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Body Count

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We often hear shouts of “victory” and “progress” whenever there is a news article about decreased meat consumption, an increase in non-dairy milk options or other vegan products for sale, more vegan options at restaurants, an improvement in welfare standards of farmed animals or promises not to use this or that animal for our entertainment. We are told those campaigns such as “Meatless Mondays” or others similarly encouraging a reduction in consumption of animal foods are successful. I am never exactly sure how the success of such campaigns is objectively measured and I am generally sceptical, so I use two of my standard questions to evaluate these claims. One is “body count” and the other is “follow the money”.

I was in law school in the mid-90s and my criminal law professor (hi Prof Slocum!) taught us “body count”. He would set out a scenario, we would count the bodies and that would help us spot the possible crimes committed. In addition, the term was a reference to the heavy metal band out of Los Angeles and I am a fan of Ice-T who was their front man. It should be obvious why body count is helpful here. If the current prevailing advocacy approaches are successful, we should be seeing fewer bodies.

“Follow the money” is a phrase coined in the film All The President’s Men. The application here is very simple. Where and how are people, companies and governments spending money and what does that tell us?

Unfortunately for the animals (and us), we are far from winning or even truly progressing. Our advocacy approaches are mired in ambiguity and confusion. We actively promote reduction of consumption instead of simply advocating for veganism. We advocate for “welfare” and “humane” standards or show graphic films and images all without ever simultaneously challenging fundamental speciesist and unjust notions regarding the use of animals. Instead, the primary focus invariably remains on treatment and that is insufficient to significantly shift the overwhelming majority view that it is ok to use animals.

We are reluctant to be clear that being fair means going vegan in the vain hope that a baby steps approach will somehow magically convert people to veganism. Without a repositioning of our advocacy approach, without unequivocally advocating for veganism as the least we can do for the animals, without nonviolent vegan education, in other words, with the status quo, the animals are still dying by the billions and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Below is a sample of global animal foods industries. It is sobering reading. You tell me if you think our current advocacy approach is working.

Global projections show that meat production will “grow by 17% over the coming decade.” Chickens’ bodies will make up the bulk of this growth and “account for over half of the predicted increase in demand – perhaps reflecting the fact that, compared to other meat products, it isn’t subject to widespread religious prohibitions – and as a result it will become the world’s most consumed meat protein.”

USA

  • American meat consumption is higher now than it was in the 1970s and Americans eat more chickens now than they ever have before. Sure, consumption of cows and pigs has decreased, but tell that to the “poultry” including chickens and turkeys (as well as the cows and pigs, although, it seems Americans are not keen on eating sheep).
  • However, Americans are expected to increase their beef consumption this year by half a pound (227g) per person, to 54.3 pounds (25kg) per person. Why is that? Because the price of beef has declined due to people demanding/eating more chicken instead of cows. Meat reduction campaigns do not lead to veganism. They lead to a shift in demand from cows to chickens.
  • In fact, the US is slated for record red meats and poultry production for 2015 and 2016 and the projections are for continued growth in all red meat and poultry categories.
  • Ah bacon! The troll’s favourite, is however, not a growth market in the USA. Consumption of pig meat is flat in the USA. However, pig meat production is at an all time high and pork prices are at an all time low. The lower price will entice more Americans to eat pork products and it will also make them attractive exports to foreign markets, such as China.
  • Surely, dairy production must be on the decrease with all those wonderful and delicious new non-dairy milks and cheeses on our shelves! Not so much. According to the USDA, there are 9.3 million dairy cows in the US, which was an increase from the historic low of 9 million in 2004. The numbers are “low” (really, 9 million per year is low?) because “improving technology and genetics have allowed milk output per cow to rise steadily, increasing by 88 percent since 1980 and reaching a record-high annual average of 22,393 pounds of milk per cow in 2015. The result has been strong growth in U.S. milk production over the period, which corresponds to growing domestic and international markets for dairy products—particularly for cheese and various dairy-based food ingredients.” So, sure those non-dairy products on the shelves are a nice addition to the panoply of consumer offerings and they are tasty, but their presence does not mean that there are fewer cows getting exploited and killed each year.
  • But you have heard about all those dairy farms closing! Yes, that is true. Dairy farms are closing, but the reason is not due to a decrease in consumption. The reason is due to simple market forces. Large companies, who can leverage economies of scale, can produce more dairy milk more cheaply, and therefore make more profit, than even large private farms (who are also heavily subsidised by the State). This is simple, basic capitalism. Walmart has announced “it would build and operate its own dairy processing plant in Indiana with the aim of supplying private-label milk to hundreds of its stores starting in 2017” because they will be able to “’further reduce operating costs and pass those savings on to our customers so that they can save money’”. Walmart is not the only supermarket chain doing this by the way. Kroger and H-E-B have already made this switch. If these big companies are getting into the dairy business it means that it is lucrative to do so.

