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“How We Treat What We Eat,” by Wolfgang Puck

Yesterday’s Celebrity Chef Announces Strict Animal-Welfare Policy (NYT), by Kim Severson, is a linguistic feast for Animal Person.

Let’s deconstruct:

  • The title of the article: STRICT Animal-Welfare Policy. I can’t wait to find out what that means, and I bet it has something to do with larger cages.
  • Wolfgang Puck, the "celebrity chef," will "use eggs and meat only from animals raised under strict humane standards." As we’ve seen with food that is supposedly "ethically produced," the word "ethical" is  often useless in terms of reducing suffering. It does increase profits, though. And it also makes people feel better about eating meat.
  • Puck is refusing to serve foie gras, and for that, I say Bravo! Now about those chickens  . . . .
  • Puck believes the quality of the somehow-more-ethical food is better and "our conscience feels better." Exactly my point. Assuage the guilt about the ultimate slaughter by slightly decreasing the suffering during life. Puck has a very easy conscience to satisfy.
  • And then comes the cardinal sin: Puck is "the flashiest culinary name yet to join with animal rights groups in the movement to change farming practices." Now, you can’t blame Severson for this faux pas if most members of "animal rights groups" would make the same mistake. Groups that fight for larger cages, sheds instead of crates or cages, and using only cage-free eggs aren’t really "animal rights" groups. They’re animal welfare groups: they accept the ultimate slaughter of the animals, and attempt to make their lives before slaughter less excruciatingly painful and miserable.
  • Puck said, "It’s time for us to make a statement and a time for us to see how we treat what we eat." A teensy change in verbiage will give that statement a different ring: It’s time for use to see how we treat WHO we eat. (I’m aware that who is the object of we and should be whom.) The animals are individuals, not inanimate objects, although it’s infinitely easier to view them that way.
  • Spokespeople for the National Chicken Council and United Egg said "their groups had science-based animal welfare certification programs that used humane and ethical guidelines." For someone not paying attention, that could almost mean something. But the reality is it’s meaningless.
    • science-based . . . . what does that mean? That Temple Grandin is at the helm, making sure profitability and meat quality are intact?
    • animal welfare certification programs may or may not be monitored and enforced, and their attempts to reduce some suffering may or may not be significant. The only things I know for sure, is that they cost more and they make people feel better about eating meat.
    • that used humane and ethical guidelines. Humane slaughter and ethical slaughter are both oxymorons to me. Killing without necessity is morally unjustifiable, therefore this phrase is meaningless.

Here we have an article written and vetted by The New York Times–the paper of record–and it’s entirely, yet unintentionally misleading (if you’re paying attention and you know something about animal rights and welfare). The average, educated American is going to read it and probably seek out Wolfgang Puck’ products and restaurants, because they’ll think they can feel good about eating them.

Is that really a step in the direction of abolishing the use and abuse of animals?

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