Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A debate is running about what humans will eat when we stop eating meat.

Why? Our most sustainable protein on Earth is the bean. Beans, lentils, and peas grow in harsh climates with little water, in financially poor regions. They self-fertilize, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil, so they don’t need the synthetic fertilizers that are running off the land and killing the ocean.

Yet some vegans, of all people, are promoting “clean meat” that is actual flesh, made in the lab from real animal cells. No doubt most readers will have heard some self-identified vegans touting this new future of food.

Do they have a point? This is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

Read on…


Banner photo credit: Niklas Rhöse, via Unsplash.

What to Do on Kentucky Derby Day

We humans excel at making use of other animals, extracting wealth through that use, exhausting them, disposing of them. This week, the 145th Kentucky Derby will showcase these habits.

Frivolous, frenzied pressure surrounds the horse called Omaha Beach, who is dubbed most likely to win. Because the racing industry is all about ROI, this horse and the others will run so hard their lungs bleed. Racetracks use a diuretic called Lasix to stop the horses from bleeding through their noses.

UPDATE: Just three days before the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach was removed from the race, having come down with breathing problems associated with a trapped epiglottis. Inflammation of airway structures can cause a horse’s epiglottis to get stuck in folds of tissue, according to Equus Magazine.

Trainer Richard Mandella calls Omaha Beach “a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.” Evidently we are just sensitive enough to perceive kindness in the other animals—even as we amuse ourselves at their expense. Even as horses continue to die in professional racing. Fatalities include Kentucky Derby horses Barbaro (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007) and Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008)…

And as long as the horse breeding business exists, so will the auctions and the killer buyers. Tens of thousands of horses, including racehorses, go to slaughter each year. With horse slaughter disallowed in the United States (it stopped in 2006), the unwanted animals just get a longer, more excruciating journey over the Canadian and Mexican borders for a slaughter. Don’t kid yourself about this. That $3 million purse isn’t buying sanctuaries for four-year old horses, either.

The racetrack industry is under scrutiny for drugging horses in the Triple Crown events. HR 1754, the Horse Racing Integrity Act, would create a nationwide standard for testing in racing horses, implemented by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Churchill Downs, Inc. opposes the Horse Racing Integrity Act. The major animal-advocacy groups back the bill.

Given the temptation to push boundaries to win, the racing industry will keep tormenting horses—drugs or no drugs. If we’d ask serious questions, we’d find no integrity exists in horse racing.

And this Saturday’s Derby would be the last.

This Saturday, let’s all refuse to don bonnets. Let’s decline to stick mint leaves in glasses. Let’s stop making light of this event, making bets on this event, and allowing its realities to go unmentioned. Let’s act upon a baseline of decency, speak up in our social circles, and start treating horse racing as the blood sport it is.

Year of the Boar

On 5 February we enter the Year of the Pig in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

Now, Wikipedia tells us, the Japanese zodiac and the Tibetan zodiac do not have a pig; they have a boar.

I’m going with the Year of the Boar.

Because if we want to get to animal liberation, the ideal to keep in mind is a community of free-living beings. Not beings who were selectively bred to be controlled by the apes known (to ourselves) as Homo sapiens.

Decide for yourself. Would you want advocates to represent you this way?

Sure, the cut-paper caricature seems happy, but there’s no joy in being born dependent on, and ultimately killed by, a controlling owner.

Very few purpose-bred pigs make it to refuges. Those so-called lucky ones wouldn’t need luck if we humans would just stop breeding away their independence.

So much for the happy pig motif. Let’s get real.

Now look at the banner photo. Free-living boars live and move together, in groups. If the image of young sibling boars evokes a happy feeling in the viewer, it happens in a more respectful context: freedom.

Representing pigs as adorably happy in a pet-like state isn’t the best we can do. But it’s what a lot of vegan advocacy does.

Here it is, at the most extreme, with this cute little lonely pig. 

Yes, lonely.

Undomesticated boars live in groups. Babies stick together. So, this image should trouble us and make us question whether what seems “cute” to most human eyes is a profoundly sad state for the animal who’s displayed.

