So this thread is predictably out of control — which let’s be honest, I knew was going to happen, because it happens anytime we talk about food and/or post pictures of cute animals — but some interesting and important arguments about how we eat have been raised in the comments. I’ve written about this before, again to much push-back, but I’ll reiterate that I am definitely not of the “you must go vegan in order to be a good progressive who values animal rights and the environment.” Many people are of that school and that is great! I am personally of the school that says human beings are omnivores and eating meat is not morally wrong; however, human beings also have developed enough cognitive functions to enable us to engage the moral issues that come along with eating animals, and because we have that ability we also have the burden of treating animals with respect, even if we do breed and kill them for food. That means not torturing them; it means consuming meat with the knowledge that the food on your plate came from a living being and deserves a degree of reverence; it means doing what you can, in your particular situation, to lessen the suffering of animals. For some people, that means going vegan. For the more economically privileged, it might mean refusing to buy factory-farmed meat. A lot of vegans will tell you that it is entirely possible to go vegan on almost any income, at least in countries like the United States. I would say that (a) that’s just flatly untrue given all the problems folks have accessing decent, healthy food in general; but (b) yeah, a lot of people — even most people — could definitely get by consuming less meat and fewer animal products. Totally, that is true. I definitely could, even though I’m not a huge meat-eater and mostly eat carbs, vegetables and fish.
But I’m not sure veganism should be the ultimate goal (although consuming less factory-farmed animal products is a pretty laudable one, as is focusing on a more vegetable-based diet). The New York Times has a pertinent article on this today, featuring opinions from a variety of writers, from livestock rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman to some jerkoff from the Cato foundation (his unpredictable position: “let market forces decide!”). Niman’s arguments are the ones that make the most sense to me:
1. State laws should protect farm animal welfare. Polls show that about 90 percent of Americans believe farm animals deserve humane living conditions. Narrow metal cages for pregnant pigs, crates for veal calves and cramped cages for egg laying hens should be outlawed. California, Colorado, Michigan and several other states have already adopted such laws.
2. Congress should prohibit overusing antibiotics in animal farming. About 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States each year is in the daily feed of farm animals, mostly to enable keeping animals in densely crowded conditions, which reduces costs. Recent research found half of meat tested from U.S. grocery stores contaminated with staph infections, half of which were antibiotic resistant. Banning subtherapeutic antibiotics in agriculture, as the European Union has already done, would ease overcrowding and make our food safer.
3. Government should better enforce environmental laws. Environmental laws like the Clean Water Act cover animal agriculture. However, federal and state environmental agencies have largely failed to apply them. Forcing animal agriculture to bear its true environmental costs would tip the economic balance in favor of farms with smaller herds and less crowding.
4. Farm subsidies should foster grass. Grass is a happier, healthier habitat for farm animals. It also is the core of ecological farming, even offering the promise of major carbon sequestration. Yet current federal farm policies encourage plowing grasslands while discouraging grass-based methods, like crop rotations, that safeguard soil, water and air. Farm subsidies should contain incentives for grass and require farmers to follow good conservation methods.
5. The United States should launch a domestic Peace Corps for farming. America needs to repopulate rural America and stimulate beneficial jobs for young people. Our nation struggles with unemployment, and yet traditional farming is disappearing partly because it is more labor intensive. Training the next generation in sustainable agriculture and assisting them to start new farms could be a brave president’s boldest and most lasting initiative.
That’s a lot more effective than “go vegan.”
And yeah, that bill to outlaw photographing and videotaping at slaughterhouses? Not good for anyone but the worst animal abusers.