Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg: On Your Decision to Kill What You Eat

Dear Mark,

Kudos to you for attempting to take responsibility for your meat consumption, to face the face behind the body on your plate. I mean this with all sincerity. For reals. Killing your dinner is not easy in this age of neatly cling wrapped, sterilized-looking pieces of flesh lying in styrofoam cartons. In our modern day food system, we've lost all connection between the ingredient and end product. I hope that your decision, being that you are an ultra famous twenty-something billionaire, will have an impact on our culture and encourage more folks to explore the acts that bring a meal to plate.

But I'm really curious as to why you have decided to focus solely on being the henchman in that final moment of the animal's life, the proverbial "money-shot" of meat production. I'm sure you realize that there is so much more in getting that birria to the stew pot. There is, of course, the daily shoveling of shit, feeding, watering, and making sure the animals stay healthy. And what about a farmer's concerns of being profitable in an industry that one can barely make a living at, even if using subsidized GMO grains for feed? Or that the farmer or slaughterhouse has to rely on cheap, usually illegal, immigrant labor in order to survive in those businesses? Are those things that you will be educating yourself on in your endeavor to learn more about where your food comes from?

I don't mean to be overly critical because I do truly admire your resolve. You remind me of my twenty-year-old vegetarian self who had determined that one should only eat meat if they could kill it themselves. At the time, I knew I wasn't capable of the killing so I chose not to eat animals. But now that I am a middle-aged, carnivorous, not-even-close-to-being-a-billionaire-in-my-wildest-dreams urban farmer, I have killed and I have discovered exactly what it takes to produce the food we eat. It's a lot of work, Mark. A lot of rote, dirty, smelly, unglamorous, low-valued work. In essence, much more than just the killing.

Maybe you already know all this. Maybe these are things that you think about. But let's face it, you're a billionaire who rubs elbows with presidents, king and queens, and the richest of the rich. You can essentially do anything you want. Is your foray into grim reaper any different from the wealthy dude who hangs off the back of his Hummer on his Texas estate safari shooting at tigers for a prized trophy head to hang over the mantle? OK, OK, maybe that's a bad analogy. You're not shooting endangered, exotic animals from the back of a gas guzzling SUV for the sake of putting another notch on your belt. Make no mistake though, killing for your own meat is a trophy of sorts, just like learning Chinese or wearing a tie every day for a year.

This may be hyperbole on my part, but can't you see how this smacks of Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette's play farm where she pranced around pretending to be a dairymaid? Isn't this a bit of  masquerading on your part? I mean, come on, you're a billionaire! You don't have to process one morsel of your own food if you choose not to. With your kind of money, you don't even have to lift your fork to your mouth. You really could pay someone to do that. It would be weird, but you could do it. People with your kind of wealth have an all access pass to do anything they want to do, including sauntering on to someone's farm and slaughtering animals. Any farmer would be more than happy to show you the ropes, probably for free, because you are Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy and the youngest self-made billionaire EVER. You must know that you walk this earth in possession of more privilege than the other 95% of us combined. Can you see how this could look a little like "Oh, now he wants to amuse himself as farmer!" to the masses?

Maybe you're wondering why I'm being so hard on you. It could even look like jealousy since I'm more than a decade older than you without anything even remotely like your achievements under my belt and I am clearly not a billionaire and I'm possibly a little jealous that you are because I keep mentioning your wealth in, like, every other sentence. I promise I'm not pressing you on this issue, Mark, due to envy (though the billionaire thing does give me a twinge when my mortgage comes due). I just think that you could push yourself further on the "understanding where your food comes from" thing. If you are reading this, I'm sure you just muttered something like, "Hey crazy lady, I'm killing animals over here. What else do you think I should do?" Well I'll tell you: participate in how food is produced not just in how it meets its maker.

Mark, I've got a great challenge for you. Instead of just executing your meals, why don't you raise a small flock of meat birds and laying hens? This way you can really get to know your animal before it makes it to the chopping block. Why poultry? Well they are pretty low maintenance where livestock is concerned and you can get meat as well as eggs. If you could spend an hour a day learning Mandarin, you could certainly spend 30 minutes a day feeding and mucking the coop of your little clutch of ladies.

