroying the landscape, air quality and waterways near their operations, and they are getting very wealthy in the process.
If PETA is correct, and the Zynga games do reflect reality, then when Farmville releases all the animals and introduces GMO and organic produce and goes completely vegan, it will mean things are moving in a positive direction.
If you are interested in seeing a Fantasy Farm, consider The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a documentary about a third generation farmer who was free-spirited and creative and moved beyond traditional ways of farming to form a co-op and develop organic produce. If this was a vegan farm, it would truly be a Fantasy Farm. For another good film about the power of the food industry, try The Future of Food. Both films are available on Netflix.
The Real Dirt of Farmer John
The Future of Food
All About Food
Vegans for Peace