I was reading through my usual blogroll this morning and came across this interesting piece on Culinate, about a world charity called Heifer International. They provide cows and other farm animals to impoverished areas, teach the owners how to raise them, with the provision that any offspring of the donated animals are then given to other members of the community, so everyone gets a chance for better nutrition.
I think this is a great idea. One thing that doesn't really get discussed during war coverage is how the invading armies or insurgents slaughter all the food animals and destroy the crops. A community can't recover from that kind of loss without other animals being imported, and in a very poor area, a cow is worth more than--well, anything. In addition to providing goats, cows, llamas or chickens, Heifer International also teaches about beekeeping, to improve crop pollination and provides small meat animals for breeding, such as rabbits.
Of course there was a line in the article that bugged me: "...some people who do not support meat-eating would rather that Heifer only provide help with animals that can be milked, hens that lay eggs, or crops." I'm not sure if that means people outside the organization who would like to support it, or people receiving help from Heifer, such as vegetarian Hindus, who are not able to make use of meat rabbits.
Being the cynical carnivore I am, the dominoes started tumbling in my writer's mind. In about five minutes I conceived a story scenario in which an aggressive vegetarian faction, combined with rabid environmentalists and the corn industry, has become the dominant lobbying party in America, and Congress has officially made it illegal to raise or kill an animal for food (using them for pharmeceutical and cosmetics testing is still ok, though).
I can envision underground meat parties, people raising chickens in their bathrooms, new breeds of pigs that live in dark basements and are blind and hairless--more like overgrown slugs, really--and street gangs raiding the houses of little-old-lady cat hoarders and stealing her animals to make sausage. Police would detect illegal meat-raisers by sniffing around basement windows with methane-detecting instruments.
Of course, most people would adhere to the no-meat dictate, because people are--excuse the expression--sheep, and tend to reinforce the prevailing ethics of their time. So they'd all be eating massive amounts of grains, fruits, and vegetables, and they'd all be massively fat. Leanness would be considered freakish, a sign of poor health and possibly deviant behavior. The human life expectancy would be a good bit shorter, what with all the diabetes, gout, cancer and heart disease. Probably the birth rate would drop, too, since obese mothers have trouble conceiving, tend to deliver low birth weight babies, and are more likely to die of gestational complications.
The animal population would spiral out of control, with cows and pigs roaming the streets and chickens instead of pigeons roosting in Times Square. The exception would be domestic turkeys, which are so retarded they cannot breed naturally and would exist only in zoos or as exotic, expensive pets.
Meanwhile the earth would be in even more environmental trouble than it currently is. The best pastureland would be given to the animals for grazing, and the ariable farmland would be getting more and more stripped, due to incessant over-planting. I suppose somebody might get smart and use animal dung for fertilizer, but given the chokehold Big Biofarming would have on the industry in such a scenerio, they could probably convince the public that animal fertilizer is dangerous and ineffective as a fertilizer (which in some cases it already is). The extreme levels of methane in the air would hasten global warming.
There would be an abrupt increase in extinctions among wild animals in North America, because the fast-breeding domestic animals would crowd the wild ones out of competition. Food would become more and more expensive, more genetically engineered, more constructed in labs--Big Biofarming would have the market cornered, after all. Humans as a population would get shorter, and dumber, with each generation, from lack of protein. Mutations and birth defects would skyrocket, from the GMO grains and soy. But the animals, at least, would be protected.
Sounds fun... but nobody'd ever publish it.