On Extreme Incrementalism


Over the weekend, Stephanie over at Animal Rights and AntiOppression shared a video (embedded at the end of this post), which comes courtesy of the Tribe of Heart folks. In the video, James LaVeck discusses an event held by the Ohioans for Humane Farming, a “coalition of animal welfare, family farming, food safety, and environmental advocates advocating for more humane standards to prevent cruel factory farming practices in Ohio.” The fundraising event was promoted heavily as having “delicious food” and namechecked famous chefs involved. “Hey,” you might think, “I bet they were serving up some great vegan food!”

You’d be wrong.

In actuality, the event featured “grass-fed cheeseburgers with cheddar,” goat crostini, chicken confit, goat with pesto, and meatballs made of lambs. This, apparently, is the HSUS’s idea of “delicious food.”

LaVeck then points us to the Ohio group’s about page, which lists other members of the coalition, including several local humane societies, sanctuaries, and animal welfare groups alongside the Great American Lamb Company, cattle ranchers, and other farmers and organizations whose livelihoods depend on killing animals.

Listen. Enough is enough. Let’s cut the crap and get to the point: we don’t need national organizations that supposedly exist to help animals a.) forming coalitions with people who directly benefit from killing animals and b.) serving and promoting meat at their fund-raising events. I’m tired of hearing about incremental reform. I’m tired of hearing about reaching out to the family farmer. I’m tired of hearing about different approaches aiming for the same result. I’m not interested (and I don’t think the animals are, either) in approaches that actively promote the consumption of meat and other animal products.

The HSUS has some explaining to do. And if I were any of the animal organizations listed as part of the coalition, I’d be embarrassed and working to get my group’s name removed from that page pronto. All the good work that they do could get quickly tarnished by a coalition like this.

Keep in mind I’m not criticizing every person in these organizations. I know and have met dozens of people in HSUS, COK, Farm Sanctuiary, etc. and most are good people with good intentions. But when HSUS pulls something like this, they–as an organization–have to be held accountable. We need to call them out. We need to criticize tactics (without making it personal) and get an honest discussion happening. You don’t get people to stop eating meat by encouraging them to eat meat. (But you may get people eating meat again, churning out another one of those annoying vocal ex-vegans.)

Stephanie sums it up nicely (emphasis added):

Please, let’s hold each other accountable, even when that’s difficult to do (and yes, even when we know there are good, well-intentioned individuals inside groups). Please, let’s firmly stand together to say that this is not okay. Please, let’s change course. Please, let’s stop making excuses for what is inexcusable. Please, animal rights advocates, let’s fight for what we actually believe and stop supporting groups and campaigns that are less than honest, that do not reflect what we know to be right and just, and that give credibility and the “humane” label to the exploitation and killing of animals. Let’s show more loyalty to the nonhuman animals than to the groups that keep selling them out.

19 Responses to “On Extreme Incrementalism”

  1. somber

    ya, they’ve been called out now, and responded. so give us the recipe for the non incremental vegan revolution, how do we turn the masses into instant vegans?

  2. ryan

    Obviously, there’s no way to turn the world into instant vegans. But serving up the animals you’re supposedly working to help ain’t the way to do it.

    Even though I don’t agree with incremental approaches, I can at least respect the intention behind legislative reform, etc. What I can’t get with is the explicit promotion of (and actual serving of) “humane” meat. With moves like this, the HSUS is not just doing the meat industry’s promotion for them, they’re becoming a reseller.

    Let’s start with something simple: if you’re raising money to help farm animals: don’t serve farm animals. I think that’s a good place to begin.

  3. somber

    agreed, everyone seems to agree, don’t serve animals…but what is the alternative to incrementalism? that doesn’t end up with more suffering per life?

  4. Paul York

    Climate change and “food justice” events have, for years, been serving meat at their conferences. A lot of hypocrisy among enviros. and HSUS apparently. I’m glad it was addressed here.

  5. ryan

    I think it’s difficult to say what would work best on a grand scale in the AR movement because the orgs with the resources have focused so much of their time and effort on welfare. That’s not to say that HSUS or other national organizations don’t promote veganism – they do – but they sabotage their own efforts by promoting things like humane meat that let people feel OK about consuming animal products.

    I’d like to see how things would change with a simple shift of focus/resources and a more ethically consistent stance from the national organizations.

