Posts Tagged ‘james mcwilliams

Pre-order The Modern Savage

» September 4th, 2014

My forthcoming book, The Modern Savage, is now available for pre-order (links are below). The book provides a sustained and deeply critical examination of small-scale nonindustrial animal agriculture, exposing this generally celebrated alternative to factory farming as riddled with inherent ethical, environmental, and economic problems. If you plan to buy the book, doing so now rather than after publication would be very helpful. I’m deeply appreciative.



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Book Review: The Lucky Ones

» March 8th, 2013

The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals by Jenny Brown

Book Review: by Jennifer Molidor


What is the dream of sanctuary? A rescue ranch? An educational resource? Utopia? And what is the connection between the politics of eating, the activism of one, and the dream of sanctuary? In The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals Jenny Brown, founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, takes the reader through these questions.

As an almost relentless attempt to touch upon all the interconnections that branch out from issues of animal rights, The Lucky Ones feels like an octopus, lovingly spreading his tentacles. “Eating is a political and social action” she writes. “Environmental destruction, public health, workers’ rights, decaying rural communities, world hunger, and global poverty are all deeply affected by our eating choices.”

But she doesn’t stop there. She takes on the wide expanse of animal exploitation, discussing her personal attempts to persuade her mother and sister to stop using animal-tested household products. With endearing detail of teenage squabbles, Jenny recounts that she once worked for a fast-food restaurant before she realized the cognitive disconnect of loving one animal while eating another. Now, with a farmed animal sanctuary that brings visitors from all reaches of the country, she has become the educator, explaining why supposedly “happy farms” aren’t really happy for anyone –and she challenges the notions of “free-range,” “cage-free” and the impossibility of producing “humane” eggs.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jenny describes the thrill – and the fear – of participating in protests against animal cruelty. She also explains, with absolute honesty and courage, what it was like to be an undercover investigator, bravely making a video of the conditions horses suffer to make the drug Premarin (a video widely available on YouTube). Later, investigating a brutal cattle stockyard, she remembers dead, dying, and debilitated animals lying out in the heat, with no care. “I was terrified someone would find me out – would see that I was an enemy because I had a camera and a heart.” And that heart comes through in every detail of her story.

Jenny Brown is at home in a voice that distinctly lacks the inflated ego of some activists. Her words are warm and engaging, although occasionally angry. After telling us that humans are the only species that drink milk from another species (or after infancy) she writes “And we never stop to think about what it really is: the breast milk of a cow. BREAST MILK, PEOPLE! From a COW.” While the abject horrors of the dairy industry provoke inner revulsion for most ethical vegans, the writing in this book sometimes feels almost too personal, too informal; it is as if, in understandable frustration with omnivores, the author wants to hit us over the head with the facts, which perhaps might be better conveyed, as the rest of the book does so well, through narrative trajectory of her own ethical evolution. The Lucky Ones is genuine and charming, much as I imagine Jenny is in person.

That sincere passion drives the reader from cover to cover. It is hard not to be fascinated by her journey, especially through her experiences volunteering at Farm Sanctuary and how that helped her learn how to open her own sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. For her, the sanctuary is paradise.

The Lucky Ones is part personal memoir and part plea to protect animals. It is not an academic book, nor a work of complex moral philosophy. Rather it is one woman’s honest, pull-no-punches account of her life as an activist – from meat eater to vegan, from fast-food worker to founder of one of the best farmed animal sanctuaries in the U.S. It is the story, rich in personal perspective, of a young woman’s evolution into animal activism. From the loss of her leg to childhood cancer, to the death of her dear kitty Boogie, to the relationship with her once-carnivore husband, readers of this book not only gain insights into animal activism, but will feel a connection with the author herself, as a human, a survivor, and a fighter.

One of the things that originally drew me to James McWilliams’ Eating Plants blog was his frank honesty about his own ethical evolution. Very few of us are born animal activists and ethical vegans. We are all in progress and what would life be without growth? If we can grow, so can everyone else – and it is that humility, that honesty, that drew me to Eating Plants, that is also eminently present in Jenny Brown and The Lucky Ones. In essence, her book suggests that veganism is a process, and through sheer infectious passion, we may change the hearts and minds of those that unthinkingly harm animals.

The dream and the ideal of a cruelty-free world drive her work at the farm. A PCRM study, she notes, suggests that 74% of our federal subsidies go to meat and dairy, despite the fact that vegetables, fruits, and grains are more conducive to a healthy diet, according to federal nutrition recommendations.“ So not only does choosing a plant-based diet save animal lives, it leads farmers to turn to healthier, more environmentally friendly agriculture. This means the price of organic produce goes down and our quality of life goes up. Eventually, if the pattern continues, the only farm animals around will be beloved, respected companion animals living healthy lives. At least this is the dream.” And a good dream it is.

Reading Jenny Brown’s inspiring story, one feels one might not be doing enough for animals – because whatever we might be doing, Jenny Brown is probably doing more. But this comes without judgment, because there is activism possible in every action. She ends The Lucky Ones with a collection of vegan recipes- as if unable to resist one last attempt to sway the reader to a compassionate lifestyle. ‘Wait, wait!’ this section seems to beckon, ‘if all my endearing stories didn’t persuade you, why don’t you try the “Best Chocolate Cake Ever!”’

