Archive for the ‘Industrial Food’ Category
The documentary Cowspiracy is enjoying a steady stream of well-deserved praise. Its core message—that leading environmental organizations ignore the detrimental impact of animal agriculture—is absolutely essential to exposing the hypocrisy within organizations whose financial foundation depends on membership donations. In highlighting this irresponsible gap in the mainstream environmental message, Cowspiracy brings to the fore a disturbing but unavoidable question: are we pursuing navel-gazing environmental reforms that only make us feel like we’re saving a dying planet?
Given that animal agriculture (in every form) emits at least 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses (including 62 percent of nitrous oxide emissions), that livestock are the world’s largest users of land resources, that a pound of beef requires nearly 2000 gallons of water, and that there are 70 billion farm animals on the planet, it’s nothing short of a bad joke that the advocacy of a diet devoid of domesticated animals is not an integral element of any environmental organization’s defining platform. But it’s not, and Cowspiracy makes this point and drives it home with powerful assurance. As a critic of animal agriculture, I’m proud to have that film on my side.
In fact, I think it should become a model. Indeed, what the directors—Keegan Kuhn and Kip Anderson—have done to expose the underlying hypocrisy of environmental organizations needs to be done with the “sustainable” food movement’s effort to reform agriculture. Much like leading environmental organizations, the leaders of the food movement deliver big manifestos illuminating pervasive problems, but they do so while ignoring the dominant cause of our agricultural predicament: animals. The entire project of reforming the global food system, in so far as it continues to support eating farmed animals, is marked by denial and cowardice. It’s a shame, really.
Instead of putting reality behind its rhetoric, the movement promotes the fiction that we can reform agriculture, and the food system, while continuing to perpetuate animal agriculture. The only difference, as they present it, is that animals need to be raised on pasture, outdoors, and without antibiotics and growth hormones. There’s no doubt that, in many ways, such a transition is better for animals and the humans who consume them. But to think that this change would in any way contribute to real ecological or ethical improvement is to indulge in a kind of fantastical thinking, the kind that evades pragmatic and achievable action—eliminating animals from agriculture—in exchange for an ersatz sense of ecological responsibility, one that seems to be most enthusiastically embraced by, um, ranchers.
It is often said that raising animals (especially cattle) on pasture can improve the land and increase the sequestration of carbon. This has been shown to happen on a small scale. But it’s extremely rare. There are several caveats to consider when thinking about scaling up.
The first is that a rarified and almost mystical form of knowledge is required to make rotational grazing work as advertised—even Joel Salatin, the guru, can’t do it without importing commercial feed into his venture. The second is that animals on pasture aren’t allowed to live their lives to natural completion. Instead, they’re “harvested” about 1/5th of the way through the deal, denying the land the benefits of their hoof action and manure production while requiring resource-intensive slaughter and breeding programs to keep the happy farm in play. Third, these animals are animals—they continue to require water and feed (grass is typically supplemented with alfalfa), and they generate more greenhouse gasses (per pound of beef) than their confined counterparts. Dozens of studies confirm these realities, as well as the fact that pasture-raised animals are not necessarily healthier for humans to consume.
How can a transition to this form of animal agriculture ever be considered a viable strategy of reform? I’d love to see a documentary explore that question, stressing the fact that pasture-based animal agriculture would continue to consume excessive resources, generate excessive greenhouse gasses, and deny us an agricultural future based on a realistic paradise: growing a wide diversity of plants for people to eat. How nuts is that?
There’s a moment in The New Yorker’s recent feature on Modern Farmer, the magazine dedicated to small-scale farming by a younger and hipper demographic, that’s equally telling and moving. It’s sort of the like the foodie’s Drover’s magazine. In it, the author and the magazine’s founder Ann Marie Gardner, visit a local farm to pick up fresh chicken. But there is no fresh chicken so the farmer asks his customers to hang on a sec so he can kill a few right quick. Here’s what follows:
[Gardner] walked out to the parking lot and called the chef who was to grill the chickens. “I’m having a crisis, because they haven’t killed the chickens, and he’s going to kill them for me,” she said. “I’m really seriously thinking, Couldn’t we just do pasta?” She walked in a tight circle. “It’s true, it’s very fresh chicken,” she said, nodding. “That’s one way to look at it.” When she walked back inside, the man said, “Next ones coming through the window are yours.” Gardner took out her checkbook. “I love the chef’s attitude,” she said uncertainly. “ ‘It’s very fresh.’ They’re not sentimental about it.” Another bird squawked, and Gardner put her hands to her cheeks, then pressed her fingers to her eyes. “People who raise chickens say that if you saw the individual personalities they have you’d never want to eat chicken again, so I guess my next up is to get some animals, huh?” Sniffling, she wrote a check for $84.93, and took the chickens, which I had to carry, because when she touched them she discovered that they were still warm.
