Truth in Satire: The Onion Peels Back the Humane Myth

» January 23rd, 2013

A few days ago I ended a post by suggesting vegans would do well to keep a sense of humor. The Onion, America’s leading source of satire, was obviously listening. Yesterday, it weighed in on an issue important to every reader of Eating Plants: the myth of “humane” animal agriculture. The opening, ostensibly written by the owner of one “Nature’s Acres Ranch,” sent my eyebrows skyward:

Consumers today are more conscientious than ever about the choices they make at the supermarket. They want to know that the food they put on the table for their family is all-natural, environmentally friendly, and humane. And that’s why we here at Nature’s Acres Ranch hold ourselves to a higher standard and produce only the finest grass-fed and 100 percent additive-free beef. We guarantee that our cows are ethically raised on sustainably grown pastures before we hang them upside down from a moving conveyor and slice their throats wide open.

A tragic image. But this article was too good to be true.  I’ve repeatedly expressed disgust with mainstream media’s failure to address the ethics of animal agriculture. But here was a mainstream source nailing it on the head because it was a satire of mainstream media. What better proof that conventional media has indeed had its collective head in a hole? It’s taken satire to yank it out. The article continues:

Our independently owned family farm is committed to one guiding principle: making sure that you, the customer, receive the best-tasting, highest quality beef from cows that are healthy, active, and eventually suspended fully conscious inside a facility thick with hot, blood-choked air and the frantic bellows of dangling, profoundly fearful animals.

That’s our pledge to you.

I wondered, as I was contemplating this article, how animal rights activists would react to it. I suppose you could make a case that the Onion piece is somewhat offensive because it could be said to trivialize the death of innocent animals by writing a mocking article about them.  To me, though, it’s a rather brilliant way to drive home the lunacy of those who really think they can get a cruelty-free burger. It’s consumers who are being mocked. Another excerpt:

As owner and president of Nature’s Acres and a lifelong rancher myself, let me assure you that our animals are treated with exceptional care using only traditional methods from the very second the calf is born on our farm, to the moment a cascade of blood showers from its gaping, half-severed neck, to the day our award-winning beef reaches the grocer’s case in the organic section.

It is, in a way, frustrating that so many of us hammer away at this point repeatedly but go unnoticed while The Onion speaks and the world listens. But at least The Onion is speaking the right language. To wit:

So next time you choose a steak or ground chuck to throw on the grill, consider a healthier, more humane, and tastier option, and look no further than the Nature’s Acres Ranch line of products. We’re the one with the smiling cow on the label!

And I’m the one with a smile on my face.

25 Responses to Truth in Satire: The Onion Peels Back the Humane Myth

  1. Ellen K says:

    Thanks for the alert, and perfect timing! I was just preparing a document on the happy meat myth, and this is superb material.

  2. John T. Maher says:

    “A man may seye full sooth (truth) in game and pley” Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. This is different than Swiftian satire where absurdities are substituted for metaphor. I like how in the Onion piece the onus is not on vegans or AR people but on marketers of happy meat and by extension, their subjects, the consumers. Now for a way to make consumers cry after they laugh . . .

    • CQ says:

      “Now for a way to make consumers cry after they laugh . . .”

      Yes, John, laugh :-) then cry :-( then put down their steak knives . . . forever!!!

  3. Alex B says:

    So glad you wrote about this article. I think satirists have a way of urging their audience to self-reflect without coming off as preachy or holier-than-thou. Chaucer, Voltaire, Mark Twain, to name a few, have all done this beautifully, and I am glad to see satire directed at “happy meat” producers/ consumers. While the imagery is certainly graphic and disturbing, I don’t think its exaggerated, and I’m sure a lot of readers will recognize that. The juxtaposition of the rhetoric of “sustainable, humane, organic animal” agriculture with the reality of animal slaughter is what makes it so effective. Perhaps only satire can capture the absurdity of things like “humanely-raised meat.” Another reason why satire works may be because, well, no one wants to be at the butt of a joke.