Who can say no to that?

Jennifer Molidor is a staff writer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. If you would like to review a book for Eating Plants, please contact me at for details.

Tomorrow: a scientist and his ants

Ellen Kanner on James McWilliams in Huff Po

» June 4th, 2012


Thank you to Ellen Kanner at the Huffington Post for this piece. Excellent recipe at the end. 


Health, the environment, ethics, animal rights, because you want a hot bod, because it makes you feel good about yourself. They’re all reasons to go vegan and as far as I’m concerned, they’re all good. I just want to get the plant-based dialogue going. I’m the vegan inviting everyone to the table — omnivores, flexitarians and the whole vegan substrata — health vegans (green smoothies are on me, guys), raw vegans, culinary vegans, ethical vegans andJames McWilliams, ethical, argumentative vegan.

“When you are advocating for ethical veganism,” says the author and Texas State University historian, “you’re advocating for a shift in values with implications far beyond how we eat.” McWilliams wants liberation. Yours, if you’re that way inclined, but mostly, he wants liberation for animals.

It all started five years ago, when McWilliams was researching what would become his controversial bookJust Food, in which he denounces the locavore movement as ill-conceived and ineffective. So what alternative could he offer? One he realized he’d have to make himself. He became vegan. “I can’t in any way begin to consider myself environmentally responsible if I eat meat.”

McWilliams, who speaks this Saturday at Mad City Vegan Festin Madison, WI, takes a two-pronged approach to his advocacy — sociological and intellectual. It’s embodied in his two books in progress, one, a study of factory farming in America and the other addressing our “unthinking decision to eat animals.” McWilliams wants you to think. He likens our treatment of animals – 10 billion raised in factory farming conditions and killed annually for food — historically akin to our acceptance of slavery. “Two hundred years from now, we’re going to look back at this time with absolute horror,” he says.

He believes “in the inherent goodness of people.” But he thinks we could use a bit of a push. He also thinks the fulcrum that’s going move us forward as a species is liberating other species. If he’s ahead of the curve, he’s okay with that. “You put the message out there with clarity, honesty and passion and hope the winds of change will catch it.”

Halfway measures and baby steps towards going plant-based don’t cut it for McWilliams. “My argument is, this is not a legitimate response. It’s like ethical butchers or eating local — making us feel good but not confronting the issue, an environmental, economic and ethical reason why we need an alternative to the alternative, that of course is ethical veganism.”

McWilliams spends a lot of time thinking, but not so much about his meatless meals. He’s a lunchtime regular at nearby Casa de Luz, a terrific vegan retreat. At home, he and his family eat simply — beans, rice, salsa, “bowls of crazy salads. They’re tasty and extremely good.”

I’m for whatever gets you to the table. We are stronger together than when splintered apart. If you’ve come to veganism for your health, you’ll love it for the ethos. If you come for the morality, you’re going to love the way you feel physically, the way it opens up positive change in your life. If you’re a three-burger a day kinda guy who wants to have it out with McWilliams, hey, there’s room for you, too.

Argument can take you far, but only so far. Even McWilliams believes that. He recalls seeing a factory farming video of a cow giving birth and her utter devastation when her calf is taken from her. You can say animals don’t have feelings. You can say hey, we’ve all got to eat. You can say anything you like. “All the philosophy, all the hairsplitting didn’t matter,” he says. “All I needed to see was that.”

Roasted Beet Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette

Sparked with a chili-lime vinaigrette, this crazy summer salad is lunch in a bowl. Like McWilliams says, it’s “tasty and extremely good.”

2 good-sized beets (save greens for another use)
1/2 jicama (also known as Mexican turnip), peeled and diced or 1 young white turnip, peeled and diced
1 orange, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 mango, if available, chopped
3 cups fresh spring greens, such as arugula, butter lettuce, watercress or spinach
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup almonds or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

For vinaigrette
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Wash beets, wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and roast at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool. The skins will slip off and the beets will be sweet and tender. Beets may be roasted a day ahead and kept wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator.

Mix vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, balsamic or cider vinegar, honey or agave, olive oil, mustard, cumin and chili powder. Whisk until well combined. Makes about 1/3 cup of dressing, ample for salad plus leftovers.

For salad, arrange greens on a platter or pile into individual bowls.

Top with greens with diced beets, jicama or turnip, chopped mango, chopped nuts and cilantro.

Drizzle dressing on top.

Serves 4 to 6.

Follow Ellen Kanner on Twitter:

McWilliams on Foer: Thumbs Up

» March 5th, 2012

I was cleaning up the laptop and found this review of mine, published in the Austin American Statesman in the fall of 2010. That same week, Foer and I sat on a panel at the Texas Book Festival (along with Novella Carpenter and Jason Sheehan). Good times, good times . . .

At a recent dinner party, the host, for whatever reason, started discussing the rodent problems at her farmhouse. She explained how she’d found a humane mouse trap that can catch a mouse without killing it. The weird thing, though, was that she sang the praises of this contraption while standing in her kitchen, holding a greasy pair of tongs, about three feet away from the pork chops she was sizzling to perfection.

