Though the title of this post is a bit hyperbolic in invoking the classic stereotype about English food, a new study posted in BMC Medicine confirms that processed meat, such as that found in the classic English Breakfast pictured to the right, increases the risk of premature death. The study evaluated “448,568 men and women without prevalent cancer, stroke, or myocardial infarction, and with complete information on diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, who were between 35 and 69 years old.” You can read the abstract here. One of the takeaways is that “if everyone in the study consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day then 3% of the premature deaths could have been prevented.”
As reported by Mother Jones, there is a lovely outcome to the government’s sequestering: “The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s budget would be slashed by $51 million. This would result in a furlough of as much as 15 days for all employees, including 8,400 meat inspectors, as well as a loss of 2 billion pounds of meat, between 2.8 and 3.3 billion pounds of poultry, and over 200 million pounds of egg products. Meat shortages may also lead to price increases, leading to a domino effect on restaurants, grocers, and small businesses. There are also concerns that food safety ‘could be compromised by the illegal selling and distribution of uninspected meat, poultry, and egg products.’”
Or, as author Lemony Snicket might phrase it, “The news reported that there was going to be a loss, a word that here means ’13 million cows and over a billion chickens were killed for no use at all, because a bunch of people were busy fighting over other things, like how much money they could spend on themselves.’”
Taco Bell moved to pull beef off its UK menus this past Friday because of traces of horse meat found in the product. A spokesperson for the company commented: ”We apologize to our customers and take this matter very seriously as food quality is our highest priority.” The problem with this statement is that it calls into question just what Taco Bell considers to be “food quality.” Obviously phenylbutazone isn’t something Taco Bell wants in its products. This is a company that is trying to brand itself as something more than fast food, from the “Think Outside the Box” campaign, to the recent artesian kitchen look with chef Lorena Garcia and her supposed quest for the “highest quality ingredients.” Not convinced? You can go to the Taco Bell website and learn more (or in keeping with the company slogan, Learn Más!). Here, at last, you can rest easy knowing that Taco Bell uses 88% premium ground beef, and 12% signature recipe. What? 12% of its product is. . . a recipe? The assurance I should get by hearing this supposed break down of ingredients is undermined when I haven’t a clue what that means. The ad tells me to go to the website learn what the recipe is, but it’s buried. Hunt it down though, and it comes out to water and a bunch of seasoning. So no worries there, I guess. How about this premium beef? Continue reading →
Late last month PETA filed a suit against Hot’s Restaurant Group in Los Angeles County, CA, alleging that the defendant violated the California state law that went into effect earlier this year prohibiting the sale of foie gras. The essence of the complaint is that Hot’s Kitchen, the specific restaurant in question, has skirted the law by selling a hamburger for an increased price and including with the hamburger a “complimentary side of foie gras.” Being that foie gras is sold legally at gourmet restaurants around the country for a pretty penny, on its face Hot’s seems to be blatantly rebelling against California’s ban, taking a position common among many restaurant owners. Taking the ethical debate over foie gras (ahem) off the table for a moment, is what Hot’s Kitchen doing illegal? Continue reading →
Do you love your meat? Well, love it or hate it, it may well cause the collapse of our global society. In the latest report confirming the strain factory farming and overconsumption of animal products causes our environment, The Guardian reports that mass food shortages are predicted within the next 40 years if we as a species do not scale back meat consumption. It’s a simple matter of not having enough water to produce the crops necessary to support the animals needed to satisfy current consumption, to say nothing of what another 2 billion human mouths will bring to the table. If we do not scale back, food shortages and water shortages could be a worldwide reality, as well as food price spikes. Continue reading →
Recently there has been a stir surrounding “Vegan is Love” by author Ruby Roth. To quote the Amazon summary,”Roth illustrates how our daily choices ripple out locally and globally, conveying what we can do to protect animals, the environment, and people across the world. Roth explores the many opportunities we have to make ethical decisions: refusing products tested on or made from animals; avoiding sea parks, circuses, animal races, and zoos; choosing to buy organic food; and more.”
Don’t worry, it’s for health reasons. A quadruple bypass and two stents in a clogged artery, to be exact.
I was surprised to read that our former President no longer includes meat, eggs, or dairy in his diet. Even more surprising was the fact that animal welfare and environmental protection were not mentioned once when he explained his drastic dietary transformation—not even as corollary benefits! When asked directly if he was a vegan, he reluctantly acknowledged that he was.