The scene is poignant. The recognition of life, the apparent suffering at the prospect of death, the admission that the birds have personalities and interests, the inability to handle (literally) the consequences —all by the head of a magazine about farming! Rather than condemn or judge Gardner here, my inclination is to appreciate the honesty of her reaction, her refusal to plaster over the experience with stupid terms such as “meat chickens” or “harvest,” and her willingness to spill our her emotions in front of the writer whom she must have known would document them for readers to witness and, naturally, judge.
The easy part, from the animal advocate’s perspective, would be to focus on the fact that, as the next scene confirms, she and her dinner party guests ate the birds, and then deliver a stern admonishment. Lord knows I’ve done my share of that. The harder part, though, is to grapple with the implications of the emotional reaction that preceded the meal. I’m not sure exactly what, but something tells me there are truths being expressed in that moment that animal activists are not fully appreciating or exploiting to the benefit of farm animals.
The more I learn about contemporary agriculture of all forms the more I’m convinced that the decision to avoid eating animals is a limited response to the myriad problems of modern farming. I’m in no way suggesting that eating exclusively plants should be abandoned as a strategy of reform. But I am saying that, in and of itself, its promises are modest at best. We need a new perspective on the issue, one that thinks bigger about agriculture’s future.
Begin with the common vegan claim that a vegan diet does not harm animals. This claim, which typically means to say that vegans do not intentionally harm domesticated or hunted animals, overlooks the fact that untold numbers of sentient little creatures—I’m excluding insects here (more on them soon)—are sliced and diced and crushed to harvest our plant-based diet. It also overlooks the fact that vegetable farmers rarely suffer larger animals—say, deer—from cutting into their profits. Lead injections are par for the course on the happy veggie farm, as are insecticides (even organic) that harm more than insects.
As much as we would like to sidestep this issue, vegans cannot declare themselves free from harm and tuck into their tofu. In fact, there may be cases in which raising and killing and eating one large farm animal, instead of clearing the land to raise kale and kill vermin, is—at least in utilitarian terms—less harmful to the animal world. I’m not at all saying eating domesticated animals is a choice we should make, but I am noting that there are arguments to be made that it could reduce animal suffering. That’s tough medicine to take, but we need to at least swallow it.
Many of you have no doubt heard some version or other of this objection. I think it needs to be taken more seriously than we’ve taken it, if for no other reason than the fact that it nudges us towards a radically new way to conceptualize food and the human-animal relationship. Again—I’m not going to any way suggest eating domesticated of hunted creatures. Instead, I’m going to ask you to think in a more radical way about animals, food, and agriculture; more radical than just saying no to eating critters.
It’s comforting and relatively easy to give up animal products and declare our hands clean. But they’re only clean in the way that the person who fails to pull the switch to kill one person instead of five in the famous trolley experiment has clean hands. As it now stands, anyone who eats has animal blood on her hands. So if deciding to give up animal products is not enough, or only a symbolic gesture in light of the problem’s severity, what are we supposed to do? What are our options.
We must be advocates, of course. But we have to maximize our advocacy. I would argue that advocating a plant-based diet is meaningless if it’s not complemented by an equal, if not stronger, advocacy for climate controlled agriculture. That is, vegans who think they are helping animals by not eating them would be much more effective if they enjoined veganism with advocacy for a farming future that could realistically eliminate all animal harm. Growing food indoors, where condition are carefully monitored, is quite possible if we’re willing to give up row crops and eat a diversity of whole plants.
