In my now (finally!) out new book, I have an admiring chapter on the work of Dr. Temple Grandin, whose insights have greatly improved methods of animal husbandry–including the slaughtering process. Grandin is autistic, and she believes that the wiring of her brain (if you will) gives her the ability to “see” things in the way animals do, visually as opposed to intellectually. This talent allows her to design improved methods of raising animals from their perspective, rather than anthropomorphizing these techniques to conform to the way we might react in the same circumstances.
Grandin was interviewed yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, mostly about autism issues. But I thought it would be good to share some of what she said about her animal welfare work here. From the interview:
These days, Ms. Grandin is known as much for her professional work—she revolutionized livestock handling equipment—as for her expertise on autism. “I’ve always thought of myself as a cattle handling specialist, a college professor first; autism is secondary,” she says. But she does credit her autism for her unique ability to relate to cattle. Ms. Grandin wondered what made the animals moo and balk. Kneeling down to see things from a cow’s eye view, she took pictures from within the chutes.
She found cattle were highly sensitive to the same sensory stimulants that might set off a person with autism, but were inconsequential to the average handler. They were shockingly simple revelations: light and shadow would stress the animals, as would grated metal drains. Prodding and hollering from cowboys, intended to move cattle along, only alarmed them further.
Her designs reflected these insights. A curved, single-file chute mimicked the cattle’s natural tendency to follow each other. She replaced slated walls with solid ones to prevent cattle from seeing the handlers and cut down on light and shadow. Today, half of the cattle in this country pass through the slaughter systems that Ms. Grandin invented. She’s a consultant to companies like McDonalds and Burger King. Yet—and she might well be the only person with these two associations—she’s also been honored as a “visionary” by PETA for making slaughterhouses more humane.
Well, good for PETA, although I am sure Gary Francione’s head is exploding. He believes that supporting animal welfarism of any kind only legitimizes animal husbandry in the public’s mind, making it more difficult to eradicate all animal domestication, the ultimate goal of the animal rights movement (including PETA).
At the end of the interview, Grandin is asked an interesting question by the WSJ interviewer that only a human being could formulate–or answer:
How about meaning, I ask. What’s the picture for that word? “Ok, now I’m seeing a mother saying your book helped my kid go to college—that’s meaning. Or my kid got a job because of one of your lectures—that’s meaning. Or a rancher comes up and says that piece of equipment works really well—that’s meaning. Concrete, real stuff. On. The. Ground.”
Temple Grandin: Human exceptionalism in action.