  4. Barb Lomow says:

    I thought that the Onion piece was brilliant. It says a lot about the sad state of this movement when a satirical essay is far more truthful and factual than some of the animal groups are these days. HSUS has unabashedly become involved in promoting the marketing and consumption of so-called “humane” animal products. A glaring example of this was the hiring (and recent promotion to HSUS Vice President) of pig farmer, Joe Maxwell:

    Here HSUS’ Maxwell himself lets us know in his own words that animals are mere units of production:

    More proof of HSUS’ endorsement of “happy meat” is displayed in their misleading “A Pig’s Tail” video:

    In addition to ‘A Pig’s Tail’, HSUS has produced “heartwarming” promotional videos of current happy meat farmers, the real-life “Hank T. Norman’s”. Just as in the farcical ending to the “A Pig’s Tail” video, there is no reference at all in these videos to the fact that all these “happy” animals will all be slaughtered at a very young age. It’s a sell out by HSUS to present such a deliberately misleading picture to the public.

    An industry interview (Drover’s Cattle Network) from last month asked the question below of Wayne Pacelle. The next time anyone accuses an advocate for veganism of being “divisive” for supposedly “attacking” HSUS, point them toward Pacelle’s reply. This has moved SO far beyond an issue of “welfare” vs. “abolition”:

    Q: Thousands of people read What would you like to say to them?
    A: [Pacelle] “There are some folks in animal agriculture who caricature HSUS, charging that we are trying to end animal agriculture. But why would we work jointly with the United Egg Producers if we were against all animal agriculture? Why would HSUS have a pig farmer serve as its VP of Outreach and Engagement who leads our Rural Affairs program? Why would we work with the Nebraska Farmers Union on marketing of humanely produced animal products? Why would I serve on the board of the Global Animal Partnership, which conducts an animal welfare rating program and certifies products from farmers who raise animals in humane and sustainable ways?”

    For those who haven’t already come across the excellent essays and videos found on the website, here is one that deals specifically with Joe Maxwell and HSUS and happy meat:

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      Such meat is “sustainable” if only the population of the planet diminishes by about 10X or so. Mr. Pacelle clearly hasn’t done the resource arithmetic for these “humane” animal farms.

      In reality, the only sustainable food systems are organic and vegan, i.e., based on compassion for all creation. Systems based on domination and fear are generally not sustainable. Only systems based on love are guaranteed to be sustainable.

      For proof, just take the limit to infinity…

  5. Jennifer says:

    There was a website that I came across about a year ago that was a repository of advertisements, cartoon images of animals, “food animals”, that were used to seduce consumers into consuming animals. It is real common to see a dancing neon pig advertising a BBQ place. Then there is the California Happy Cows advertising campaign. I think the website was called Suicide Animals and with each new post was a new ad image with snarky comments about how irresistable they were. But the concept of animals seducing us to eat them is do incredibly absurd. I wonder how effective these campaigns are now that public awareness about factory farming has increased.

  6. Gabby says:

    I ate “happy meat” for years before realizing that te animals still had to be basically tortured and killed for me to eat them. It just didn’t cross my mind. I figured I was doing such a good thing by buying only “humanely raised” meat. I felt quite good about myself in those days. Blissful ignorance.

  7. Catherine Case says:

    I agree–brilliant.

  8. Rebecca Stucki says:

    I posted that article on Facebook yesterday, as did almost every vegan I know. I only got one response – from an omnivore who should know better – asking me if it was true. I assured her it was, and she seemed properly horrified.

  9. Nadine says:

    I love satire and found this piece to be brilliant. I had to skip parts of it though as I get overly emotional, but I did share it on Facebook and it has a home in my bookmarks to whip out anytime someone asks me “What’s wrong with my ethically raised pasture fed beef?”
    I also recently discovered “Portlandia” and the very hilarious skit “Is the chicken local?” I was literally rolling on the floor laughing and yelling at my computer screen “Just go vegan you idiots!”

  10. Joan Bollaert says:

    Bravo for the Onion!!

  11. Joan Bollaert says:

    What is the title of The Onion article? I’m not having any luck in finding it. Thanks.

  12. Joan Bollaert says:

    Thanks so very much!

  13. Kevin Schneider says:

    James–I have to agree completely. My first reaction to this piece was, this thing is just brilliant. I shared it on Facebook for that reason.

  14. Lydia says:

    raising humanely is not the issue; slaughter is

  15. DC says:

    Sometimes I wonder if HSUS was infiltrated by employees from the Center for Consumer Freedom or the Weston Price Foundation…or both.

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