Normally, I wouldn’t have thought much about what it meant to express concern for the welfare of a mouse while cooking a pig — an animal that’s likely smarter than your golden retriever. But it just so happened that I was entrenched in Jonathan Safran Foer’s deeply engaging “Eating Animals,” a book that confronts the moral and practical problems of eating meat. “Our relationship to eating animals has an invisible quality,” writes Foer, who proceeds to employ the literary equivalent of a klieg light to make it visible.

Skeptics of animal welfare arguments need not get defensive. This book is not shrill. It’s not out to browbeat or scold the meat eater. Instead, Foer’s approach is sympathetic and stern, respectful of human vulnerability but attuned to ethical consistency. He demonstrates the same sensitivity to the human condition that he displayed in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Everything is Illuminated” — his two critically acclaimed novels. Foer wants us to think about what we instinctively ignore — to “bring meat to the center of public discussion in the same way it is often at the center of our plates.” Make no mistake, though. He ultimately wants us to do more than just think. He wants us to quit eating the stuff, too.

But he understands. He’s neither naïve nor self-righteous. We are human, after all, and we justify our carnivorous behavior (all of our behavior, for that matter) by telling stories. Anyone who eats meat and even remotely thinks about the moral implications of eating meat tells stories: “Eating animals is natural. Animals were put on earth to help humans thrive. Animals don’t experience pain the way humans do. It’s those people who eat dogs who are barbaric. Could you pass me a pork chop, please?”

These stories have a quietly powerful impact. Foer knows this well, as he has his own story to grapple with: Meat is inseparable from the memories he associates with his grandmother, the love he feels for his newborn son and the future family meals that will unite the generations. These meals have previously centered on meat (specifically his grandma’s chicken and carrots). And so he wonders: Can the “table fellowship” that defined the past survive a vegetarian future?

To answer this question Foer starts with the fattest target in the meat world: factory flesh. Ninety-nine percent of the meat produced in the United States comes from a factory farm. These places exist in a fathomless level of hell. They spew pollution and make the taxpayer foot the cleanup bill. They ruin our health and brag that they’re “feeding the world.” They engage in animal welfare practices that would weaken the knees of Michael Vick. They thrive on perverse subsidies.

Tyson Foods Inc. won’t return Foer’s repeated requests to visit a farm. Undeterred, he joins an animal welfare accomplice (named “C”), and the two “snooping vegetarians” sneak onto a turkey farm in the middle of the night. “The closer I look,” he explains, “the more I see.”

And it’s just plain awful. Readers of the anti-industrial food canon (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Food, Inc.”) will have some sense of what he encounters. Still, Foer covers this unsavory ground in sobering detail, ending with a graphic step-by-step overview of a slaughterhouse (by drawing on industry literature). But what ultimately sticks, much more than any scatological factoid, is Foer’s affecting juxtaposition of production and consumption.

Production: factory farms, manure lagoons, genetically deformed animals, antibiotic-laden feed, a diseased environment. Consumption: a family gathering, “table fellowship,” holidays, warmth, son, grandma, love. Connect the dots across the production-consumption divide and it all starts to make sense: “It’s much easier to be cruel than one might think.” Remembering Grandma’s chicken and carrots is one thing; forgetting what had to happen for it to get to the table is another. When we remember, we also forget.

If you’re part of that privileged one percent that buys meat from alternative sources (free-range, grass-fed, cage-free, etc.), you have a friend in Foer — sort of. Foer met with several producers who raise meat according to strict environmental and animal welfare standards. He makes no bones about his bias — he likes these people very much. He admires their ideals, the respect they have for their animals, their style. In stark contrast to the factory farms, they welcome Foer, hide nothing and tell their stories. In the end, people like Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn — proprietors of the well-respected Niman Ranch label — end up looking something akin to heroes.

But Foer doesn’t let them off the ethical hook. He brings in a PETA representative, Bruce Friedrich, to address the Niman narrative. And boy does Friedrich have something to say. Whether your flesh is factory-raised or free-ranged, he explains (according to Foer’s paraphrasing), “that piece of meat came from an animal who, at best — and it’s precious few who get away with this — was burned, mutilated and killed for the sake of a few minutes of human pleasure.” Foer doesn’t disagree with the assessment.

To his credit, even though he seems to not want to, he goes on to note that Niman Ranch brands its animals for no good reason, castrates without anesthesia and uses nose rings to keep hogs from rooting the pasture. He concludes, “ethical meat is a promissory note, not a reality.” He knows these words will hurt his friends.

But that’s how this book is: bold, honest, thoughtful. We live in an era in which factory farming is becoming less and less acceptable. Still, many ethical consumers find themselves feeling powerless in the face of an industrial agricultural system that’s gone global. Foer reminds us that we are “the powerbrokers that matter most.” We might not like what he’s asking us to do, but it’s hard to deny that he’s right.

Hunting for Flesh, Hunting for Identity: Why Men Hunt

» February 26th, 2012

A while ago I promised a series of posts on hunting. After putting some thought into the matter, and trying to decide the most productive angle into the topic, I found myself unable to escape the looming specter of testosterone. Sorry if this is painfully obvious but I see no other way to begin: hunting is inseparable from manhood.

