|Enewsletter • November 22, 2002|
The Vegan Outreach office will be closed from November 23 to November 30.
"Matthew Scully, a 43-year-old Republican insider, a one-time special assistant to the most powerful man on Earth, recently left his White House job to defend farm animals – mostly chickens, cows and pigs. The main platform for this defense is laid out in his first book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.
"What sets this book apart from the multitude of other animal-advocacy books that come out year after year? Besides the fact that Scully was, up until five months ago, a special assistant and senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush, the presiding lodestar of the Republican Party, the book has garnered attention because of its eloquently simple appeal. Scully's argument for the protection of animals is not based on rights, liberation or legal sophistry, but on the old – some would say old-fashioned – idea of mercy. 'We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality,' he writes in the book's introduction, 'but in a sense because they don't; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.'"
"This little piggy went to market.
"This little piggy stayed home.
"And this little piggy has a high-powered team of lawyers from Justice Department headquarters in Washington arguing it tastes like chicken.
"In what is shaping up as one of the most unusual advertising disputes ever to land in federal court, the Bush administration filed an emergency motion to save the National Pork Board and its slogan, 'Pork, the other white meat.'
"Yesterday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay moments before the courthouse closed for the weekend."
A must see! (requires Flash plug-in)
"State environmental officials have approved the production increase at a Smithfield Packing Co., Inc. slaughterhouse by 1 million animals per year. According to the new wastewater discharge permit, the Tar Heel, N.C.-based plant, is allowed to kill up to 7,988,000 animals in the next 12 months, and 8,488,000 animals in subsequent months."
"Richard Foltz, an Alachua County voter who voted yes on the pig amendment, said he supported the measure based on a personal belief that factory farming of any kind posed significant environmental and public health dangers. 'I have no idea what the agenda was of the people who started the measure,' said Foltz, who teaches religion at the University of Florida. 'But I think that all factory farming is wrong. I don't think it is an acceptable way for humans to get their food.'"
"A personality test may do a better job than standard examinations in predicting a man's heart disease risk, researchers said on Sunday after finding a close link between hostility and heart symptoms."
"'To me, the biggest blessing of Thanksgiving is when the people I love get together and cook,' said Julie Jordan, a cookbook author and a consultant on vegetarian foods for Wegmans supermarkets. 'We have a whole day. We drink wine, listen to music, dance in the kitchen, talk about our lives and create. Because my life is filled with cooks, we each bring ingredients we are especially fond of, then brainstorm as to what to make with them. Together, we try things we would never have made on our own.'"
Last week, we ran an article regarding the activist community's response to the New York Times Magazine's powerful article regarding animal interests and rights. Here are some other comments by different people:
About Steven Davis's argument cited in the article:
If Davis had done the arithmetic logically on a per-capita or per-kg protein basis, then his numbers would work in favor of vegetarianism by a wide margin. Davis's mistake was to assume that an omnivore and a vegetarian would use equal areas of land, not accounting for the different levels of productivity in grazing and crop production per unit area. Davis suggests that the number of animals killed per hectare in crop production is twice as great as the number killed per hectare in ruminant grazing. If this is true, then as long as crop production uses less than half as many hectares of land as ruminants to produce the same amount of food, a vegetarian will kill fewer animals than an omnivore. In fact, crop production uses less than half as many hectares as grass-fed dairy and one-tenth as many hectares as grass-fed beef to produce the same amount of protein. In a year, a farmer can produce 1000 kg protein on as few as: 1.01 hectares planted with soy and corn, 2.61 hectares used as pasture for grass-fed dairy cows, or 10.0 hectares used as pasture for grass-fed beef. (Source 1; Source 2) Thus, even without counting the number of farm animals killed, a vegan population would kill the fewest number of wild animals per capita, followed closely by a lacto-vegetarian population, and as a distant third, an omnivore population.
I didn't take his anti-vegetarianism to be based on Davis' numbers (to which we will have an analysis relatively soon). Rather, it is based on the "Logic of the Larder," which says that "food" animals can have lives such that they are better off existing for human purposes, as opposed to not existing at all in a vegan world. This is an open question. Not only do I think that he is right that it is possible that a world that is not strictly vegan could be ethically preferable, I think that admitting this in our advocacy is useful in having people take us seriously. They can see that our message is not about veganism or a specific view of "animal rights," but about suffering. Our case is definitely strongest when we focus on suffering.
"In the New York Times, Michael Pollan has exposed the ''stupefying crime'' of factory farms, calling for a boycott to avoid complicity in the animals' agony. He contends that, if not vegetarian, we should personally witness exactly how the animals we eat live and die. What more can we honestly expect from society today?"
What more can we expect? Veganism!
[Editor's note: Can we expect veganism?
Here we have a highly-intelligent, well-educated author. Pollan has read more pro-animal literature and visited more actual farms and slaughterhouses than most vegans. He is strongly opposed to animal cruelty and contends that we should take the interests of animals seriously. Yet he rejects strict vegetarianism.
Given all this, how can we think that we can, and must expect veganism?
