If I Free The Ponies, Can I Still Eat Hamburgers?

Saturday, 28 Jun 2014, 1:58:00 AM

Steve Stajich

I believe I can effectively argue that I was once kept in a petting zoo. Specifically what happened was that the winter after graduating from college, I got a seasonal job as a shopping mall Santa Claus.

As Santa, I sat in a small cabin that was set out at one end of the mall. This was way back, children, when malls were outdoors and had air and light. For eight hour stretches, kids and their parents would enter the cabin and engage with Santa.  

There’s no question that, back then, I contributed to an appetite for plastic war toys and Easy Bake Ovens simply by saying, “Well, can you be good from now until Christmas?  How about the rest of the day?  Maybe the next hour or so…?”

I open with this because many things remembered as charming or fun “back in the day” can now seemingly be tied to some element of wrongness.    

When Marcy Winograd wrote her well-reasoned argument for ending the pony rides at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market (Mirror, June 20-26), she wrote very much from the now: What we feel now about how animals should be treated, how we might now view it as “enslavement” to have ponies walk in a circle with kids on their backs, how we now should not promote “pony rides” as a good or even wholesome thing on web sites.

Winograd confesses to having a kind of awakening when visiting friends observed of the pony ride attraction “Why do the people here tolerate this abuse?”   

Well, to some extent, that’s a condensation of almost every local, national, or global issue we have these days. I believe Winograd’s friends meant the question rhetorically, but my path through a column is often found by attempting to answer those sorts of questions.

For argument’s sake, let’s consider an issue that one might move on to following the liberation of the Farmer’s Market ponies: The production of beef for human food.   We’ve realized for decades now that raising beef is a terrible exchange of energy for the nourishment realized. Add up the energy used raising cows, then slaughtering and packaging the meat, then gas for refrigerated trucks delivering the meat… and you quickly conclude that eating the grass cows graze on would be a far more energy-efficient means of getting food than eating cows. This is one argument, albeit hastily drawn, for veganism.

And the cows live only to be killed, and it makes a lot of waste, etc. So, altering just a little the question put forward by Winograd’s friends, when it comes to beef why do the people here or anywhere tolerate this waste and inefficiency of this problematic source of nutrition? And then we’d move on to the chicken industry, hormones in milk and meats, drinking water and – well, who knows? Maybe by the end of a month of this kind of introspection, we’d actually start talking about Syrian refugees or girls kidnapped in Africa.

In other words there is an actual answer to the question put forth by Winograd’s friends, which is that we don’t so much “tolerate abuse” as we do attempt to make measured adjustments in the way of things to get to a better and improved result as time and our attention allow.  

The suggestion that Santa Monica is negligent on any form of “abuse” because we haven’t brought the big hammer down on pony rides isn’t a charge that will stick.  Rather, it’s an example of the way all of us talk about things now, which is to become temporarily lathered-up about something, then move on to the next upsetting thing.

No offense to ponies, but I lose more sleep over the support California continues to give Sea World.

The city of San Diego keeps running tourism ads featuring large mammals kept in an ocean creature internment camp; ads that never suggest there’s anything wrong, when several excellent documentary films now available can bring you right up to speed on what a “Sea World” facility really is.

In her sensible and completely correct editorial, Winograd concedes the drifting tides of human attention paid to problems that need solving: “For years, I looked the other way, mindful there were other urgent struggles to embrace: Stopping the drones, ending needless government surveillance, teaching our children to read and write.”  

That’s a good list but, sadly, a far from a complete one.  

However, Winograd has offered us a moment to look and we should take it.  

Personally, I think if parents want to seek out a pony ride for their child they should be free to do that. But our city is not required to knowingly support outdated practices, especially when there’s even a whiff of potential abuse involved.

Still, everything can’t be made better overnight. And frankly, if I’m going to stay up writing about these things, I’m going to need a cheeseburger.

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