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The Vo-Ag Center produces around 25,000 pounds of pork a year. A lot of the proceeds go to the students who raise the animals.

Voting “no” on the Missoula County Public Schools high school bond seems counter-intuitive for this former teacher. Having taught at a remote reservation school in Arizona, I know all about doing without. I’ve taught at a Missoula high school where half the school year passed before I had my own classroom. I’ve seen the inadequate, antiquated conditions at Willard. I voted “yes” on Lolo’s elementary bond—twice.

So why is a strong supporter of public education—something so inextricably bound to democracy—voting against the MCPS high school bond? Here’s a better question: Given the devastating impacts of animal agriculture, why is the cost of a “full meat-processing center” for the Vocational Agriculture Program included along with vital necessities like furnace boilers, Internet upgrades and school security? It may amount to just $600,000 of a $70 million bond, but it’s the thing I can’t countenance.

Animal agriculture is wreaking havoc on multiple fronts. It’s unsustainable, cruel and damaging to both planet and human health. High-school students should be learning these realities—not investing their futures in a paradigm that has no future.

Animal ag’s unsustainable impacts are well documented: more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation; rainforest destruction for livestock feed crops and grazing; consumption of more fresh water than the planet can afford; mountains of toxic waste resulting in land and water pollution; ocean dead zones; habitat destruction; species extinction—all to produce products humans don’t need. Why doesn’t education catch up with this planet-crushing reality?

Impacts to human health are also well documented: high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease and cancer, to name a few. The Vo-Ag teacher says (Missoulian, Oct. 5) students would learn “to make their own sausage, bacon and other smoked meats… because the margin on those products is better.” But students should also know that the margin on getting a cancer diagnosis is worse: regularly eating even small amounts of processed meats significantly increases colorectal cancer risk. They should learn about animal ag’s contribution to global hunger: according to a Cornell ecologist, the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat.

And then there’s the violence. Animal ag teaches kids that it’s perfectly natural for humans to bring sentient nonhumans into existence for the sole purpose of killing them, and that you can profit by exploiting others. “We could take a $300 hog that we raised and turn it into $700 or $800…” said the instructor. Lost in that profit-driven scheme is the sentient being who values her life as you and I value ours, and the requisite hardening of our hearts at an early age in order to see her as nothing more than a commodity.

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This matters because our culture is awash in violence directed at animals, children, elders and spouses everywhere, while ever more mass shootings occur in towns where residents “never thought it could happen here.” We debate gun laws, mental health, race and poverty while viewing violence as an aberration coming from without, all the while blind to the violence that saturates our everyday lives with our complicity as producers and consumers.

Significant correlations have been established between animal abuse and violence against humans. Dog or pig, cat or cow, do we really believe we can perpetrate “routine” violence against nonhuman animal species on a massive scale without consequence to our own? If we’re concerned about violence, let’s look first to the heinous acts considered "standard" in animal agriculture—hidden from consumers’ view for a reason. These alone are so horrifying (grinding male chicks alive, de-beaking, de-horning, branding, tail removal, castration without anesthesia) that those who commit violence against other humans are merely outliers in an already perverted, blood-drenched status quo.

Because violence has no place in schools, taxpayers are asked to fund security upgrades to thwart those whose intentions are violent. Fair enough. At the same time, we’re asked to fund a program that promotes violence against sentient nonhumans (and inures students to it) as part of the curriculum. I can support a Vo-Ag program that’s sustainable, life-giving and just—but animal agriculture is none of these. A meat-processing center has no place in a forward-looking school system. Let’s educate kids for the livable future, not the dead past.

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Kathleen Stachowski is a former teacher who writes from Lolo for her website Other Nations; contact her at www.OtherNationsJustice.org.

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