Oddly enough, the opinion question in this week's student newspaper at Carnegie Mellon (where Anne Green, Vegan Outreach VP, teaches) was "Would you ever consider becoming vegan?" Everyone said "No way!" I wonder what the answers would be to, "Would you read an article in the New York Times with the title 'The Unnatural Idea of Animal Rights'?", or "Would you consider boycotting food that comes from farms shown to cause animal suffering?"
Few people go vegan "cold turkey." Rather, they change their diet gradually. If we criticize any non-veg step, or distract from anti-cruelty arguments by insisting on adherence to animal "rights," we decrease the likelihood that people will even start to change.
Insisting on our personal conclusion reminds me of the vegan who took pride in the fact that, while his friends said they could never be vegan, they "admire my idealism." Is that what we want – admiration?
Even if veganism were the desired end, rather than simply a tool to reducing suffering, I see no reason to think it is realistic or constructive to think that we can expect veganism – and nothing else – from society today. See also: Welfare and Liberation. -Matt Ball]
We shoot ourselves in the foot when we put ethical veganism (and sometimes, I think, our own vegan pride and "image") ahead of the critters for whose sake we are ethical vegans. The vast majority of people being where they're at today (and probably for many years to come), an appeal to ethical omnivorism a la Pollan could do vastly more for me and mine (if I were a factory farmed animal) than a demand for no-compromise veganism. What makes me, the would-be farm animal, happiest is to see people passionately making the case for both of these complementary, animal-friendly alternatives. Either way I win. I might even prefer a very compassionate animal farming system (moreso than the ones endorsed by Pollan) to none at all - one, for example, where I don't have my life snatched away from me as soon as I hit the prime of my life (if not sooner). Yet, as a human being, the idea of taking even a humanely raised animal's life when it's still healthy - for food I don't need - is something I can't stomach, even as I would (paradoxically) grieve the extinction of cows grazing peacefully in the field, as many do here on the Canadian prairie. We need to ask ourselves, "what would the animals say?" And we need to let committed omnivores discover their own ways to behave compassionately and responsibly toward farm animals, with education and encouragement from us.
-Syd Baumel, Editor, Winnipeg Vegetarian
Consider what Pollan is actually saying: we must boycott factory farms and, if we continue to eat meat, we must see how the animals live and how they die. This is certainly a radical position. Do we really think that there is something else we can say to change the mind of someone willing to visit a farm and slaughterhouse? We have everything to lose, and nothing to gain, by quibbling with Pollan over any details. And we have everything to gain by endorsing his views.
Unlike some of the more strict utilitarians, I'm much more interested in minimizing intense suffering than maximizing pleasure. If we are going to discuss the merits of a somewhat ideal world in which animals are really raised humanely, the question is: at what level of suffering is one's life no longer worth living? That's very hard to say. And how many tortured lives can justify the happy lives of others? For example, because cats and dogs exist, some cats and dogs will end up in the homes of sick, sadistic people and will suffer long, torturous lives. Do all the happy dogs and cats' lives justify these that will be tortured?...
For where society is now, I think his article is good, except that it gives people the false impression that typical "free-range" is a lot better than factory farmed, when it is about the same as factory-farmed for many animals. Pollan talks about the American Humane Association's Free Farmed Animal programs, but they allow beak trimming of chickens. The Animal Welfare Institute, on the other hand, has strict guidelines for pig farming. I would have told him to emphasize the fact that if you don't know the farm, then you should assume it is inhumane. If AWI's approval system ever gets bigger, then it could make this unnecessary. But, with bigness comes inevitable problems with people violating the rules...
I think his article could have gone either way and would have been just as effective. He could have come around to being vegetarian and many of his readers would have followed him there that otherwise are just going to keep eating McDonald's with the idea that eating humanely raised animals is better, but never doing anything about it. It will get put on their list of things to do if they ever get the chance. And they won't.
The main benefit I see from the article is that it possibly legitimizes concerns about factory farming in the eyes of policymakers who happen to read the article.
I've read that NY Times magazine article a few times now and looked at the generally interesting (and critical) things people had to say about it online. He does an excellent job presenting and explaining the basics of Singer's Animal Liberation. And the details on factory farming are good (but not as good as the Washington Post's "They Die Piece by Piece" articles from a few years ago. It seems that around p. 64, the article loses focus and jumps from topic to topic: a lot of dubious ecological, agricultural and medical claims are made, which I think the author recognizes as such....
I'm not too impressed with his "humanocarnivore" proposal. It's still speciesistic and it'd be hard to see how a "humanocarnivore" is truly doing the best he can, all things considered. However, of course, were his "suggestions" implemented, things would be dramatically better. So his proposals are rather "radical", in a sense.
After the NYT article came out, a longtime friend of mine wrote to say: "I think I understand your life choice to pursue animal rights better after reading the NYT Magazine article." This is from a brilliant woman who has been vegan for 15 years. She has been one of my staunchest defenders among all my hard core human rights friends who wonder at my decision to work full-time in animal advocacy. And yet somehow, this article was able to convey something to her that nothing else ever has.
We have to focus on how people can help relieve animal suffering and promote animal fulfillment via a continuum of dietary changes. Black and white, all or nothing, is a very hard sell to most of the people who buy those billions of animal carcasses each year.