Sure, women hunt. But for 99 percent of humanity’s existence it was the necessary job of men to acquire meat. Chances are good that patriarchy as a social arrangement developed directly out of this responsibility. With the onset of animal domestication about 10,000 years ago, the connection between men and meat only intensified. The entire idea of what it meant to be a man, at least in western cultures, came to center not only on the ability to drag flesh to the home fire, but to raise animals at home, to husband them and harvest their flesh. Any man who failed at either of these tasks saw his masculinity seriously imperiled, much as if he were sexually impotent. The experience of running out of meat could be a humiliating experience, a sharp source of ridicule. Men without meat were men who failed to perform.

Occasionally, the relationship between hunting animals and domesticating animals became temporarily complicated. A case in point is early America. On the one hand, hunting briefly fell out of favor, primarily because it was a practice that white settlers didn’t necessarily want to share with Native Americans, whom they deemed utterly savage. On the other hand, there was no way around the fact that, every now and then, even the most responsible husbandman needed to grab his rifle, duck into the woods, and hunt for food. This was a settlement society. Nonetheless, if the association between hunting and manhood temporarily weakened in the eighteenth century (due to the cultural importance of domestication), it roared back with a vengeance in the nineteenth. Western migrants, intoxicated on the spirit of Manifest Destiny, revived and solidified the bond between manhood and hunting, deeming them the combined epitome of not just a mere man, but a frontiersman.

This wasn’t to last. Today there’s no immediate physical need for men to hunt. The frontier is not only the stuff of legend (and myth), but it’s been replaced by strip malls and grocery stores–venues where women do most of the “hunting.” And therein lies the crisis. Men are in a genuine bind, one not to be taken lightly (or mocked).Throughout the history of humanity men have been responsible for venturing outside the home–be it the pasture or the woods (or high seas)–and dragging home the main course. This activity was essential to the masculine identity, so much so that we hinged nothing less than our reputation as real men upon the acquisition of animal flesh. Now consider the situation today. At least in the developed world, there’s currently no need for anyone to hunt. Multinational corporations domesticate our animals for us. Women (or restaurants) dominate the task of bringing food to our table. Men golf.

Men thus hunt not to survive, but to preserve an antiquated sense of what it means to be a man. They hunt because the weight of two-hundred thousand years of tradition is hard to shake. They hunt because our culture–in so many ways so advanced and so enlightened–has yet to promote the idea that it’s extremely attractive for a man to love and nurture animals.




The Horrors of Dairy: How “Sustainability” Obscures Suffering

» February 25th, 2012

Yesterday I spoke to a Philosophy Dialogue Series on my own campus (Texas State) about food and sustainability. For me, of course, “food and sustainability” means eating plants. As in Berkeley, I hit this message hard, arguing, in part, that we may as well erase the word “sustainable” from our ever-expanding eco-vocabulary if we cannot make the term include the ethical implications of eating. Students seemed receptive. Questions were excellent, smart. It was a nicely structured event, leaving a full 90 minutes for “dialogue.”

After the event a graduate student in “Sustainability Studies” (I didn’t know we had such a degree!) told me that she was a lifelong vegetarian but had never put much thought into the ethical problems of dairy. I quoted Gary Francione’s line that there’s “more suffering in a glass of milk than a pound of steak.” Then I explained to her what happens to a dairy cow–even an organic dairy cow producing milk for “artisanal” cheese. When I told her how the mother cow’s calf is dragged away shortly after birth and, if male, jammed into a veal crate; and when I explained how mother cows wailed and thrashed to have their calves back with them, drinking their milk; and when I explained that this happened repeatedly to milk cows, causing horrible diseases and immeasurable suffering; and when I asked what right humans have to do these things to a sentient being, this woman’s face dropped. She told me she had chills and I could see her eyes water a little.

I’ve since sent this woman a couple of e-mails with links further illuminating the horrors of dairy. Whether or not this women goes vegan is an open question, but I think the chances are good. What I’m especially concerned about, however, is something more structural. How is it that a vegetarian student studying sustainability could have no idea about the cruelty within the dairy industry? This is in no way to criticize this woman–she seemed to be an an extremely bright and dedicated student. My concern is really with how these increasingly popular programs in sustainability (and Food Studies) arrange knowledge–and, in essence, create a reality of ideas worth knowing–in a way that obscures the underlying ethical questions at the core of eating. I see this trend as little more than intellectual laziness. How much easier it is to sing the virtues of “artisanal” cheese production compared to industrial cheese production than it is to engage the deeper philosophical and ethical questions about sentience and suffering.

The trouble with this avoidance is that it’s hard to detect. This is often the case because so often what “environmentalists” or “experts in sustainability” promote comes with a positive message of “improvement” and “empowerment.” These are the good guys taking on the polluters and factory farmers! It’s hard to condemn someone who’s ostensibly working to save the planet as complicit in a world of injustice. But the more I do this the more I’m saying screw it to politeness and tact. We need to hit these prophets of sustainability hard. We need to wake them up.  We need to start asking tougher questions about sustainability–more fundamental questions that cut to the core of animal exploitation. College campuses strike me as a good place to start this effort.