And now, are we really going to share a video clip of a helpless baby pig in a bidet for “National Dog Day”?

OK, yeah, I’m gonna get preachy here.

In the Year of the Pig Boar, how about we focus on these beings’ ancestral, free communities?

Most people don’t know what young boars look like, or where they live. We, as vegans, should know. Because veganism is not about making selective breeding seem adorable. Veganism is about challenging it and refusing to obscure the reality of where animal communities come from and who they really are.

Best wishes to everyone in the Year of the Boar. Let these images of boars interacting set the tone for a new year in vegan outreach.

#TimesUp in the Animal Charity World

The Humane Society of the United States has just accepted CEO Wayne Pacelle’s resignation.

This followed reporters’ investigations into claims that CEO Wayne Pacelle and (now former) VP of farm animal protection Paul Shapiro have sexually humiliated HSUS staffers.

In the words of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, wider concerns involve a “frat-like ‘bro’ culture” that manipulates and stifles advocacy careers.

Some say the #MeToo problem in advocacy can be fixed with more female leadership. Can it?  Read on.

 

“But Vegans Kill More Animals!”

Justin Van Kleeck is a microsanctuary pioneer—a farm animal rescuer working on a small scaljustin-van-kleecke, often rescuing animals from small-scale farming operations too, and resisting the calls of industry to tout “humane” or “local” agribusiness as a step in the right direction.

While Justin urges consistency—no amount of homespun pictures or creative PR can ever make animal exploitation “humane”—some will then challenge the commitment to crops as food.

There’s a clever argument, and maybe you’ve heard it, that vegans cause the deaths of more animals by being vegan. Growing crops for human food, the argument goes, involves tractors and threshers that kill field mice, voles, and so forth.

Have you ever noticed how this argument misses all the feed crops used in animal farming? Note, for exSlide37ample, that 99% of your local chicken farmers drive to feed stores to keep their birds growing and producing. The feed store is reliant on the fossil-fuel industry. So the “local” and “sustainable” concept in animal farming, when we dig deeper, is questionable.

Your local animal farm would also be a consumer of the massive feed industry that uses heavy equipment on the land without regard for the countless small animals seeking food and shelter amidst the fields.

As discussed before on Vegan Place, facile excuses to avoid personal change abound. When people face the reality that becoming vegan is possible, there seems to be a shut-off valve, signifying: “Change myself? No! Let me seize an excuse that I haven’t really thought through and hope you haven’t thought through either. Vegans do more harm—so there! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

Justin, when confronted with the “vegans kill more animals than your local animal farmers” claim, says:

We vegans start from the premise that exploitation and killing of other beings for our own ends is unacceptable, and we seek solutions…beneficial for all involved. Husbandry starts from the premise that other animals are here for us to use and consume, and all we have to do is be nice. So vegans seek harmonious coexistence without holding a knife to anyone’s throat.

Veganic models of agriculture and permaculture are available. Along with being more sustainable they are also workable in a variety of settings. Veganic urban gardens and food networks EXIST, but animal husbandry does not make sense for all communities. Remember: “If it isn’t accessible by the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.”

In our conversations, Justin has noted that we, our whole generation, are products of an industrial revolution now. Why hold vegans alone responsible for what mechanized farming does to the land and to animals seeking habitat? Vegans didn’t plan to produce food this way.

Feeding crops to animals kills more animals. Animal farms breed large numbers of animals into existence for human consumption.

And when field animals get caught up in the collateral damage in the production of food crops (eaten by vegans and non-vegans), it’s because we’re all dealing with constraints imposed on us by modern agribusiness.

But we can go vegan to stop direct exploitation and killing within our food system, and try to change that system completely. Let’s insist on fewer excuses, and real engagement.


I am grateful to Justin for expanding my knowledge on vegan and sanctuary ethics greatly, and also for being a patron of my animal-liberation work. Photo of Justin: source. Banner photo by Philipp Kuchler (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.