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Happy Meat is the Bane of My Existence

Last night at dinner, the manager of the restaurant came around to make sure all was well. She saw we were eating tofu and said, "My mother’s a vegan and my father’s a hunter, go figure." And then she said that growing up she only ate what her father killed, and that she would never again eat meat from factory farms because she knew what it was supposed to taste like. "So I only buy my meat from Whole Foods. It tastes great, and the animals don’t suffer."

Of course, I diplomatically informed her that it might indeed taste great to her, but if she’s paying more because she thinks the animals don’t suffer, she’s delusional.

Okay, I didn’t say delusional, but I did say "gravely misinformed."

How did this happen? (I ask myself, rhetorically).

That wasn’t the first time I had a conversation like that. I have some Gen-exy, crunchy friends who were on their way to veganism, but they did a U-turn because "Now that all these big farm corporations realize people don’t want animals to be tortured, and they realize they can make even more money by not torturing them, we don’t have to go the way of tofu. We don’t have to sacrifice our beliefs to eat meat anymore."

Now, these are very, very intelligent, educated people. How did this happen?

Advertisers are masterful, and people who want to eat meat will stop in their tracks at anything that tells them they can be compassionate while eating meat. They don’t want to look beneath the shiny veneer of  "Animal Compassionate Certified." They don’t want to hear that there may indeed been some small improvements in the way the animals are treated or even slaughtered, but to say that they are no longer suffering is simply a way of assuaging one’s conscience.

Happy meat is the bane of my existence because it appears to have provided a solution that allows consumers not only to continue to eat animals and their secretions, but to actually feel like they’re engaging in some kind of consumer activism, making the world a better place. It’s merely a matter of degree. They may indeed be paying more for a qualitative or quantitative difference in suffering. But the fact that people brag to me that they’re helping animals by shopping at Whole Foods tells me three things: they aren’t really paying attention, they don’t want to stop eating animals, and John Mackey is a genius.

It’s a sad day when a vegan finds a way to convince people who might have become vegan, to eat animals instead, and pay a premium to do so. Remember, I used to be John Mackey (but with a lot less money). I used to tell people to buy animal products at Whole Foods. At least I didn’t say the animals didn’t suffer, but I still said that because of supply and demand, farming practices would eventually change. And that might be true.

But I wasn’t being honest, and I was indeed calling off my own boycott. After all, how serious could I be about not using animals if I would tell everyone that removing cages, or not forcing molting, or not debeaking, or allowing an animal to see the light of day, suddenly made it okay to use animals?

If killing without necessity is morally unjustifiable, the only products I’m going to tell people to purchase at Whole Foods are the ones no one died to produce. Period.

At least then I can sleep at night and look at myself in the mirror without disdain.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellie #

    Mary, there was a time when I too campaigned for "improvements" in animal husbandry, and was thus an unwitting promoter of animal agriculture.

    I was going to post this on the thread regarding "new welfarists", but this thread is also relevant. If you've posted this before, please bear with me.

    Written by John La Veck of Tribe of Heart, it affirms the profit incentive in animal advocacy, and the harm of mislabeling animal husbandry activism as "animal rights" and "compassion". Here's an excerpt:

    The hidden cost of selling the public on "cage-free" eggs"

    by James LaVeck

    "…..leaders in today's animal movement are supporting and even helping develop animal product labeling schemes and “animal compassionate” husbandry standards….

    ……..In 2001, Bill Moyer, an activist with 40 years experience in the civil rights, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements, published Doing Democracy…… which shows how the ups and downs of social movements generally follow a predictable pattern….

    …….Moyer points out there can be a dark side to reform-focused organizations that shows up, tragically, just when a movement is hitting its stride. The movement’s opposition—in this case, the animal exploiting industries—sensing increased public sympathy for the cause, tries “to split or undercut the movement by offering minor reforms,” and "the ineffective reformers start making agreements in the name of ‘realistic politics,’ usually over the objections of grassroots groups.” ……..collaborating with the opposition can offer substantial financial and public relations benefits to individual organizations, even while the movement as a whole may suffer grievous harm….

    ……In a recent New York Times article titled Meat Labels Hope to Lure the Sensitive Carnivore, John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, one of the largest meat retailers in America, is described as “a vegan who is increasingly outspoken on animal rights issues.” In the same article, the American Humane Association and Humane Farm Animal Care, both with a clear focus on animal husbandry reforms and not on the boycott of animal products or the abolition of animal exploitation, are referred to as “animal rights organizations.”

    But what’s the harm, proponents say, they’re only words, aren’t they? In the same New York Times article, one grocery chain boasted a 25 percent jump in meat sales since it added the “certified humane” logo….

    ……But how could intelligent and experienced activist leaders get drawn into a rather predictable industry trap? Perhaps they have failed to grasp that the values that drive a social justice movement are inherently incompatible with those of a business based on exploiting the very beings the movement has pledged to protect.

    When the moral framework of a social justice cause is deliberately co-mingled with the utilitarian, profit-maximizing logic of an exploitative industry, what was once a natural adversarial relationship gets twisted into a dysfunctional marriage of convenience…."

    Copyright © 2007 Tribe of Heart Ltd. All rights reserved.

    October 13, 2007
  2. Ellie #

    p.s.: Peter Singer's utilitarian outlook comes to mind here.

    October 13, 2007
  3. Ellie,

    Thanks, and I did happen to write about it here:

    (On Collaborating with the Opposition)

    October 13, 2007
  4. Ellie #

    Yes, I figured you had probably posted it before, Mary. It's a great article!

    October 13, 2007

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