Americans embraced and encouraged President Clinton’s love of fast-food and meat. It was something most people could relate to and reminded us that he was just an ordinary American. Could he have publicized his vegan diet 15 years ago without hurting his chances of reelection? Probably not. But what is it about veganism and vegetarianism that makes our elected officials so uncomfortable?
For one, the meat and dairy industries exert great influence over Congress and executive agencies like the USDA. With campaign contributions at stake and pressure from persuasive lobbyists, it is not surprising that beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products are supported and promoted by the government. Continue reading →
First the bad news then some good news then some middling, reality check observations.
It seems that a prisoner in Texas wishes to eat a vegan diet but the prison system will not let him. Texas currently offers only a “meatless option,” which includes dairy and eggs. The prisoner has sued under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (more about the statute here), to force the prison to respect his dietary wishes.
Prior to the lawsuit, the state based its refusal to provide a vegan diet on the expense involved (once again raising the bizarre reality that eating animals that eat vegetables is less expensive than eating the vegetables themselves). However, in responding to the lawsuit, Texas now intends to present expert testimony from a prison dietitian who “will opine that a long-term, strict vegan diet is likely to lead to the development of nutritional deficiencies and significant health problems for most people.” Yes, that’s right, sports fans: vegan prisoners are starving themselves and need meat and/or dairy to survive. Continue reading →
No matter how many cups of Yerba Mate I drink or how many lamps I turn on (or off) to get the right lighting, I can’t focus on my law school work. After living in New Orleans for close to six years my body knows Mardi Gras is approaching. It knows I should be there. Anyone who has been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras knows that once the thought of Mardi Gras comes to mind, so many good memories are recalled and flow throughout the brain.
One memory that always comes to mind is the amazing food New Orleans has to offer. This is a funny thought for me because I am vegan. I actually stopped eating meat, while working at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in 2007. But for some reason when I think about New Orleans, food is always the first thought that come to mind. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has a pretty small selection of vegan restaurants. One of my favorite qualities of New Orleans, its stagnancy, is also its worst enemy. Continue reading →
Megan Coffee is a superhero. She is a doctor from New Jersey who has been giving free medical care to the people in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and is the only American doctor still working at Haiti’s largest hospital. With no income for her work, she gets by on the kindness and hospitality of the locals. Oh, and all the while she’s maintained a vegan lifestyle. Triple kudos to her for showing that you can be an incredible humanitarian and still make a huge difference for animals. You can read the story here.
I tend to agree with most of the commentary I’ve seen so far on this hit piece on veganism in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Harold Fromm’s poor reasoning and almost brazen ignorance of the subject matter render the essay undeserving of a thorough critique. What does merit critiquing is the Chronicle’s decision to publish it. Continue reading →
From the Recommended Readings Desk: This from Sherry Colb over at Dorf on Law – a very thoughtful essay furthering a discussion begun when Gary Francione lectured at Cornell Law School. Among other queries, the piece explores the relative morality of dog-fighting vs. cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. The name of the essay is ´Animal Rights, Violent Interventions and Affirmative Obligations´ and is well worth the peruse.
Rodell Green was just sentenced to three years imprisonment for having sex with a horse. Over at the Atlantic Blog, correspondent Wendy Kaminer asks the following “quick question“:
Can someone explain to me why it is a criminal offense to have sex with animals but entirely legal to kill and eat them? Surely laws against bestiality don’t reflect concern about the rights of animals, (who would probably opt for sex over death.) I don’t mean to denigrate meat eating (I’m a carnivore;) I do mean to point out the absurdities of imprisoning people for “buggery.”
In a sense, Ms. Kaminer is right. It is simply inconsistent for the law to send someone to jail for three years for having sex with a horse while simultaneously allowing billions of animals to unnecessarily suffer as a result of factory farming.
Nevertheless, I believe that there is a way to explain this inconsistency. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s unclear whether the purpose of bestiality statutes is to protect animals from cruelty. As a matter of fact, I think that bestiality statutes have little to do with preventing animal suffering. Instead, it’s more likely that the purpose of bestiality statutes is to enforce a moral principle, namely: that it’s against natural law and morality for human beings to have sex with an animal. This reading of bestiality statutes is supported by the history of laws criminalizing such conduct.