A Rebuttal to a Rebuttal: An Eating Plants Reader Responds to An Angry Butcher

» February 13th, 2012

Some context: what follows is a rather brilliant point-by-point rebuttal of Berlin Reed’s rebuttal of my recent piece in the All the drama can be followed by reading the past several postings here on It is an understatement for me to express my sincere appreciattion for the INTELLIGENT feedback that comes in on this blog. That is a rare quality these days.

Off we go:

From: Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten

I read the article original article this is responding to. The point was that small farm meat advocacy will just be co-opted by big meat. The language was sharp in some points, and perhaps could have been softened as to not slight the ethical butcher since that wasn’t the intent, but overall, I didn’t read it as an attack as such. Anyway, onwards to the reply:

EB- “the moral superiority complex that plagues so many herbivores”

HE HAS A BLOG CALLED THE ETHICAL BUTCHER! McWilliams has a blog called Eating Plants. No matter how Reed goes about defining what he means by ethical butcher, whether it’s a label, a blog, or a project, there is inherently some moralizing going on. He can’t really spin around and say, “Oh, those vegans, so many with moral superiority complexes!”

EB – “I will never assume to know what others should do; I find that to be a dangerous mindset.”

His book is titled The Ethical Butcher: Real Food Rules. Whether “rules” means “a prescribed guide for conduct or action” or “the exercise of authority or control” (Merriam –Webster), it sure seems he is suggesting what others should do. Also, his livelihood seems to depend on being a butcher. McWilliam’s doesn’t really depend on being vegan, he can write about whatever he wants to and may even be less marginalized if he wrote about something else.

EB – “worldwide vegan fascism”

I’m not sure that it’s worth even engaging with this individual with this sort of rhetoric. Which vegan organization is campaigning in impoverished countries pulling meat off of people’s dinner plates? I know that there’s plenty of leafleting on college campuses with affluent young people capable of making lifestyle changes. There is Heifer International though, whose mission is to give impoverished people livestock. Good? Bad? Well, there’s some criticism to content with (, but regardless, it’s certainly not a vegan organization.

EB – “Going vegan doesn’t answer..etc”

But neither does “ethical butchering” or “avoiding soy.” With the soy avoidance, it’s clear that we’re dealing with the usual WAPF kool-aid. Livestock, even the local “pastured” kind, still consume plenty of cereal crops akin to soy. Even Joel Salatin doesn’t escape this.

EB – “The outdated obsession with meat as the crux of the problem is unnecessarily narrow-minded”

If by outdated he means, “advocates who pointed out the problem decades ago,” (you can go back even a hundred years even) that’s not being outdated, that’s being right. Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change, deforestation, and depleting fisheries. It’s unnecessary, certainly in the amount that is condoned, and it’s easier to reduce animal product consumption than to “free ourselves” from “the complex web” whatever that even means.

EB – “I have never, ever argued against being vegetarian or vegan.”

No, it’s just that vegans have a moral superiority complexed, destroy the world with soy and “precious veggies”, cause animals to suffer (deliberately I wonder?), are “dogmatic,” “elitist,” “outdated,” “obsessive,” “narrow-minded,” “unrealistic,” “short-sighted,” “fascist,” and wronger than wrong, but no, no arguments against being vegetarian or vegan. It all reads like a bullet points from the retarded Vegetarian Myth except he loses a few points for not mentioning that vegans need B12 so it’s unnatural and no society has ever been truly vegan, oh, and something about hunter-gatherers. For extra credit he could have at least mentioned the welfare of plants and microbes.

EB – “I abstain from soy at all costs and I don’t eat any seafood other than shellfish and a very, very short list of truly sustainable fish.”

He believes soy is the problem, so he abstains at all costs, which is unfortunate because the comparable costs of meat eating that soybean eating can displace is very high. Legumes also fix nitrogen. Soybeans that feed people really aren’t that big of a problem and of course soybeans can be organically sourced. Most of the tofu and soymilks on the market are organic, all are non-GMO, some brands are even regional/local depending where you live. If you live in New York (Brooklyn), Fresh Tofu Inc. produces tofu for the tri-state region from Pennsylvania and the organic soy beans are sourced nearby. Commercial animal products are a big problem, they make up 99% of the animal food supply, but when vegans abstain from them for very good reasons, it’s “fascism?”

EB – “Going vegan doesn’t preserve generations of time-honored traditions “

Who cares when we are reading articles on illuminated screens transmitted through a computer network. I thought we were supposed to be solving big problems, not having cultural day. Can’t cultures honor their languages, their stories, their dance, and dress, even their holidays, maybe that means modifying meals to a vegan menu, maybe they consume animal products on those special occasions. I can only refer to Jonathan Safran Foer who presents the idea that culture is more than what we put into our mouths. Also, since vegetarianism is ancient, it most certainly is a cultural item that can be integrated into most any other cultural milieu. Certainly any cultural people near a decent supermarket.