As agriculture now stands, we cannot assume that not eating animals alone would necessarily reduce animal suffering. Expanding acreage in kale would expand the acreage where squirrels and bunnies and mice and birds and deer are also killed. Move agriculture inside—that is, radically rethink and advocate and invest in a new form of agriculture—and the game really changes in a way that improves the lives of animals, not to mention that of humans who, having decided not to channel our resources into domesticated animals can start cultivating the thousands of nutrient dense crops we now neglect
I would even suggest—tentatively—that this agricultural future could include room for eating animals at the margins, where the ethics of killing sentient animals intentionally don’t apply. I’ve written extensively about roadkill as a viable dietary supplement and I’m as eager as ever to support that option. I’ve also written about eating insects and, although not as convinced, I feel fairly sure that this could be an acceptable dietary choice in a future agricultural system that did minimal harm to animals, humans, and the environment. We should, in essence, eat like bonobos.
These ideas are at the core of a book proposal I’m now writing on rethinking the meaning and form of agriculture for a sustainable future. Be assured: raising and hunting animals for the purposes of consumption are not part of that future. Eating animals might be. Vegan activism has a role, but not nearly as essential a role as a new way of advocating for farming, one that would be best for the animal world and the environment.
Humans have been practicing agriculture for less than a 10th of our contemporary existence. Who’s to say we got it right the first time? It’s time to start over. Not eating animals raised or killed for food should be a starting point. But it’s not the be all and end all of a future that’s based on just food. To advocate for veganism as a singular path to justice for animals in agriculture is misguided. There so much more involved.
As conscientious carnivores go about the noble business of supporting local, small, nonindustrial, and humane animal farms, the international exchange of animal products proceeds with nary a pause. Exploring the underworld of global meat exchange tends to quash any hope for responsible alternatives to industrial animal production. At the intersection of Neoliberalism and meatonomics is a vivid reminder that our trendy support of boutique animal farms has no bearing on the problem at large. The problem at large, really, could care less about your locally raised pork cheeks.
More often than not, Chinese demand drives the quest for flesh and all that its production requires. To wit, representatives from the English livestock industry are currently invading China to assess market potential for English sheep. The Chinese have more sheep than any nation in the world. Still, they can’t come close to meeting growing consumer demand. The English are happy to halt the reforestation of British uplands to help the Chinese meet their meat. In China, meat consumption has spiked from 4 kg per person in 1961 to 57 kg per person in 2011. You can count on it: the English will do anything, including degrading their own landscape, to ensure that the Chinese don’t want for righteous lamb chops.
Another global commodity has brought together the Irish and the Vietnamese: pork. The precipitating event came when Vietnamese veterinary authorities opened the door for frozen pork from Ireland. Vietnam has long been identified by Irish officials as a “priority target”—I love how industry uses such verbiage– and the announcement of this deal led to the immediate opening of five Irish pig processing plants dedicated exclusively to supplying Vietnam. Jobs! Currently 80-90 percent of Vietnamese pork comes from backyard herds. That’s about to change. You’ll see it happen as Ireland gets greener.
Yet another example that killing sentient animals and destroying the environment fosters international bonds involves Denmark and Russia. The unifying ingredient here is salmon. Russia, which has banned salmon imports from much of the west, has turned to the Faroe Islands for its salmon stash. The Faroese, who were formerly banned from importing to Russia, are as happy as a fish in water: “We’re in the opposite situation from before Christmas,” said a Faroe Island official. “Before, everyone could sell to Russia except us [due to Russian bans on certain Faroese trawlers]. Now, only we can.” The Russians have also asked the Faroese to exploit their waters for mackerel and herring while they’re at it.
Meanwhile, the Amazon is getting more excited about this international group hug. Driven in particular by European and Chinese demand for cheap soy feed for their livestock, Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso is dedicating more and more forest land–and thus carbon, water, and nutrients–to animals confined in Europe and China. Such “resource flows”—yet another one of those whacked industry terms—come with costs. Said one team of researchers: ”Our estimated environmental footprints suggest potential regional impacts on climate, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and a possible incremental soil phosphorous saturation that could increase the risk of eutrophication in the long term.” Translation: bad.
And there’s nothing that your happy meat can do about it. All meat must be stigmatized. Not just industrial.
As you may have heard, Whole Foods is establishing a pilot program to sell rabbit meat. Take a moment and read the company’s welfare standards here and you’ll quickly realize that the rabbits can be produced under conditions very close to industrial circumstances. For example, “Although outdoor access is not required . . . .” And so on.
Interestingly, the welfare regulations outlined in the link above abruptly end when it comes to slaughter methods. Transport is covered: “Transport must not exceed 8 hours.” But nothing about the killing itself. This omission should raise a red flag. Surely, the “harvesting” is regulated, right?