The first statute criminalizing bestiality in common law jurisdictions was England’s Buggery Act of 1533. The statute made engaging in anal sexual intercourse or having sex with an animal a crime punishable by hanging. These acts were criminalized because they were unnatural and against God’s will. After all, as Blackstone (in)famously asserted in his famous Commentaries, someone who engaged in these acts committed the “abominable and detestable crime against nature”. As a result, it seems fairly obvious that what inspired bestiality laws was the state’s desire to enforce a particular moral view.
After reading the comments to the Animal Blawg poll that I posted on “Why is Veganism Morally Appealing” and thinking about what Brian Leiter and Michael Dorf had to say about the meaning of the poll’s results (here and here), I think it is worth conducting the poll again. This time, however, I will include an option that asserts that veganism is morally appealing because participating in meat consumption is harmful to the environment. I will also clarify the implications of voting for the “killing animals is always wrong” and “killing animals is wrong absent exigent circumstances alternatives”. Let me explain why.
Professor Leiter believes that those who voted for the “killing animals is always wrong” option hold morally repugnant views because it would lead them to claim that killing an animal in self-defense is wrong. This, Leiter believes, is abhorrent. If killing a human being in self-defense is not wrongful, why should killing an animal in self-defense be considered wrongful? For what it’s worth, I agree with Leiter that killing an animal in self-defense is not wrong and that’s why I did not vote for this option. I think that anyone who believes that killing a human being in self-defense is not morally wrongful has compelling reasons to also believe that killing non-human animals in self-defense is not morally wrongful. However, for the reasons that I pointed out in a previous post, I don’t believe that those who vote for this option hold “morally abhorrent views”.
Professor Dorf made an important point with regard to why some people might have voted for this option. According to Dorf, “it’s not entirely surprising that 30% of this self-selected group would choose the “always wrong” option. Some fraction of these respondents probably just didn’t think the question through”. In other words, Dorf believes that some of those who voted for the “always wrong” option would vote differently had they considered that voting for that option meant that killing an animal in self-defense is morally wrongful. I think Professor Dorf might be right. Therefore, I believe it’s worth clarifying that voting for this option entails accepting the proposition that it is wrong to kill an animal when it’s attacking you in a way that will surely lead to your death (or the death of another). For what it’s worth, Professor Dorf would not vote for the “always wrong” option because he has “no moral qualms about killing a human or non-human in self-defense (although I’d likely find the experience traumatic)”.
Before conducting the poll again, it is also worth mentioning that Professor Leiter believes that voting for the “killing animals is wrong absent exigent circumstances” exception is morally indefensible, although not morally abhorrent. His position stems from the fact that many, if not most, animal advocates believe that animals are worthy of legal protection because they are sentient beings (i.e. they have the capacity to feel pain). If this is the reason that justifies affording moral status to animals, it would seem that painlessly killing them does not violate their interests, as, by definition, killing them in such a manner does not entail inflicting pain on them. Furthermore, since Professor Leiter believes that animals do not have the capacity for self-consciousness and for planning for the future, he thinks that there are no sound moral reasons to hold that painlessly killing an animal is morally wrong. I agree with Professor Leiter for the reasons I point out here and here. That’s why I did not vote for this option.
Finally, Leiter acknowledges that there is a defense of veganism that he does not find morally “abhorrent” or “indefensible”. This defense of veganism is represented by the option stating that being a vegan is morally appealing “because although killing animals painlessly is not necessarily wrong, animals that are killed or used for food, clothing, cosmetics, etc., are usually treated in an unjustifiably cruel manner”.
Personally, I find this option not only morally defensible, but morally compelling as well. If sentience is morally relevant, as I believe it surely is, we should not inflict pain on sentient creatures unless we have powerful reasons to do so. It seems obvious to me that “I love the taste of steak” or “I love the look of leather shoes” do not count as morally compelling reasons to contribute to industries that inflict gratuitous amounts of pain on non-human animals. That’s why I find veganism morally appealing. How about you?
Given that polls about veganism seem to be the cool thing to do these days, here’s my first foray into the internet polling world. Check out the poll’s format. Isn’t it way cooler than the one used by Leiter for his veganism poll?
