My last name, Einhorn, means “unicorn.” Family lore has it that in the shtetl, pharmacies were marked by a sign showing a single horn, because horns were ground down and used as the base of powdered drugs. So either we’re related to pharmacists, or more interestingly, connected to mythical beasts. Either way, most of the Einhorns I know, including myself, collect unicorn figurines the way a 12-year-old girl would.


I thought more about horns when I met this sweet billy goat Gruff at Farm Sanctuary a few weeks ago. This guy got lucky: most goats, sheep, and cattle used in industrial food production are dehorned or debudded (horns start as buds, hence the expression “nip it in the bud”). This is done by restraining the animal in a head gate and using a hot iron to saw off the offending part.

There’s living tissue in the horns, so it’s not like cutting fingernails. The reactions of the animals confirm the obvious: it’s terrifying and painful. USDA figures show that more than nine out of ten dairy farms practice dehorning, but fewer than 20 percent of dairy operations that dehorned cattle used analgesics or anesthesia during the process. Animal Welfare Approved, the best third-party certifier for meat and animal products, prohibits dehorning and disbudding.

It’s well known now that declawing cats is inhumane; it’s like cutting off the first segment of a finger. The same is true for horned animals, but agribusiness pushes them so far out of our sight (and minds), we don’t think about it.

The procedures are done for obvious reasons: they make the raising of large numbers of animals in confined spaces more efficient and convenient for the operator. Horned animals take up more room in feedlots and trailers, may get caught in fences, and are potentially more dangerous to the handlers. For these reasons, they’re also less valuable at livestock sales.

Animals use their horns for defense, dominance, and territoriality: not terribly convenient for farmers. But that’s how they arrive in the world and that’s how they should leave it. Taking away an animal’s body part isn’t our decision to make (spaying and neutering of cats and dogs is the exception; humans created the pet overpopulation crisis, it’s our responsibility to control it).

I’d like to live in a world in which the food I eat comes from animals that aren’t tortured, but sometimes, it feels as if that desire is as fantastical as my childhood wish for a pet unicorn.


Poster for Wicked

My teenage niece and nephew, who may actually live in the world of Glee, just came to the city to see Wicked on Broadway. They turned me on to the soundtrack, which got me thinking about how great the book was.

book cover for Wicked

Wicked is the backstory of The Wizard of Oz, specifically the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. Elphaba). It also turns out to be about animal rights! In Oz, Animals (uppercase A) are highly conscious beings who experience discrimination:

Wicked … rests oddly on a kind of closeted audience sympathy with animal liberation politics. The context of Elphaba’s story is that a reactionary movement is mobilizing to rob Oz’s animals of their ability to speak, implementing a regime of cages and injections that looks more like today’s America than that technicolor world that gave us the Cowardly Lion.

Elphaba seems to be the only one who resists this movement, which Wicked suggests will lead to the end of all magic in Oz–the annexation of Oz into modern civilization. Elphaba’s green skin makes her a creature of magic herself, of course, and so she has something in common with the talking animals on that score. But here’s the rub: Wicked generates huge sympathy for Elphaba, and it does it by portraying her as what boils down to an animal-rights insurgent, who eventually occupies a Zapatista-like role as a black-clad warrior who hides in the forests between her battles with the state.

And people love her for it. Somewhere, deep down in the psyche of Wicked‘s audience, strong sympathies for animals and those who fight for their freedom may lie. I don’t think the story would work without them.

James Trimarco, Altered Fluid

Here’s Elphaba with Dr. Dillamond, a dapper and distinguished goat.

Elphaba and Glinda from the play Wicked

Dillamond is a biology professor at Shizz (the university Elphaba and Glinda attend). His research aims to prove that Animal and human consciousness are on the same level and even as his voice is disappearing, he enlists Elphaba to work on an “Extract of Biological Intention” as the basis of his proof.

It’s so clever that the animals are losing their voices, suggesting some highly evolved society in which they have voices in the first place. At the same time Oz is a totalitarian state whose leaders are desperately trying to hold on to their ways and resist “modern civilization.”

Oz is large; it contains multitudes.


animal silhouettes: cat, cow, dog, pig

I just learned a new word: carnism: the belief system in which it’s considered ethical to consume animals. Whether omnivore, flexitarian, or vegetarian, the questions raised in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy, give one pause. In her book, Joy explores “why we feel affection and compassion for certain animals but are callous to the suffering of others–especially those slaughtered for our consumption.”

Here are our two cats, Reuben and Marvin… and two cows I met at Farm Sanctuary a few weeks ago.

our cats Reuben and Marvintwo cows in field

And here’s Marvin and a cow striking a pose. The cow in the photo is an exception to the rule; he lives as good a life as Marvin does. They both get good vet care, nutritious food, human compassion, and a life expectancy appropriate to their species.

Marvin the catcow

After spending some time up close and personal with these two cows, it’s hard to see much difference between them and their small doppelgangers that reside in our home.

If carnism is the word of the day today, tomorrow’s word will be speciesism. Speciesism is the belief system that values some animals over others (humans occupy the top of the hierarchy). Carnism makes it appropriate to eat animals on the lower rungs of the speciesist hierarchy. Speciesism is the bigger system, carnism is its natural byproduct.

Time to Merge

two quarters

I heard Jeremy Rifkin, author of Empathic Civilization, speak at Farm Sanctuary’s annual hoe-down last weekend. Beside his interesting thoughts on empathy in humans–that we are hardwired for empathy but need to take it to the next level and extend it to the planet and all creatures on it, developing “biosphere consciousness”–he spoke about two movements who have reached a critical juncture.

The first is the environmental movement, which is about preservation of species and biosphere, a “top-down” approach. Reduce our carbon footprint, and polar bears will hang onto their habitat for longer. Reduce fossil fuel emissions and slow climate change.

The second is the animal welfare movement. I avoid using the term “animal rights,” “rights” being a loaded word that can be used to paint animal welfare activists as crazies who believe chickens should have voting rights and dogs should live in palaces. The movement simply fights against animals being tortured or neglected by humans–not so radical. But I digress.

The animal welfare movement starts from the bottom and works up. Through this lens, each individual animal deserves deep empathic regard.

Now that factory farming’s impact on the environment is becoming more well-known, it’s time that the two movements joined forces.