Nope. Rabbit meat falls under state inspection. In Texas you can apply for an inspection exemption. For example, here’s this from the Texas Department of Health Services: “Anyone that raises poultry or rabbits, and slaughters 10,000 birds or rabbits (or combination thereof) per year or less may opt to apply for a Grant of Poultry Exemption instead of a Grant of Inspection. These products may be sold on the farm or through locations other than the farm.” Other states allow the same (how many I’ve not yet researched).
Whole Foods in general relies on Temple Grandin’s regulations to ensure the following:
- Healthy condition of animals upon arrival
- Calm, efficient unloading procedures
- Animals handled with patience, skill and respect
- Clean, well-designed facility ensuring quiet movement of the animals
- Appropriate flooring to ensure the animals’ stability
- Stringent stunning efficacy requirements
Again, though, note that there’s nothing on process of slaughter itself. To discover if there were any regulations regarding how rabbits were dispatched, I searched around the extension agency literature. Here’s advice from an undated Texas A&M report:
“The preferred method of slaughtering a rabbit is by dislocating its neck. With the left hand hold the animal by its hind legs. Place the thumb of the right hand on the neck just behind the ears, with the fingers extended under the chin. Push down on the neck with the right hand, stretching the animal. Press down with the thumb. Then with a quick movement, raise the animal’s head and dislocate the neck.”
A recent Mississippi extension agent recommends this:
“The rabbit is held firmly by the rear legs and head; it is stretched full length. Then with a hard, sharp pull, the head is bent backward to dislo- cate the neck. The rabbit can also be struck a hard, quick blow to the skull behind the ears. A blunt stick or side of the hand is commonly used to incapacitate the rabbit. Both methods quickly render the rabbit unconscious.”
To be sure, there are rabbit slaughterers out there who really want the slaughter to be done properly, because if you screw up, you know, the meat won’t taste very good. Raising-rabbits.com warns:
“Any stress during the butchering process can result in the release of adrenaline and other endocrine hormones associated with the animal’s flight response. These hormones negatively affect the flavor of the rabbit meat, and will toughen the meat.”
It then instructs you how to kill a rabbit with a broomstick.
“Cultured meat”—edible animal flesh that’s grown through “tissue engineering techniques”—may not be the most appetizing prospect on the culinary horizon. But it has entered the heady lexicon of sustainability for good reason.
As a recent Oxford University/University of Amsterdam study revealed, lab-grown meat could slake our inveterate craving for burgers while consuming 82-96 percent less water, producing 78-96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and occupying 99 percent less land. “We are catering to beef eaters who want to eat beef in a sustainable way,” Mark Post, the Maastricht University physiologist who spent years developing lab meat with the financial support of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, told Bloomberg.
Equally relevant for many consumers is the fact that lab meat appears to be more humane than current methods of production. While it’s true that production now requires stem cells to be extracted from living cattle and marinated in the blood of cow fetuses, Post is hopeful that fetal bovine serum (as the extraction is called) might someday be replaced with blue algae, thus obviating this phase of exploitation. Whatever method is eventually used, if lab meat catches on there’s much evidence to suggest that we might substantially reduce the assembly line of cattle pouring into the abattoir.
Lab meat, even by today’s industrialized standards, is a relatively outlandish proposition. But that hasn’t kept media assessments from being surprisingly upbeat about its potential. In 2011, a normally skeptical Michael Specter warmed to the idea, writing in the New Yorker that, in terms of technology, a lab burger could viably approximate the taste and texture of a real burger and, in turn, offer a viable substitute for it. Costs were prohibitive, he noted, but then what successful technology wasn’t unduly expensive at the outset?In USA Today, Farm Sanctuary’s advocacy director, Bruce Friedrich, pounced on the Oxford study to deem lab meat clean, green, and lean—not to mention a product that had him eager to “fire up the grill” and end the meat industry “as we know it.”
Others have been less sanguine. David Steele, a molecular biologist and head of Earthsave Canada, tells me that lab meat “is extraordinarily unlikely to work.” Tens of thousands of calves, he notes, “will have their hearts punctured … to collect the liter or so of serum that can be taken from them.” The claim that lab meat might be propagated with blue algae, he says, “is patently absurd” as “no one has accomplished anything close.” He also notes something so obvious I wish I had recalled it on my own: Cultured cells lack an immune system. As a result, according to Steele, “there will be a need for at least large doses of penicillin/streptomycin.” Preventing the spread of viruses within these cultures “would be a huge additional problem.” And as far as allergies go, who knows?