Here’s what I find most obnoxious with the notion of time honored traditions used in defending hunting or butchering animals. Long before humans could write they could kill animals and figure out how to consume them. It’s not rocket science. If civilization collapses tomorrow in typical Hollywood fashion, enough survivors will be able to figure out on their own how to hunt, fish, and butcher any animals they may find in order to survive. We don’t really need to practice. If buttery is a skill, it’s one that far less intelligent proto-humans mastered long ago. Chimpanzees hunt and manage meat eating just fine.

Somehow when vegans eat vegetables it’s, “your precious veggies,” that could only come from the worse circumstances, but then he eat vegetables it’s fine, because his menus “teem with fresh, seasonal vegetables.” Hey, that’s great, but any vegan can do the same if they want to. Also, I’m not going to suggest to everyone never to eat non-seasonal frozen or canned vegetables, because that isn’t really helping anyone to make eating less meat easier. It’s not possible nor desirable for everyone to exclusively eat fresh seasonal vegetables. People should each oranges and other nonseasonal fruits in the Northern winter. It’s healthier (plenty of studies show this) for people to consumer fruit year round and the environmental impact is relatively negligible (compared to any meat eating). Sure, conditions of many agricultural workers are poor, but that’s not inherent to growing vegetables and solutions have more to do with labor and immigration policies.

EB – “I can actually still count the number of animals I’ve served over the past two years,”

I can actually still count the number of animals I’ve eaten over the past two years. Zero. Whoop dee doo. A feat only possible because it’s not really a feat at all. It’s fairly straightforward and simple, I wish I had this feeling of moral superiority that people like Reed claim vegans exhibit, but I don’t self-congratulate myself as if I’m preforming some sort of notable or courageous deed. If I had a blog or a new book coming out I wouldn’t title it ethical anything, that’s for sure.

EB – “I don’t eat very much meat and one look at my latest menu will dispel your claims that I encourage wanton meat consumption.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they don’t eat very much meat… The point is that ethical butchers become symbols of meat consumption for everyone else whether you like it or not. The proof is Center for Consumer Freedom linking to your blog, but it’s also apparent in attitudes of a majority of indifferent meat eaters. Meat eating can be done right, they have an example in ethical butchers, so all meat eating is justified. These people will wait until the industry reforms itself while maintaining high supply and low prices.

EB – “In my opinion, the single most critical element in the perpetuation of factory farming is corporate greed.”

As McWilliams (and many others) have pointed out, that’s where the slow food movement (or locavores, or whatever we want to call it) gets is a bit off. Factory farming of animals is older than people think and it exists because lots of people want to eat lots of animal products and that is the only way to cheaply supply them. The accusation is that corporate greed leads to factory farming. A glib rebuttal could be that greed leads to eating animals when there are viable alternatives and that leads to factory farming.

EB – “The issue is the system through which most of the animals we eat are supplied.”

A system that is there to meet demand. It’s not there in a vacuum. So long as meat is promoted, either by small or large scale entities, the demand won’t decrease nearly enough as it should. Does consuming less animal products solve all our problems? No. But it is a very large problem and the solution is “easier” — it’s a social problem, “easier” in a relative sense — to implement than retrofitting our civilization into some sort of primitivism hybrid. That’s a massive social and infrastructure problem; one that is unfeasible.

Next Up on the Ethical Butcher’s Block: James McWilliams

» February 10th, 2012

Hellfire if I don’t have a knack for angering butchers. Fortunately, they come at me with words (thus far). What follows is an open letter from Berlin Reed. As I reported in a recent post (and reposted yesterday on Eating Plants) Reed’s blog, the Ethical Butcher, was recently co-opted by a propaganda wing of industrial agriculture. My reason for mentioning Reed was to show how big agriculture shamelessly co-opts those who purport to threaten it, doing so on the common ground of the basic belief that it’s okay to kill animals unnecessarily. Reed, who certainly deserves to have his viewpoint heard, has this to say: 

Mr. McWilliams, we’ve never met. We’ve never spoken to one another. I only wish you had sought to remedy that situation before writing a treatise on meat consumption using me as an example. I was flabbergasted by the inaccuracies in your article in the Atlantic,but your biggest mistake in writing “What Big Ag and the Ethical Butcher Share” was deciding to build your stance against me based on little more than two lines from my blog bio. I’ve been hanging under the radar, head down on a few new projects and preparing to write my first book, which you have gracefully gifted me an opportunity to mention. Why not attempt to stand on the fortitude of your ideas alone? Or, at the very least interview me so that you could write about me from a more informed perspective. With minimal effort, you could have found a more recent portrayal of my ethos at work,in this interview, which was released the same day as yours, by a writer who did the legwork you blithely bypassed in your fervor to assert your self-righteousness while disproving my methodology.

I pity the limited scope with which you seem to view the world. To begin, your article was a disrespectful disgrace to this nation’s farmers and to the many people working tirelessly to change the meat industry. I would have explained the meaning of “The Ethical Butcher”, had you called me for even a short interview. Since you didn’t, I’ll have to take a step back to explain. First, “The Ethical Butcher” is the title of my project, not a self-assigned moniker. Second, butchery is a craft, a skill. Ethics are philosophy in action. Butchery is what occurs at the block, knives in hand. It is still butchery whether I get the animal from a sunny green pasture or a dismal feedlot. Nothing I can do will make the physical act of butchering itself more or less ethical. The ethics come in on either side of the block. The ethics guide how to choose the animal, how to make use of it and how to relate to consumers in representing the meat, farms and farmers. Not so absurd, after all.

