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Why Vox’s Guide to ‘Ethical Meat’ is just an attempt to comfort liberals

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A Vox article called “7 ways to save money while eating more ethically” came across my desk this week, and I initially thought it was a parody. In it, Zack Beauchamp outlines how to spare your wallet while “helping” animals, by modifying your food consumerism choices. The perverse idea that the treatment of animals is more important than whether they live or die is nothing new,  and neither is speciesism, but this writer’s insistence on supporting well-known institutions of cruelty still astounds me. I’m going to list the seven tips from the article, and with the help of Gary Francione’s Abolitionist approach, I’ll give my unapologetic vegan perspective to each.

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Comic by Vegan Sidekick

1) Look for “animal welfare approved” and Global Animal Partnership labels

This section advises shoppers to clear their minds by purchasing meat that has been labelled in a way that promises that the now dead animal had time to stretch out, engage in natural behaviours, and hasn’t been fed hormones or antibiotics.

The most obvious problem with this, it that despite what we’re told, animals aren’t treated well with or without the label. Cows still have their babies taken away from them, and chickens are still debeaked, and that’s just two examples of an endless list of cruel practices. It’s completely meaningless to label meat as being in any less cruelty, as animal agriculture has many legal, standardized practices that are downright barbaric. This is the work of social reforms in action, and the idea that treating an animal well (despite them not being treated well at all)  is more important than whether or not we continue to use and kill them. This incredibly speciesist mentality would never be applied to humans, as it commonly is to nonhumans. Consider it from Gary’s perspective; “Does this mean that these regulationists would support campaigns for “humane” rape, child abuse, or slavery?” Shopping by arbitrary rankings of animal treatment doesn’t serve the animals being used. The partnerships of animal organizations and other wealthy corporations, like in the case of Global Animal Partnership, is about big business capitalizing on people’s desire to want to be ethical, while still encouraging people to buy meat. Wanting to eat animals that have suffered less completely ignores the fact that all suffering is unnecessary. Gary argues; “To fail to recognize that sentience alone is both necessary and sufficient for deserving the right not to be exploited and killed, is speciesist.” When the message that some forms of treatment are better than others is enforced by animal groups, the general public is led to believe there’s such a thing as “humane” meat. It’s one of the greatest myths of our present day, and I’ll explore it further as we go through the tips. But i’m going to lay this out simply and continually; If you care about animal welfare, go vegan.

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Photo from Bizarro.com

2) Don’t get tricked by meaningless labels like “natural” or “organic”

After completely falling for the “humane” labelling trick, the author uses the second tip to advise readers that “natural” and “organic” might be driving up the price of meat for no good reason, since the animal doesn’t care what it’s fed.

The argument here is lost, as the author and an interviewed economist reason that animals don’t have a preference between organic and non-organic corn. If anyone eating organic was ever doing so because they wanted to be sure animals had a healthy meal during their short time on Earth, they’d be completely hypocritical. It’s much more common for people to eat organic when they’re thinking about their own health. The ethical choice, again, is not about what an animal’s preference is under our jurisdiction, but whether or not we have the right to use animals at all. Since the dollar amount for organic and non-organic meat is the only argument here, don’t eat it at all.

3) For eggs, buy cage-free

Labels, labels, labels. I’m getting the impression that this writer thinks we all stand in the grocery store, fraught with which labels will show we care the most. This section tries to advise consumers to go cage-free, because that’s the only way to avoid contributing to chicken abuse.

This author completely ignores the fact that baby male chickens are still sent to the grinder, whether or not their mothers are caged. A byproduct of the egg industry, why is their treatment ignored in the quest for ethical eating? And the hens that do live “cage-free” really end up tightly packed together, side by side, in huge facilities.

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Graphic from Hannah Williams of One Green Planet

Beauchamp goes on to support “enriched” cages for the people who like to penny-pinch, because a famous animal slaughterhouse designer (Temple Grandin) gave them a thumbs up. What?! We’re taking ethics endorsements from someone who has made it more efficient and economical for big business to continue slaughtering animals? Gary says “I think that most of these reforms would occur anyway because they seek to modify practices that are economically inefficient or, to the extent that they increase production costs, they do so slightly and industry benefits overall (e.g., the “enriched” battery cage).” This is another clear example of consumer confusion, brought about by corporate greed-motivated endeavours. Slightly less cramped conditions does make the use of chickens any more excusable. If you care about chickens, go vegan.