  6. somber

    knowing that we all come to veganism in different ways, it’s hard to say really whether the shift to ‘humane’ foods is not the step before vegetarianism or veganism for some people. We could say that people feel better about eating it, but maybe it’s just their step toward veganism. I posted on Sephanies page and I will say again. I don’t know 1 meat eater that cares enough to go out of their way to get ‘humane’ raised meat. They don’t care, so a shift to people caring is a good thing, it’s a good start, maybe both sides of this debate are crucial to the movement, one gets you to care, the next gets you to care more. At least that’s the way I’m hoping it will work, cause there are way too many, most, who don’t care at all.

  7. ryan

    I’ve wrestled with similar thoughts, somber. And I think that, on a personal level, if what gets someone to veganism is by way of “humane” meat, that’s OK. I think that incrementalism can work on a personal level for certain people (for me, I eased into vegetarianism over a few-month period and then it took me several years before I went vegan). However, on an institutional level, I don’t think it works as well.

    I think capital-“We” need to encourage veganism and give them the resources to get there, but understand that on an individual level, people will find the route/method that will work for them.

  8. somber

    as far as I know all of those AR groups involved encourage veganism, and that is great, but like I said I don’t know even one meat eater that will buy humane..let alone go without meat. I really like the idea of vegan feed-ins, it’s a positive way of introducing vegan foods.

  9. Elizabeth

    Regarding what we can do if we cannot make the entire world instantly vegan: we can make the world vegan one person at a time, or two at a time, or five at a time, or a classroom-full at a time, or an auditorium-full at a time. We can educate people about veganism, introduce them to the notion that animals do not belong to us, explain the suffering that results when the law treats animals as property.

    What the HSUS and other groups have done in Ohio is worse than nothing. They are making people feel better about eating the flesh, milk and eggs of tortured animals. No need to go vegan when carnism is endorsed by the HSUS, people naturally think. The idea that such capitulation helps reduce suffering would be laughable if it were not such a profound tradgedy. Even the anemic, pitiful “changes” these boards recommend are routinely ignored, with a twinkle in the eye of torturers who know that the “standards” will help sell more flesh.

  10. Glenn L.

    I am totally in agreement with the notion that fundraisers (or any other event) involving the serving of dead animals is grotesque.

    Here is the tricky part, does supporting the notion of treating animals better include supporting the notion of serving dead animals at a fundraiser? In other words, do all of the organizations listed as wanting to “prevent cruel factory farming practices” also support serving food from dead animals?

    It appears that way, and I am going to write to Compassion Over Killing, United Poultry Concerns and Mercy For Animals and ask them specifically if they do. I would urge others to do the same.

    Hopefully, they lent their support to better treatment for animals, not to fund raising events that killed animals.

  11. somber

    one person at a time is pretty freakin’ slow in a world of 6 billion people Elizabeth, I am all for less suffering in the meantime, people are not going to eat MORE meat because of better treatment of farm animals, few if any will even spend 2 more dollars to buy meat from a non-factory farm.

  12. Lesley

    This was not an HSUS event nor did the money go to HSUS.

  13. Lesley

    Also, all HSUS events are vegan, unlike those of many other national organizations. Have you contacted the groups which are actually serving animals at the events?

  14. ryan

    Lesley — The HSUS actively promoted this event and sent invitations to it (a screenshot of which can be seen at 1:29 on the video). In the *very first paragraph*, they promoted the “delicious food” being served. Whether HSUS received money from it or not isn’t the point. The point is that they fund and participate in this coalition and actively promote and participate in an event that’s serving “delicious” meat.

  15. Allen

    The implication of not supporting efforts to end the worst abuses of factory farming for fear that it may make some people feel better about eating meat is that we should continue to allow animals to suffer as much as possible so it is easier for us to guilt people into going vegan. I don’t agree with that at all. I think we can and should promote veganism and welfare reform at the same time.

  16. alice in LALA land

    actually all HSUS events are not vegan.. one is Sacramento at the capitol served chicken kabobs.. I was there.. I saw it.. Wayne Pacelle was the keynote speaker.i was shocked to see him speaking to a crowd munching on the flesh of birds.

  17. Louie Gedo

    Excellent blog post Ryan. Thank you for having the courage and clarity to share this important issue in the manner you have.

    Here’s my position on the main point LaVeck is making in the Silencing The Lambs video and the OFHF campaign:

    If you care about the protection of farmed animals today and for future generations of countless animals who will be targeted for hyper exploitation and condemned to death for no reason other than to perpetuate the tradition of meat-eating …then this call to action is for you.