China

The recent news sending frissons of delight throughout the Veganverse is that China’s new dietary guidelines recommend halving individual meat consumption. A large animal charity has capitalised on this news, teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron and they have made a video targeting American and Chinese audiences, urging them to reduce their meat consumption for the sake of the planet. Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? Not really because actually the opposite is the reality, just follow the money.

Europe

  • In the UK, “92% of adults eat at least one type of red meat” per month. Despite a slight dip in consumption following the WHO’s finding that red meat is a carcinogen and the higher price of red meat compared to alternatives such as pork, the industry expects that the sector will “overcome its short-term difficulties” and that consumers will return to consuming beef. They expect an £8.1 billion increase over the next five years with 2015’s production already increased.
  • Consumption of pig meat in Europe is stagnant to declining, but its production is increasing. This seemingly conflicting trend “suggests that a higher proportion of pig meat is being consumed in foodservice or as processed products, which may fit in better with modern lifestyles. Some may even be used for purposes other than human consumption.” How much money producers make from these different uses of pig meat is less than how much they would make if consumers ate pork directly, but it does not mean that fewer pigs are being killed.
  • The UK is eating more eggs now than in the last 50 years. In part, this is due to more people “moving towards meat free regimes – either permanently or occasionally”. Hello Meatless Mondays! Sure, someone might skip having a burger on that day, but it does not mean that they are any closer to going vegan. They are merely shifting from one animal food to another. They are making no connection whatsoever between the foods they eat and the injustice they perpetrate on animals.

India

  • Unlike what some people believe, just because many Indians are vegetarian it does not follow that India is a cow paradise. The Indian dairy industry operates no differently than any other dairy industry in the world and all dairy cows end up in slaughterhouses. Unsurprisingly, India is currently the fourth largest exporter of beef in the world and is slated to become number one by 2017. This is not what I would expect from a cow paradise.
  • Although beef and pork consumption in India may not be as large as elsewhere, chicken consumption is growing at around 12% a year, making India one of the fastest growing markets in the world for chickens.

I am sorry to bring to the fore such stark facts because I know they hurt and I know they can make one feel powerless. We need facts to build and tell a new story – a vegan story. I know the world will not go vegan overnight, but it never will if we are not clear that that is what we want. We can do something, and every day we are vegan we are doing something and we can do more. We can modify our advocacy approach. Focus on the basic premise: animal use for our pleasure and convenience is unjust and unnecessary. Choose peaceful and unequivocal vegan education.

You can go vegan today.

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0 Comments
  • imapuppet

    Maybe we should stop using the word “vegan” in place of anti-cruelty or animals rights. “Vegan” has been coopted by foodies and fad dieters. Maybe we should say to the server, “Hi, I’m opposed to hurting animals. Which of these dishes are meat and dairy free?” When we tell the server we are vegan, they probably think that is like asking if something is gluten free.

    • Matt Harvey

      I think there are good reasons to continue using the word “vegan”, even if we *also* explain what that means (i.e. not exploiting animals) when the opportunity arises. The more people use the word “vegan”, the more the concept of veganism will become normalized, and the less it will be marginalized. The more people use the word “vegan” and “veganism” to refer to a way of living in which one refrains from using animals for any purpose insofar as it’s within one’s power to do so, the more those words will come to be associated with those moral principles that are the original and true meaning of veganism. Rather than abandoning the words “vegan” and “veganism”, I think vegans should embrace them. We should use them more, not less. And we should not be shy about explaining to people their true meaning, when the opportunity presents itself.

      “Plant-based”, “cruelty-free” etc… none of these words capture the meaning of veganism. Rather, they water down the concept of what veganism is. For example, I don’t think veganism is really about being “cruelty-free” as such. Non-use of animals entails non-cruelty to animals, sure, but the latter does not entail the former. To me, veganism is about recognising that my trivial interests in palate pleasure or convenience are inadequate justifications for taking another’s life – *regardless* of whether that other was treated with “kindness” or “cruelty” while they were alive. That’s not about opposition to cruelty so much as it is about basic justice.

      • imapuppet

        I used to feel much more like you Matt than I do now. When I stopped consuming animals and their derivatives the term ‘vegan’ wasn’t a word anyone had heard…. I’ve done a lot to normalize the term, particularly over the past decade, but as I mentioned, I think ‘vegan’ has become more of less understood in common parlance to be just another diet rather than an ethos. Don’t want to fight, just sharing an impression.

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