4) For cow products, buy grass-fed

Okay, I get it. Society is lost in a sea of marketing. Suggestion four says that grass-fed “cow products” are better because animals get to spend time nibbling grass in the meadows, instead of being force-fed corn and soy in a factory.

Honestly, where do I begin? If the perpetuation of Old MacDonald’s farm was ever in danger of disappearing, here’s reassurance it hasn’t gone anywhere. The feed supplied to a meat or dairy cow has nothing to do with what is good for them. Time and time again, the notion that a “happy” cow can be farmed and slaughtered is shovelled down our throats. It’s not anymore ethical to give a cow a name, a field, and kisses before you kill it, than it is to just kill it at all. Their diet is enforced by budget plans and influenced by market trends. When diet “gurus” encourage grass-fed meat, people listen. When animal rights group inappropriately agree that a grass-fed scenario beats grain-fed, people start to believe it’s a more ethical choice. I’m going to get just as repetitive as Beauchamp, and say that if ethics are your priority, the only ethical choice is not eating cows.

5) Restaurants are mostly bad — even “local,” “farm-to-table” places

Apparently, if you care about animals, restaurants are a no-no. Assuming Beauchamp has never been to a vegan restaurant, he says that short of calling a restaurant supplier to find out if the meat they serve is ethical, there’s nothing you can do. Better learn to cook.

There is literally a Portlandia skit on this. Not unlike making a villain of meat producers, and not the people paying them to produce it, blaming a restaurant for serving meat is ridiculous. Since we know “humane” meat is a myth, no meat-serving restaurant is safe. Even if you did take the time, comically, to call up a farm to learn more about their practices, I can promise you one thing; they’re killing animals and you’re paying them to do so. That statement rings true whether you’re buying a package of meat and cooking it, or paying someone else to. I happen to be a huge advocate for cooking and being more in control of your food – but I’m not about to pat someone on the back for grilling up a steak themselves. But this entire debate is about eating ethically, not about whether or not reading the packaging on meat is going to change if an animal lives or dies.

6) Instead, eat at Chipotle or McDonald’s

Here’s a gem of wisdom – if you don’t have money, eat fast food. Perhaps the most ludicrous advice yet (but wait until you see seven), advocating for chains that have “better” meat practices makes zero sense. Not to mention the little GMO sting in this chapter, calling it “junk science.”

Yes, I’ve heard that Chipotle once stopped serving pork for five minutes because someone exposed an ugly video of one of their suppliers. And wow, McDonald’s only needs TEN YEARS to go cage free? We’re talking about two of the strongest fast food markets in the world, responsible for unethical animal practices across the board. To say that these places are better than their competitors at recognizing animal welfare says nothing, it’s merely a sign that their marketing teams are larger. As I already discussed, there should not be markers for how cruel we can be, before it’s considered too cruel. It doesn’t matter if they pretend to care about the welfare of an animal, because they are motivated by trends and the people who are keeping them in business.  As Gary says, with campaigns like these “they not only get to increase profits, but they get the “animal movement.” It’s all to keep up the facade. And to suggest that a restaurant’s meat is somehow a bigger faux pas than McDonald’s pristine hunks of animal, is madness. If animals were cared for at all, it wouldn’t matter what table you find yourself enjoying them on. It’s all the same unnecessary and evil exploitation, fast food is just done at a higher rate of production (ie: animals die faster).

7) The single best thing you can do for animals and your wallet: Eat less meat

This is the problem. Just as one kind of animal isn’t more ethically acceptable than another, choosing to eat less less animals doesn’t make you a more ethical consumer. Since people reading the original Vox post already believe that we shouldn’t impose unnecessary suffering on animals, I remind my audience that all suffering for animal products is unnecessary. When we support the industries who participate in “happy exploitation,” we continue the snowball rolling, and give more people permission to remain comfortable with animal use. The very best thing we can do for animals, and subsequently our wallets, is to go vegan. Even Beauchamp agrees that fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods are the cheaper, more ethical option. Zack, take your own advice, and realize that the problem isn’t some labels, but all labels regarding animals. If we can apply Gary’s moral imperative to animals first, and not our own motives for status or acceptance, there’s only one piece of advice that matters; Go vegan.

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Meat is not the problem, all animal products are the problem.

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