I’m about a week late on this one, but hipster cavemen distracted me. Long story short, a Rhode Island organization called SVF is dedicated to preserving heritage animal breeds. This is a great goal and one that I initially applauded, because we’re losing so much biodiversity at such a tremendous rate. Cryopreserving animal embryos is a little intrusive for my abolitionist taste, but I was determined to finish the article before suspending judgment. After all, Tennessee fainting goats are pretty cool and I would hate to see them disappear, if only for my own selfish goat-admiring reasons. Definitely read the full story; I always recommend reading New York Times articles since they’re usually interesting and well-written even when the topic is totally batshit. However, given that it ran in the Dining & Wine section, I should have known. Always, Burnout—you should know by now that if it’s in the Dining & Wine section, chances are it’s going to piss you off.
So, what would compel a scientific facility to specialize in freezing animal embryos against extinction? Are you envisioning a high-tech Noah’s Ark, a potential peaceable kingdom just waiting to be transplanted and carried to term? Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t say I’m surprised: “[T]he foundation’s four-legged barnyard nerds are ideally suited to meet the demands of evolving culinary and farming trends. ‘People are demanding choice at a time when commercial livestock are being bred for consistency,’ [SVF executive director Peter] Borden said.” In short, these animals are valuable not for themselves, but because they might possibly be deemed worthy of slaughter and consumption by discriminating diners. “Ultimately, food is the reason heritage breeds are important,” he adds.
SVF’s chief scientific advisor doesn’t sidestep around it, either, calling it a “safety valve program” and suggesting, “[i]f there was a disaster, if something like the potato famine of livestock ever hit, these frozen embryos would be made available, and in one generation we would be back in business.” Or you know, people could stop eating meat because we don’t fucking need it anyway and everyone whining about how being a locavore means "Oh, I can eat animals as long as they weren’t raised on mean, nasty factory farms" can just cowboy up and eat their veggies. Snark aside, that doomsday scenario is not as impossible as it sounds. As we’ve inbred and genetically altered animals for our desires—bigger, fatter, more disease-resistant—they’ve paradoxically become weaker and lost that hybrid vigor. Many can’t breed naturally or groom themselves as they normally would, and one good virus could conceivably wipe out millions of animals. Heritage breeds, previously ignored by humans for their lack of consistency, are now being prized because we haven’t had the opportunity to similarly fuck them up. Sorry for what’s in store for you, fainting goats and Hog Island sheep, but Borden says it best: “We have to eat these animals to save them.”
Clearly, I beg to differ.
This Tennessee fainting goat is clearly way cooler than we are. I mean, can your horns do that? Photo by Mike Mergen for the New York Times.