In my opinion, the single most critical element in the perpetuation of factory farming is corporate greed. We must focus on the whole picture: our entire food system. This includes the USDA, the FDA, and in this conversation, the entire agricultural system- livestock, corn, soy, wheat, monocrops, GMO’s, the whole nine. The outdated obsession with meat as the crux of the problem is unnecessarily narrow-minded and closes us off to the advantage of seeing the complex web we are struggling to free ourselves from.

I have never, ever argued against being vegetarian or vegan. I argue against shaming and demonizing something so monumentally personal as food choice. I argue against dogma, against the moral superiority complex that plagues so many herbivores, and against the unrealistic and elitist goal of worldwide vegan fascism. The world is waiting for a better solution. Going vegan doesn’t answer the bigger issues of a fossil-fuel propelled world economy based on the abuse of humans, the destruction of the environment and the unchecked rapacity of a few hundred people. Going vegan doesn’t stop Monsanto from poisoning the earth and our bodies or threatening the very choice to grow food for ourselves. Going vegan doesn’t improve the labor camp living conditions of migrant workers who supply your precious veggies. Going vegan doesn’t preserve generations of time-honored traditions and it doesn’t help us return to a more sustainable and enriching way of interacting with the earth. Most of all, going vegan does not absolve you from participation in the suffering of living beings or environmental destruction.

It is not the eating of animals at issue; that is a reactionary and short-sighted distraction. The issue is the system through which most of the animals we eat are supplied. As this system is tied to a larger system of irresponsible and abusive agriculture, it is absolutely necessary that we seek a solution to the entire problem. I have always said, in every interview and in my own work, that curbing meat consumption goes hand-in-hand with humane treatment of animals and responsible farming methods. I don’t eat very much meat and one look at my latest menu( ) will dispel your claims that I encourage wanton meat consumption. It will show menus that teem with fresh, seasonal vegetables in all preparations. The photos will display plates with reasonable, some may even say small, portions of meat.
I can actually still count the number of animals I’ve served over the past two years, a feat only possible because of the infrequency and purposeful nature with which I approach the use of meat. I abstain from soy at all costs and I don’t eat any seafood other than shellfish and a very, very short list of truly sustainable fish. As for the CCF connection, the fact that a website lists my blog as recommended reading does not align my philosophy with theirs. Welcome to the 21st century, we call it a blogroll. That list includes many publications dedicated to the subject of meat, animals and farming. Just as you wrote about me without contacting me, those sites are free to do the same. I am in no way connected to CCF, Humanewatch, Meatpaper or any other organization outside of The Butcher’s Guild.

For a long time now, my focus has been on consumer education and demystifying the green-washed marketing that both the government and food industry use to their advantage. The most effective tool for fighting this tactic is information. I will never assume to know what others should do; I find that to be a dangerous mindset. I can only share knowledge and remind people that they can make their own decisions. I rarely get into the ethics behind the actual choice of whether or not to eat meat, and I won’t be baited do it here either. I am in full support of everyone having the ability to make the very personal decision of what to feed themselves and their families. I am not interested in persuading people eat meat or abstain from it. I am interested in where ALL of their food, but especially their meat, comes from. I am invested in helping people to understand how these companies misrepresent their practices and in challenging consumers to make their own choices.

Our responsibility to be vigilantly engaged with the dismantling of the status quo doesn’t end with what is on our plates. We must all continue to vote with our forks, with our legs, with our wardrobes and with the power of our words. Every single day, we make choices about the world we want to live in. I will continue to fight for a world where I can trust where my food comes from and encourage others to do the same. As I funnel the momentum of the EB projects into my book, I am likewise finding a new outlet for an expanded vision of my practice. I have just co-founded 718 Collective, a band of fellow activist chefs, musicians and artists hell-bent on food justice for all. I am thrilled at the potential we have for reaching even more people in the community through the meshing of food, art, politics, music and fashion.
I am fairly certain many of your readers had never heard of me before you named me in your article. Thanks for the mention and this fortuitous occasion to shift from underground grassroots activism to representing a movement on the national stage. It was no coincidence that your article should come out the very day the contract for my upcoming book from Soft Skull Press,The Ethical Butcher: Real Food Rules, arrived on my doorstep. Such a tasty little platter of publicity…I could not have dreamed of a better way to announce the Spring 2013 hardcover release of my book.
Now that we’ve cleared up a few of your misrepresentations, I invite you to prepare your notes, and come at me again.

“Horror after Horror”: Eat Local, Kill Local, Part III

» October 4th, 2011

So, one of my posts on backyard slaughtering seems to have started a small brushfire of opposition. The usual insults: I’m a moron, a supporter of factory farming, and, as a result, deserve to die a slow, protein-deficit-induced death alongside my fellow vegans. Discourse!