Daniel Engber, a science writer and editor at Slate, is equally downbeat about the future of cultured meat. He posted a piece earlier this month with a headline declaring lab meat to be “a waste of time.” Acknowledging the ecological and welfare implications of the technology, he highlights what strikes me as a critical point: Lab meat only seems to be “real” when it’s adulterated with food-like substances designed to “improve color, flavor, and mouthfeel.”
In this respect, there’s nothing novel to ponder about the slab of lab meat. It’s a heavily processed, fabricated food that’s essentially no different than the plant-based substitutes that are becoming increasingly popular. So, Engber justifiably wonders: “What’s the point?” After all, do cultured cow cells dressed up to look like real meat “really get us any closer to a perfect substitute for flesh than soy or wheat or mushroom?” Not a bad question, given that the market for lab meat would likely be the same market that currently eats Tofurky (myself included).
As Engber suggests, the discussion of cultured cells has overlooked, well, culture. Eating meat for many consumers is about more than just eating meat. Lab meat is about more than technological feasibility. As much as I would love to see cultured meat replace its conventional counterpart, I’m fairly certain that the culinary tastemakers, not to mention the vast majority of consumers, will never go for it. It’s heavily processed (not pure, not authentic, not “all natural”); it’s divorced from tradition (can you imagine grandma’s chicken fried steak made with a cut of lab meat?); and, in the simplest terms, it’s not meat (at least as we know meat).
Culinary change happens all the time, and there’s no doubt radical changes are required if we ever hope to achieve a just food system. But, at this stage, I think we’re better off encouraging consumers not to eat the stuff at all rather than asking them to fake it with a redundant substitute.
This piece originally ran in Pacific Standard in 2013.
First: take any product on earth and imagine producing a better—but inherently more expensive—version of it. Now imagine marketing it. You don’t have to be a whiz in economics to conclude that your target market will be a relative minority who values that product enough to pay more for a higher quality version. As a savvy producer, you will never lose sight of the fact that the core value of your product derives as much from the higher costs of production as the virtuous connotations your loyal followers confer on the commodity. As a sober producer, you will also never lose sight of the fact that your market will always be a small one compared to the millions upon millions of consumers who will remain perfectly happy with the cheaper mainstream version of the same commodity.
Second: take animal products made from animals raised on pasture and think about their place in the global meat market. These goods are inherently more expensive to produce: nothing you do as a producer to reduce costs will compete with the mainstream version. This fact is due to an inescapable reality: consolidating animals into CAFOs—even when the externalities are considered—is cost effective. The product is cheaper. The reasons confinement is more efficient are numerous: you need less land, you are less reliant on independent variables such as weather, the animals reach slaughter weight faster, you can benefit from mechanization, you can capitalize on scale economies, and so on. Given the costs of production, the price of grass-fed anything will, on balance, always be higher. Whether we’re talking about houses or cows, density pays.
Finally: ask yourself how the second option will ever compete in a mass market with the first. I’m not saying millions and millions of consumers won’t vote with their forks and, recognizing the many benefits (in addition to the product’s quality) of the pastured version, choose to buy it. Good for them. But what I am saying is that the benefit will only be to their consciences, and nothing beyond. After all, with billions of consumers in the meat market, it would defy not only basic economics, but the history of basic human behavior for a majority of those consumers to choose the inherently more expensive version of the same product. That would be the definition of irrational.
Conclusion: those who want to reform the horrors of industrial animal agriculture by substituting the more expensive pastured version of meat and dairy with the cheaper and more efficient industrial version are irrational. There’s no other way to say it. The foodie media that writes glowing articles about pastured this or that under the assumption that this version of beef or pork or cheese is the wave of the future (in addition to animal welfare organizations that promote “humane” animal agriculture as a step in the “right direction”) need to wake up and realize that their fantasy—given what industrial agriculture is doing to animals and the environment—is one we really cannot afford.
Does this mean the end of eating animals? Not necessarily (more on this later). But, for now, we can only conclude that it would make so much more sense to promote the real benefits of saying no to all animals raised for the purposes of selling and eating them, rather than trying to clear an impossible hurdle.
