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1708 PD: Squishy toys or stress balls

Published on 26 November 2008

My daughter recently began collecting one of the most current and frequently distributed tradeshow giveaways – stress balls. Yet, as you probably know, the reason they’re growing in popularity is because they don’t come in just one form anymore. Among her expanding collection, she’s received a sun, an apple, a loaf of bread and a growing herd of animals, including a bison, chicken, pig, horse and, of course, a dairy cow. She calls them her “squishy toys.”

One Saturday morning she was playing with them in the kitchen when she and her Holstein-spotted dairy cow wandered over to the fridge where she pretended to have the cow eat and then drink some water. Curious to test her knowledge, I interrupted her chomping and slurping noises to ask, “Where’s the farmer?” Without making eye contact, she responded almost automatically, “I don’t know.”

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Determined to gain her attention, I followed up with, “Then who takes care of the animals?” She turned her blue eyes upwards, paused and stared at me for a brief quizzical moment before responding, “Nobody.” I was shocked. “How do they eat? Where do they get their food?” I queried. She stared searching for the answer she knew I wanted to hear, but nothing.

“She knows better,” I thought. She’s been to her great-grandfather’s farm before. She’s seen the cows and calves, even her cousins feeding them. Being only a 3-year-old, I consoled myself that perhaps my 3-year-old’s exposure to these experiences has been too shallow. Yet as I thought more about the conversation I couldn’t help but compare my daughter’s actions to anti-animal agriculture groups. I’ve compared the two before (see August 2007, Progressive Dairyman, pg. 1).

The images these groups like to show consumers is video of automatic feeders tending to calves or slaughterhouse workers abusing animals. We all recognize that the farmer wearing overalls who many consumers perceive are our nation’s animal caretakers, don’t widely exist today. Yet if they don’t see who does take care of their animals then how can they answer any differently than my 3-year-old?

Respondents with an “I don’t know who takes care of animals” attitude are probably sympathetic to ballot initiatives like Prop 2, which recently passed in California. (See the results here.) They feel it’s their democratic privilege to see to it that someone cares for the calves. When they can’t see or imagine the farmer, they substitute themselves in the form of regulation. They feel it’s their civic duty.

We, the “farmers,” can’t change their minds, but we can help them know we’re not nobodies. And that in the long run will save us from actually needing a squishy toy for stress relief. PD

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Walt Cooley
Editor

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