    James LaVeck, producer of “The Witness” and “Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home”, offers a poignantly simple and seminal message concerning the disturbing trend of collaboration between businesses that kill animals and animal organizations that claim to protect the very same animals that are being killed by those businesses. To get a better understanding of this pernicious alliance, please watch this important video “Silencing The Lambs.” – http://vimeo.com/13613159.

    In Silencing the Lambs, we learn about a coalition called Ohioans For Humane Farms (OFHF). Clicking on the red LEARN MORE banner on the OFHF site ( http://www.ohiohumane.com ) will bring you to the page of endorsers. This list includes the likes of businesses such as Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms and Farm Forward (animal exploiting advocacy groups), Fox Hollow Farm and Grassland Graze ( smaller scale farms where animals are readied for the kill ), and Fire, Food, & Drink and Chipotle (restaurants serving meat and animal products) that have teamed up alongside HSUS and other animal advocacy / protection organizations. What this unabashed collaboration serves to do is reinforce the notion that so long as animals are exploited less cruelly that it is morally acceptable to eat them. Tragically this is precisely the message that is being fed to the public. Gene Bauer’s Farm Sanctuary is a notable endorser of OFHF’s disturbing, implied message to buy from humane farms. A farmed animal sanctuary signing on to promote or endorse ‘humane’ animal killing and meat eating makes me think, what’s next on the humane farming menu…sanctuary meat? Perhaps?

    The endorsements made by animal protection organizations of “humane” farming practices are by-and-large a boon to animal agribusiness as evidenced in http://www.HumaneMyth.com . Even Wayne Pacelle in the OFHF campaign video ( http://vodpod.com/watch/3211297-ohioans-for-humane-farms ) ironically acknowledges the economic benefits to animal farms when he says: “We have a great opportunity to turn the situation around. By giving animals more space we will enhance food safety, level the playing field for farmers, especially family farmers, and protect the environment.” Also In the same video Mr. Pacelle chillingly describes the horrors of factory farming as the viewer is presented with tear jerking video images of animals on farms in the background – yet he never once decried that killing animals is wrong..

    I feel that there is no better time than now to speak the truth and ask for what we know to be just, compassionate, morally right, and in the best interest of the animals. There is no time to beat around the bush or to be overly concerned about offending those who make a living by killing innocent animals. We are being asked to support ‘humane’ farming (a true oxymoron) campaigns and initiatives, all of which appear to be helpful to the animals, but when dissected are revealed to be little more than a fundraising construct. These husbandry reform campaigns do little more than to:
    1. divide many of those individuals who are trying to find in a movement a resolute leadership with a cohesive message of opposition to all forms of unnecessary violence, and
    2. distract from the more important duty of working to shift public perception of animals as mere commodities by entrenching us in a time and resource black hole by focusing exclusively or primarily on the modulation of husbandry (exploitation) practices.

    Ultimately this path will kill more animals because people, including notable numbers of vegetarians and vegans, are led to believe that consuming animal products adorned with bucolic looking labels that are stamped with one of the numerous seals of approval like the Humane Certified Raised and Handled seal is an ethically responsible dietary choice.

    Finally, it should be clear by now that I condemn campaigns (and initiatives) by animal protection organizations which endorse or promote in one fashion or another the ‘humane’ exploitation and killing of animals as they are ill-conceived, counter-productive, cause confusion and divisiveness amongst activists, and are harmful to countless generations of farmed animals. Similarly, I would condemn campaigns promoting ‘humane’ cosmetics testing on animals, ‘humane’ fur farming, and ‘humane’ bull fighting, Wouldn’t you?

    Please join me and others in speaking up right now by exercising our activist hearts and minds to question authority and at the same time to spread the message that if people want a truly humane and compassionate alternative to consuming meat and animal products derived from factory farms to consider instead choosing to not consume meat and animal products.

    Thank you for your time and consideration of my views.

    Louie Gedo

    My blog link for this letter

  18. AF

    Are you serious? There are this many of you that think the world might even have a chance of going vegan? I work at a Whole Foods in Missouri and i gotta tell you, it will NEVER HAPPEN, short of a global meat disease epidemic. Meat eaters are really not going to stop eating meat as long as there is money and viability to do so. And the whole point of humane farming is to prevent the daily torture of the animals who are already born to be eaten….i.e., animals that would be torn apart by real wild animals even if released from captivity. Dont miss the forest for the trees!

  19. AF

    @Allen….i heartily concur. I know plenty of vegans who would be shocked at the selfishness on display here.

Leave a Reply