The Pitchfork has long maintained that pastured cows are no answer at all to the environmental catastrophe of beef production. In fact, it may even be worse. Integral to this mission has been the effort to push back against the grass-fed guru Allan Savory, whose rotational grazing fantasies have been nicely packaged as reality and shot into the bullseye of public opinion through that glitzy marketing move known a as a TED talk.
I took on Savory over a year ago here at Slate. The piece made an impression in some quarters, but overall it seems to have done little to dampen the glee of Savory’s absurd thesis that we can save the planet by eating beef. But a piece in yesterday’s Guardian by the popular environmental writer George Monbiot may have the heft to push Savory’s crackpot thesis into the dustbin of bad ideas. The article covers the same ground I covered in Slate but incorporates new research and a phone interview with the Savory to hammer home the fact that the man is loony.
As advocates for animals it is essential that we work to highlight the inherent environmental flaws of beef production, flaws that persist irrespective of the method of domestication or farm size. Of course the Pitchfork is concerned with the end of all animal agriculture, but at the moment the grass-fed hypothesis is stunned and staggered. Apologies for the pugilistic metaphor, but as a fan of boxing I decalre it’s time to deliver this dangerous thesis a knockout punch.
What follows is a very thoughtful response from a reader who chose to remain anonymous. It’s a fine rebuttal to some of my recent posts suggesting that there’s merit in going to Wall Street, getting rich, and giving back. Enjoy. Also, please check out a piece I published in today’s The Paris Review.
This comment is as much a response to this post as it is to the original one.
First I will say, however, that I was disappointed to read your original post. What I appreciate about you and your writing, James, is that (at least it appears to me) while you are an idealist, you’re also a realist and a pragmatist. However, I feel that your post about young advocates focusing on wealth creation and donating their money might be simplistic and misguided.
As someone who works in investment banking (close enough to Wall St.), and has spent time working to earn money and not directly advocate for animals (or to work on other social causes), I can relate to this issue and have struggled in determining the importance of money. I especially appreciate your point about young advocates possibly (but not always) in effect placing their own identity over what’s best for the animals.
You’re correct in emphasizing the importance money can have. After all, what cash-strapped non-profit organization wouldn’t benefit from additional funds to continue undercover investigations, conduct grass-roots outreach (whatever form that may take), print educational materials, etc. At the very least, an influx of cash can relieve the constant financial stress I’m sure many organizations face. Yet, telling young advocates to focus on accumulating wealth is at least somewhat misguided for several reasons.
1. While I don’t have access to the finances of any nonprofits, I wonder how much money do they really need? You could argue that with more money they could hire more people to work undercover, conduct outreach, etc., but if more young advocates are willing to live (comparatively) selflessly, and to live simply, rather then go to work on Wall St., then organizations won’t need all of those millions of dollars. I don’t believe organizations need all that much money. What they really need are intelligent, dedicated, selfless people who are willing to work hard advocating for animals (or any other cause) – as hard as titans of Wall St. work to make money.
2. It takes time to make the big bucks. At least in high finance, when someone is starting out, while she does make an impressive sum of money relative to the majority of Americans (or humans in general), that still amounts to just ~$100,000 starting out and several hundred thousands of dollars of few years in. You start making millions of dollars per year perhaps only a decade in. While someone could certainly live simply during all that time, even if they donated a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars (which would be a SIGNIFICANT proportion of their gross income) every year, that would have nowhere as near an effect as the millions of dollars you speak of (even if dozens and dozens of activists took this path, it would take many animal advocates working on Wall St. to reach millions of dollars in donations, at least initially). Just think how much could possibly be done if these dozens and dozens of activists dedicated their energies and focus instead on directly advocating for animals smartly.
3. Charity and donations are given too much importance in U.S. society (and maybe in all modern society), perhaps because they allow people to enjoy the benefits of capitalism and wealth without having to the do the heavy lifting of advocating for change, all while getting to be affiliated with causes. It’s almost as if charity and donations allow people to buy their contribution to causes and social progress/improvement. I don’t mean to suggest that participants in the Giving Pledge, for instance, or celebrities who raise millions of dollars for various causes, don’t care about the causes they get involved in, but just that the importance given to donations and charity might more reflect capitalist society’s naive, misguided preferences and focus on money, rather than the actual value of donations and charity. Indeed, in a world where cash is king, wouldn’t it better if MORE young advocates decide to use their intelligence and abilities and time to advocate for the powerless rather than just write a check for them? John Robbins of Baskin-Robbins and Diet for a New America fame, is a great example. He gave up buckets of wealth and made a tangible impact.