To clarify, my intention in drawing upon published blogs to highlight the dangers of backyard slaughtering is to support my contention that this method of raising animals is rife with potential problems. I have made it clear that I respect people for taking charge of their food supply. But by no means is backyard slaughtering an adequate solution to the horros of factory farming. My own solution could not be more clear: we should not raise animals, say we care for them, and kill them for food. Is this such a radical proposition?

Just today, a response by an urban farmer chastised me (well, she actually threatened to butcher me) for suggesting that the horrors of raising animals for food are hardly unique to factory farming.  I took a moment to read further on this person’s blog and, lo, here’s what I find from June 2011:

Morning report sucks ass today.

 Good morning all I wish I had better news but this is life on the farm. We lost turkey chicks to the unseasonable rain yesterday, sad but once the turkey Mothers let their baby’s get wet they have little chance at survival.

This morning started out with coffee the news and a warm bed kitty, scott was still snoring. All was well in inside the house not even a dead rat to step on. At 8:00 I went out to let out the horde and I discovered horror after horror.

I let out the chickens in the big barn then opened the West wing and smelled blood. That is never a good thing as I have never seen a chicken get a period. I figured someone got a cut from sneaking thru the wire  to the big barn. NOT SO MUCH I opened the turkey/chicken pullet crate and just about fainted and threw up. Terrified chicks covered in their siblings blood. Missing heads,wings and legs. The mangled and half dead struggling in bloody filth while getting trampled by the terrified living.. Hang on I gotta cry for a bit….. I grabbed up the survivors thinking I could “save” them by sticking them in the brooder where they could dry off and warm up that is when I discovered I was holding one with no leg and the other had no wing. As sad as it is I got a pair of Felco #2 garden cutters and took off their heads to stop their suffering. I stomped upstairs and announced that “everything is fucked on the farm” Scott sans coffee and pants looked stricken. I blamed him he blamed me. You know marriage….

I will spend the day looking for how the bastard got in. As well as being a true farm tragedy this also a substantial monetary loss.  Anyone want to come and help me dig a mass grave and hold a funeral? Why does the word funeral have “fun” in it?

Over and over again backyard bird keepers tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about. But, you see, they’re the ones doing all the talking. And it’s bloody disturbing.


Fly in My Ointment: One that I Respect but Reject

» September 2nd, 2011

From: The York-New Times

Recently, James McWilliams penned a piece in The Atlantic about the psychology of raising animals (especially cattle) for food.

Being The Atlantic it approached the subject from the left and used the terminology of animal rights activists, though McWilliams did not give the impression he was a PETA type.

His assertion is that in modern agriculture, farmers (who he refers to as “factory farmers”) are able to remain happy after raising thousands of animals for the purpose of having them killed and eaten, because they are completely detached from the animals.

No emotional bond develops, so it’s no big deal to have the animals killed for food.

In order for McWilliams’ theory to be correct, the opposite must be true.

If someone raising thousands of cattle can only be happy because they remain emotionally detached from the animals, then someone raising just a few will be emotionally attached to their animals and therefore unable to have them harvested, or they must be unhappy.

As one of thousands of 4-H families in Nebraska and across the nation who raise just a few livestock animals each year, ours like the others, is living proof that his theory is incorrect.

I know many farmers who raise large numbers of cattle who also disprove his theory.

This year our family raised two steers, three heifers, and two lambs.

Our 4-H animals were washed and brushed, well fed, groomed for the fair, taken for walks, talked to, even read to, and had musical instruments played for them (though being exposed to the machinations of pre-teens learning the saxophone and drums might be considered animal cruelty).

Each animal had a name.  Our family worked with them every day, and an emotional attachment did develop to the animals, as it does each year, especially for the kids.

Some of the animals are continuing the cycle of life in cow or sheep herds now, and some are feeding Nebraska families, including ours.  And here’s where the fly lands in McWilliams’ ointment.

We know what our role in life is and we know what purpose the animals serve.

Our family, including my children, understands that each of the animals was put on the Earth for a purpose, and that our charge is to care for them the very best we can while or until that purpose is served.

Being emotionally and worldly aware, aware of life and death, where our food comes from, and of the charge God gave us as people, is what makes us happy.

Emotional attachment or not, whether 5 or 500, because we know our role and the role animals play, we don’t have to “deal” with the psychology of harvesting and eating what we raised.  It’s not an issue.

Our family and so many others disprove his theory.  As do all the farmers who feed all of us.

They care strongly for their animals because they understand it’s their charge to do so and it’s the right thing to do.

They have countless stories of pouring their hearts into an injured cow or sick calf beyond the point of financial loss and emotional grief.

And in the end, whether they raise 50 or 50,000, they don’t avoid dealing with the psychology of killing because they’re emotionally detached as McWilliams suggests.

They don’t have to deal with it because they too understand their role in life and the purpose of the animals they care for.  Emotional attachment or not, it’s not an issue to have to worry over or deal with.

They aren’t happy because they’re detached.  Quite the opposite is true.  They know exactly what’s going on, are quite self-aware, and grasp the concepts of life and death better than most people.

Perhaps McWilliams should have explored the possibility that they’re happy because they are so aware and because they live with the satisfaction of knowing they feed a hungry world.