Each year you engage in the classic conflict of man versus himself, but with the challenge you have set forth for yourself this time around, you have a golden opportunity to experience the entire process, to see how the rest of the world has to work in order to survive. On a micro scale, of course. If you keep track of your input versus output, you will quickly realize that it is almost impossible to be a profitable farm, even with economies of scale. Meat is not only a question of the ethics of "passing the buck" in the brutality of it all, but an issue of social justice. How many billionaires take the time to explore that?

I took the liberty of looking up your city's codes and all you need is a permit. I know your neighbors might get their feathers a bit ruffled, but I'm sure you've got enough space on your $7 million property to be relatively discreet. You could also use it as an educational opportunity to inform your neighbors on the benefits of raising their own food. Even famous folks like Martha Stewart and Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin are doing it. You wouldn't be alone. I'll even help you get started. For free! This weekend I'll be at the Sunset Magazine Celebration Weekend in Menlo Park, next to your home town as you know, with my friend Esperanza giving out free info on raising backyard poultry. There will be a booth near ours where you can purchase an attractive coop for your chooks and you can pick up some nice birds right in Menlo Park from Little Cluckers.

I tell you, Mark, this is going to be a great project for you and really only a slight expansion of your original endeavor. I assure you it will be more than rewarding growing and harvesting food that you have raised with your own two hands. And think of the street cred you'll gain with fellow farmers going through the entire process from start to finish.

With much sincerity, admiration for your responsible meat eating (you've certainly gone further than I have), and gratitude for connecting me with friends whom I never would have gotten in touch with if not for Facebook (I'm going to look past that privacy issue for now since this is meant to be a letter of encouragement and not a "bag on Mark" note),

Heidi Kooy

P.S. I think you should throw in a mini-garden too. Growing vegetables is often harder than it looks and involves way more killing than most vegans would like to acknowledge. I know this from experience.


  1. This was without a doubt, your most brilliant blog yet! I can only hope he reads this. Thanks for being awesome.

  2. I love this post! What an excellent read. Someone has got to get this to Mr. Zuckerberg.

  3. Heidi you are a queen of the urban lair, I will always adore you and ALL of your strengths.

    ~x0x0x0x Miss Willow

  4. Awesome, Heidi! This has to make it into Mark's hands pronto.

  5. What a great letter....do you have any way of knowing if you can get it to him.

    How about you and Esperanza stop by San Mateo Ecovillage on your way to or from Menlo Park.

  6. Uh, can you post it to his wall as a comment on Facebook? Lookee here:


  7. brilliant! if i were mark, i'd have more chickens than facebook friends. even after mucking their coop, they're less high maintenance.

  8. Nicely said, Heidi. When I heard the Father of Facebook was raising animals for personal slaughter I thought, "Yeah, right!" I'm still thinking it.

  9. i'm curious, would you be railing on him if he wasn't mark zuckerberg? i find it interesting how many people have found ways to try to take him down a notch. he is human just like the rest of us, trying to do the right thing. instead of assuming he's elitist (think about it, 10 years ago he was just some kid), maybe consider ways to meet people where they are. too many people think they can affect change by saying "not good enough!", thereby adding (even if not intentionally) a negative energy to it. i read the thing about zuckerberg and i thought - hell yeah, that's awesome, good for you, mark! it means he's headed in what many of us would agree to be the right direction. good for him. period.

  10. Thanks for the feedback EcoGrrl. In my defense, I believe I am meeting Mark where he is. I think you may have mistaken my tone. I definitely go overboard on my analogies (what can I say, I'm a beyotch like that), but I also give him plenty of patting on the back. I think his decision is awesome. I end the note with encouragement to take his challenge one step further. I don't see critique as negativity, I see it as a way to press people to stretch themselves into places that maybe they didn't think about before. And to answer your question, yes; I would challenge anyone who thinks that killing their meal is the answer to the ethical dilemma of eating meat. The work behind raising the animal for slaughter is the tedious, hard stuff. The final moment is a tough one emotionally, yet it is swift and laden with mythological clout (man as brave hunter and conqueror of his natural world).

    And I'd like to add a big thank you to you for adding a new dimension to this discussion. I like hearing from folks that disagree with my opinions.