The HBO movie “Temple Grandin” tells the extraordinary life of Dr.Temple Grandin an expert in animal behavior with a special emphasis on cattle. The film stars Claire Danes as the wonderful Dr. Grandin and the lovely Julia Ormond as her supportive mother. This film earned Claire Danes a Golden Globe and an Emmy award for her much deserved portrayal of Dr. Grandin, an autistic woman who earned a doctorate degree in animal science and improved the conditions of cattle processing and slaughtering for over half of the livestock facilities across our nation. She is currently a professor at CSU, right up the highway in Fort Collins, Colorado.
You might be wondering what this has to do with organic and humanely raised food production and consumption , well, it has EVERYTHING to do with it. This wonderful story about her life and contribution to the meat industry is one that needed to be told.
Temple Grandin, was born with autism and had an extreme love of science and biology. She spent her summers as a teenager at her aunt’s cattle feedlot in Arizona. Because of her autism and the hypersensitivity that she experienced every day from her autism, she was able to understand and connect with some of the animals she found on her aunt’s feedlot, horses and most particularly cattle. She understood how they saw things, through their eyes, what scared them and sent them into a panic. She actually wrote a research paper that explained the different meanings behind a cow’s mooing and bellering and what it all means. She is/was a meat eater and understood that cattle were raised and slaughtered for human consumption, but she was astounded at what she learned once she came face to face with the reality of that of how they are handled and how they were slaughtered. Thus her wonderful contributions in the redesign of feedlot and slaughter house operations.
As she made her way through college, writing theses papers and doing her research, she visited many different types of cattle operations and could clearly see what needed to change . She came up with a facility design that would eliminate extreme stress, discomfort and sheer panic that cattle and other livestock endure often and on a daily basis. She was as expected, ridiculed by the other students, the feedlot owners, managers and employees for her quest to find a better way. Though her ideas were coming mainly from a humane perspective, to the owners of these facilities it was a costly burden and money was the one obstacle to keep them from making these changes she was suggesting. She proved that in the long run, her facility redesign would be more effective in saving money for the owners rather than costing them more money.
There would be no more accidents that could cause broken bones, or cattle being killed accidentally. Instead of expecting a certain loss due to accidental death or injury, she showed they could anti up the conditions and no loss or injury to the livestock had to take place at all. To fully understand her point of view, you must understand how it works.
When cattle are kept at a feedlot, this is generally the last place that they go to before being shipped to the slaughterhouse. The idea of the feedlot is to do the final fattening finish on them. After all, we want those cattle fat, because they are going to be used for human consumption. We want those cattle to be processed quickly, so the producer can make more money and the consumer can pay less.
Fat and Faster= producer more money= cheaper prices to the consumer= very bad for livestock= Dr Temple Grandin solution to all.
While at the feedlot there is a lot of processing that takes place, growth hormone injections to speed up the fattening process, ear tagging, dipping for parasites, dehorning and more. During the processing, the movement, sorting and handling of cattle is almost daily. The set ups are often, clumsy, crude and reckless to be kind. This can often results in panic, stress, discomfort in the very least to the livestock being handled. A certain percentage of loss within the livestock, due to accidental death or broken bones is inevitable and figured in from the get go of the processing. This is quite common. This movie, though delicately done and in good taste, depicted the world of meat production to an absolute truth, 100 % accurate and I highly recommend it.
She did prove that you can process cattle in a kinder way, slower, without stress, panick, or pain. No premature deaths, no broken bones. Everyone wins. The money saved on the above, could make up for taking a bit more time to get the job done right. Currently half of the feedlots in the USA are using her design and I think they should be noted. Harris Ranch Feedlots up in CA, Whole Foods used to as well, but they are starting to move away from feedlots entirely now . Dr Grandin’s contribution to the world of meat production has made a huge difference in the slow food movement and is moving in the right direction. She took a very bad thing and made it much better. Though I am still not an advocate of buying meat that is feedlot raised, I do give a big kudos to the producers who have gone through these changes to make things better for the animals. I recognize achievement and a step forward when I see it. I might add that Dr. Grandin does not necessarily want to find a cure for her autism, as she feels it was a gift and enabled her to view things as animals do and through their eyes, thus allowing her to help them .
To tell Dr. Grandin’s story in complete detail would take many pages of writing, as her story is not a simple one , nor was her journey and determination to get her ideas and compassion across to the very people who controlled the conditions in which our prospective food is raised. As for myself, I could tell you that I believe that cattle deserve to be treated humanely because they resemble a deer and have sweet looking faces. After all I’ve never seen an “evil- looking” cow. I could tell you that they remind me of a huge fuzzy dog or that they are not capable of protesting to their living conditions as we fatten them for our own consumption. If I did that, you wouldn’t take me very seriously and I wouldn’t blame you. So I decided to a let Dr. Grandin explain it in her own words, as I think she puts it best:
“Do you think we’d have cattle if people didn’t eat them every day? They’d just be funny looking animals in zoos. We raise them for US, that means we owe them somerespect. “
“Nature is cruel, we don’t have to be“
“I touched the first cow that was about to be stunned. In a few minutes he will be just another piece of beef, but in that moment, he was still an individual “
Well said Dr. Grandin, I could not have put it better myself.