Posts Tagged ‘happy meat

Can You Oppose the Death Penalty and Eat Happy Meat?

» January 10th, 2014



In the December 23/30 edition of the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has a thoughtful “Talk of the Town” piece on the death penalty. In particular, he explores the weird circumstances currently surrounding the matter of how we kill death row inmates. The article ends with an arresting paragraph that, without in any way intending to, highlights the potentially illogical position taken by those who believe in the idea of “humane slaughter” for farm animals.

Toobin writes, “The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society. It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque.”

Toobin’s argument offers a remarkably uselful parallel to the ethical vegan’s argument that there’s no such thing as humane slaughter, no matter how “palatable” we try to make it. Indeed, that it’s an oxymoron. Similarly, Toobin effectively captures the idea that “humane” farming at least grants animals some measure of freedom before they’re offed–”a meager kind of progress.” Even so, there’s no denying that the end result–the unnecessary death of a sentient being–is “grotesque.” Thus, the question is raised: can you oppose the death penalty as “cruel and unusual” while supporting the “humane” slaughter of sentient animals?

I’m sitting here having a hard time seeing how you could identify a quality unique to humans that singularly justified their right to avoid the state sponsored killing of a human (no matter what the crime) while, at the same time, allowed for the humane-farmer killing of a sentient non-human. Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that consumers who seek out happy meat are also people inclined to oppose the death penalty. But, if I’m right in assuming this rough correlation, I’d be eager to start a conversation about whether or not you can oppose the death penalty but support “humane slaughter” of animals.

“Is That Meat From A Factory Farm?”

» December 21st, 2013

If there’s a guiding tenet in my repertoire of ideas it’s that the promotion of “happy meat’ is still the promotion of eating animals and, as such, will always be an indirect but culturally powerful endorsement of the most efficient producer of animals goods–namely, factory farms. So, to promote “humane animal farms” as a viable alternative to factory farmed meat is not only illogical, it’s possibly even counter productive. That’s the Big Idea, as it were.

A conversation I had with an editor friend of mine last night shed fresh light on my hypothesis. My friend eats animals but generally those sourced from the right places–local, humane, organic, and so on. By any standard, he’s a conscientious consumer who knows the local food scene as intimately as anyone. He takes food and the ethics of eating seriously and follows the ideas here at The Pitchfork with more than due diligence.

In the course of our conversation—on that second beer (the Whip In’s “Bitterama”)— I noted how difficult eating away from home could be. Vegans are often placed in the awkward position of having to say “sorry, but I don’t eat that.” And we say it, and we mean it, and we do it because our chosen values dictate that we do so. For most of us, there’s never any question about the choice. As I explained this position to my friend, a question that had never occurred to me suddenly popped into my head: would a conscientious carnivore such as my friend reject, say, a hamburger served at a dinner party if it was sourced from a factory farm?

I think it’s a fascinating question.

The vegan asks, “is there meat in that pasta sauce”? But the conscientious carnivore never asks, “is that meat from a factory farm”? Why? That’s not an easy question to answer, but it has something to do with the clarity of convictions. The ethical vegan draws a line and, because what’s at stake is participation in the intentional and unnecessary death of a sentient animal, he holds firmly to that line and says “no thanks.”

By contrast, the conscientious carnivore draws a line and, because what’s at stake is ultimately not differentiated by participation in unnecessary death, he easily allows the line to blur. After all, the animal he eats, in the case of factory meat or happy meat, died so he could have that burger. Why make such a fuss at a dinner party when so little is at stake?

In any case, my friend admitted that he never asks such a question. Obviously, he’s not alone.

I think these differing reactions say a great deal about veganism as a radical and fundamentally subversive way to undermine the horrors of industrial animal agriculture. They also say a great deal about the comparative tepidity of the “small, local, organic” option as a path toward change. We can bitch and moan all we like about the evils of industrial agriculture, but until we start saying “no” to the real problem–eating animals–the titans of agribusiness will keep sleeping well at night, secure in the knowledge that we’ll never ask, “is that meat from a factory farm.”

[NB: There have been some great comments and conversations in the last few posts. Please check them out. I hope to respond to several in upcoming posts.]


A “Good Success” in Montreal

» September 27th, 2013

Montreal is a bilingual, vegan-friendly, friendly-friendly, big-time city seemingly full of young people with a predilection for talking incessantly and brilliantly about animals. I spoke last night in a beautiful room at McGill University about the hidden problems with small-scale, non-industrial farms. I’m the worst critic of my own talks (being far more at ease and in control behind the computer) but last night I can say that when our time was up I was eager to keep going. So I take that as a sign that something went well enough, or at least that I was properly caffeinated for the experience.

The essence of whatever popular interest there is in my topic seems to stem from a vague sense that the sustainable food movement’s happy farm/happy meat rhetoric is actively obscuring the darker realities that inflict suffering on animals raised in what appear to be more humane conditions. (That was a badly written sentence, but go easy, as I’m at the airport, blurry, and nursing my first cup of coffee). Giving some specificity to that vagueness, my presentation reminds viewers (and, when my book comes out, readers) that, while a pastured system might have welfare advantages over a factory farm, it’s not by any means a viable or ethically sound replacement for industrial animal agriculture. Several people told me they desperately need more grist for this mill. Of course they do: nobody in the popular media is writing about this topic.

Here’s a thought I had in the very middle of my talk: For better or worse, none of what I talk about when it comes to this topic is rocket science. There’s rarely a need—given that my intention is to encourage people to consider leaving animals out of their diet—to ascend into high-intellectual ether. Understanding that sentient animals suffer when they are raised primarily to be slaughtered and commodified does not require a grounding in Bentham or Kant or Singer or Regan. It just requires empathy and compassion, qualities we seem to have, at times, on our better days, in abundance. When an astute member of the audience noted that, even if farm animals were pampered while on the happy farm, they’re still killed about a tenth of the way through their lives, thus being denied 90 percent of their potential happiness, I think people (lots of omnivores in the crowd) intuitively get why that’s wrong. Whether it’s wrong enough to inspire behavioral change is another story. But at least the ball gets rolling.

I greatly enjoyed post-talk discussions about the ethics of domestication without slaughter, the strengths and weaknesses of the land ethic, the inherent flaws in conventional activism, and the appropriateness of the slavery analogy to the prospect of animal liberation. These discussions played out at a vegan restaurant called “Invitation” [in-vee-tah-see-on], where I ate a perfectly spiced curry dish and drank a glass of white wine before going down for a few hours of sleep and getting back to the airport, where everyone seems to be exceedingly polite given the obscenely early hour of the day (or any hour, for that matter).

Leaving my taxi this morning, my exceedingly polite taxi driver, who spoke French as his first language, told me to “have a good success” as I climbed out of the car. I told him, “thank you, I already have. And you have a good success, too”