My opinions on animal welfare campaigns have definitely changed over the last year or so and articles like this high-blood-pressure-inducing piece from Food and Wine illustrate the main reason my position has changed.
Let me start by stating what should be obvious: I’m not against better conditions for animals. Welfare improvements are fine and dandy in theory because, hey, “less bad” is better. But many times, as with “free range” eggs, the supposed welfare gains are nonexistent. Instead, what we get is consumers feeling ethically better about their choice to eat eggs and an industry that can charge more money for their products. You can bet the industry is making more profit, too, or they wouldn’t be making these changes. We’re doing the industry’s marketing for them when we tout these supposed welfare improvements as “victories.” The industry looks better for supposedly treating animals better, consumers feel less guilty about their consumption, and it does nothing to convince people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of eggs. Yes, they may buy a few fewer because of the cost, but their fundamental thought process about animal products isn’t being challenged.
I used to think getting people to eat free range eggs, organic milk, etc. might be a “stepping stone” to veganism. These days, though, I’m becoming more and more convinced that they’re steps backwards as we see more and more former vegetarians going back to meat.
Even former vegetarian cookbook authors are jumping the grass-fed, free-range bandwagon:
Even chef Mollie Katzen, author of the vegetarian bible the Moosewood Cookbook, is experimenting with meat again. “For about 30 years I didn’t eat meat at all, just a bite of fish every once in a while, and always some dairy,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been eating a little meat. People say, ‘Ha, ha, Mollie Katzen is eating steak.’ But now that cleaner, naturally fed meat is available, it’s a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet. Somehow, it got ascribed to me that I don’t want people to eat meat. I’ve just wanted to supply possibilities that were low on the food chain.”
This is infuriating on so many levels. For one, people are going to read this and think, “Wow. Mollie Katzen, former vegetarian cookbook author, is eating meat again. I guess vegetarianism isn’t that necessary of a goal after all.” Trust me, Mollie, I’m not saying, “ha ha” at this.
Also frustrating is the implication that a vegan diet is “incomplete” when she says, “[N]aturally fed meat is… a great option for anyone who’s looking to complete his diet.” We don’t need dead animal on our plate to be complete and as a vegetarian cookbook author, she should realize this.
It’s bad enough when people that are considering vegetarianism or veganism don’t go all the way because their moral sensibilities are sated by the promise of happy meat, but it’s even worse when we have former vegetarians (and vegetarian role models — even though it pains me to type that phrase) backsliding and speaking out about it.
The article’s author, Christine Lennon, closes with this: “Convincing those people that eating meat can improve the welfare of the entire livestock population is a tough sell.” Allow me to close with a response:
It’s a “tough sell” because it’s cop-out reasoning that’s used to justify the consumption and commodification of animals for our tastes.
What is the solution? Should we put an end to all welfare campaigns? I don’t have the answers, but I know I won’t spend my own time or resources promoting such ideals. I spend enough time already trying to counter the message that too many people are taking from these campaigns: that welfare alone is enough. It’s not.