Stewardship And Power In Animal Farming
Animal agriculture has been around for thousands of years, and for a great deal of time, people have used language of “stewardship, husbandry, and dominion” to describe it. In contemporary agricultural practice, those words are still used very often, even when what they mean and how they work together is not well understood. Stewardship and husbandry may be related concepts (as they “both describe a process of interaction”), and the author here is even willing to describe how they work together as a “symbiotic ideology.” In other words, the idea that we live in harmony with farmed animals creates a (false) ideology that actually obscures our dominion. This “dominion” is the power relationships that is “inherent in animal agriculture” and unavoidable in any process that involves breeding and killing animals for their bodies.
In this study, the author conducted semi-structured interviews with 43 farmers (nine of whom were women) in the western U.S. The goal was to try to better understand how cow farmers think about animals and the environment. All of those interviewed were full-time farmers; part-time or “hobby” farmers were excluded. In addition to the interviews, the author also observed participants while working. Stewardship and husbandry are “logics of balance,” the author notes. They are a way for people to imagine themselves in harmony with their surroundings, and animals, through a kind of “ancient contract.” This is a way of “mystifying exploitation.” It may be just a narrative trick, but the concepts of ancient contracts, stewardship, and husbandry are very real to farmers. They are also “intuitive to onlookers,” meaning that the concepts tend to resonate in the broader culture.
In their conclusion, the author notes that conventional “beef” production is likely the “best and most ethical incarnation of production.” And yet, beef production still doesn’t come anywhere close to the “mutually beneficial” relationship that farmers envision having with animals. This study, while on the philosophical side, might give advocates some insight into the way that farmers and other “agriculturalists” view their work. By knowing how they view and treat the animals under their care may help shape our advocacy when interacting with farmers and other farming stakeholders.