In sum, I agree that organizations could probably use more money, but they probably don’t need as much money as you think. Money has a way of finding its way to the causes that need it. In my limited experience, I think making money a goal, even if it is to be used to good, is a futile exercise. Don’t go chasing money – money will find you. Even if it’s not millions, it will be enough to continue your advocacy (see: Gary Yourofsky).
If you want to urge advocates not only to think about working for nonprofits, I think instead of telling them to focus on pursuing careers that make the most money, you should urge them to find other ways to help animals. Perhaps they should pursue a career in biomedical or toxicology research, working furiously to find alternatives to animal testing. Or they should pursue a career in law and explore creative ways to advocate for animals through the courts. If they do want to go into business or finance, they should consider taking their talents to meat alternative companies, or to creating and managing endowments or investments for nonprofits (similar to how college endowments are managed).
Lastly, you make a point about advocates in effect choosing their own professional (and personal) identity over what’s best for the animals by choosing not to make as much money as possible and donate it. I take a couple of issues with this. First, it presupposes that advocacy needs a lot of money and that money is the most important thing, things I’ve explained my disagreement with above. Moreover, this point also is not fair, and it works the other way. Don’t hedge fund managers, musicians, actors, CEOs etc. also choose their own professional (and personal) identity – as well as their natural, understandable preference for money and power and fame and personal happiness – over what’s best for animals, or even humans? Let’s not even look at animals for moment. If you’re going to say animal advocates are choosing their identity over what’s best for animals, shouldn’t pretty much everyone else who has the means and capability also be called out for choosing their own identity over helping imprisoned North Koreans, displaced tribes people, and exploited sex workers? I don’t necessarily begrudge anyone choosing their own success over helping others, but I don’t think animal advocates should necessarily be said to be pursing their own identity over truly helping animals. And if they decide they want their identity to be associated with advocating for animals, that’s not necessarily bad. Most other people choose that their identity be associated with other, lucrative, self-focused, self-fulfilling (not selfish or self-centered) professions that don’t directly focus on helping others. Wouldn’t the world be better with more of the former (mind you, I’m not necessarily condemning anyone for choosing the latter)?
Let me wrap up by addressing the issue of money. Maybe I’m just the naive and too idealistic, but money shouldn’t be the focus. Creative methods of selfless advocacy coupled with tenacious, disciplined dedication should be.
In one sense, it’s hard to disagree with Ruth Reichl’s recent Times piece opposing antibiotics given prophylactically to livestock. All the bigwig food guys in the Twittersphere are acting as if the wheel has been reinvented by the article.
In reality, all Reichl says is what critics have been saying for decades: feeding antibiotics to animals creates resistant strains of bacteria. These bacteria can infect humans and make us very, very sick. So, yeah, that’s bad news, but, as the Smiths once put it, “stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.”*
Things start to get strange, though, when Reichle advises consumers to channel their inner antibiotic outrage by supporting outlets that choose not to purchase meat raised with antibiotics. Yes, vote with your fork! But such outlets, as she notes, includes Chik-fil-A, a fast food chain that’s as wedded to factory farming as any corporation on the planet.
So while it is true that supporting Chick-fil-A because it’s taking the lead on the antibiotic issue might help end the use of prophylactic antibiotics, such a vote also further entrenches the power of factory farms, thus backfiring on the very cause it intended to promote: a healthier system of agriculture.
Opposing antibiotics is almost always done on the grounds of the dangers they pose to humans. But what about our domesticated non-human friends? What about those creatures that will become, as Reichl—the former Times restaurant critic whom I’m guessing has never spent more than three minutes thinking about animal rights—”a morsel of meat in our mouths”? I think it’s safe to say that consumer opposition to antibiotics means that more animals will get sick on factory farms, and that farmers will thereby have a disincentive to treat them with drugs that consumers don’t want, thus leading to more animal suffering.
Do you recognize the pattern? Consumers want to improve animal agriculture to make it better for humans by making the system appear to be more pure. In so doing, they establish the conditions for further animal suffering. Just like environmental organizations who lack the guts to promote the vegan option as a form of environmental activism, our leading food critics are equally bereft of integrity when they call for reforming animal agriculture without noting that the best option is to end it.
All over a bunch of morsels.
*The Pitchfork is well aware that it has been known to wax redundant every now and then.