Over at the “Law School Reports” blog, Professor Brian Leiter is conducting an interesting (unscientific) poll on “what is your attitude towards veganism?”. Given that I’m a vegetarian, I voted for the option stating “Veganism is the morally most defensible dietary regimen, and I admire those who adopt it and wish I could do the same”.
I would like to believe that vegetarianism is the second best option. I must confess that I have not been able to stop eating dairy products. So far, the results are as follows:
Veganism is the morally most defensible dietary regimen, which is why I am a vegan
Veganism is the morally most defensible dietary regimen, and I admire those who adopt it and wish I could do the same
Veganism is neither morally commendable nor morally wrong, but is a reasonable personal choice for some individuals to make
Veganism is morally indefensible, and vegans have made a serious error in adopting such a dietary regimen
Veganism is disgusting
For the record, I think that “the veganism is disgusting” alternative is, well, disgusting. Make your vote count!
David’s post on the morality of food choices is generating an important debate. What spurred the discussion was David’s assertion that “[a]s a matter of intellectual consistency, it makes no more sense to decry animal cruelty while eating a cafeteria cheeseburger than to condemn racism while attending a lynching”.
I also find it problematic to condemn animal cruelty while feasting on a Big Mac. The problem is one of hypocrisy. It reminds me of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard arguing against gay rights while simultaneously engaging in homosexual behavior. If expressions of moral condemnation are going to carry weight, they ought to not only be uttered but also lived by. Thus, people who truly believe that factory farming is morally unjustifiable should stop eating factory farmed products. Otherwise, they’re complicit in the very behavior they’re condemning. This is both morally objectionable and strategically ineffective.
On the other hand, whether it’s objectionable to decry animal cruelty while eating a cheeseburger may very well depend on the cheeseburger. Many animal advocates believe that it’s possible to be a responsible omnivore. It’s unclear, for example, whether eating non-factory farmed meat that was humanely raised is morally objectionable. Thus, I’m not ready to state that David’s hypothetical cheeseburger eating animal advocate is being hypocritical if the meat he was eating was humanely raised.
This is not a minor quibble. If I’m right, a person may justifiably decry the horrors of factory farming while simultaneously arguing that his willingness to eat a (humanely raised) cheeseburger should not be dismissed as mere hipocrisy. One must not forget that that although there seems to be a growing consensus regarding the wrongfulness of factory farming, there is no such consensus with regard to the wrongfulness of eating humanely raised meat (putting aside, of course, the thorny problem of defining what counts as “humanely raised meat”).
Interesting piece in today’s NYT about Jeffrey Masson and his path to veganism. It’s heartening that in the space of a couple of weeks the Gray Lady featured Kristof’s piece (mentioned below) and this one, both of which deal with diet and animal rights. Overall, I see articles like these as an enormous net positive so the following cavil should be taken in that context.
My quibble involves the ubiquitous need of (non-animal activist) people who write about animal rights and diet to trumpet the challenges of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Kristof felt compelled to avow his bona fides as a meat eater and Eric Konigsberg, who wrote the Masson piece, had to open with a joke about the tastelessness of vegan food and to focus on Masson’s nostalgia for and occasional indulgences in dairy products.
It seems to me that non-animal based diets need no longer be treated as fringe behavior (if indeed they should ever have been) and it’s time to move the discourse toward examining the normative issues underlying the American diet. For my part, I believe that all of us (from vegans to omnivores) need to inspect the way our lives interweave with industrial agriculture and to cry from the rooftops about how corn subsidies as well as confinement pens link directly to animal brutalization. If we keep the focus on the horrific wrongs of factory farming, then it will become harder and harder for people to shrug good naturedly and chalk up their willingness to eat cruelty to a philosophical disagreement about whether or not to eat meat. As a matter of intellectual consistency, it makes no more sense to decry animal cruelty while eating a cafeteria cheeseburger than to condemn racism while attending a lynching.
Will you send me a food rule you try to live by? Something perhaps passed down by your parents or grandparents? Or something you’ve come up with to tell your children – or yourself?
I will post your suggestions on my Web site and plan to include the best in a collection of food rules I’m now compiling. Thanks in advance for your contribution.
Given the size of Pollan’s audience and his commitment to exploring the ethics of food, this might be an excellent opportunity for those of us who hope to change the American way of eating to offer some suggestions for how to do so.
I received an e-mail from Sherry Colb (Cornell Law School) in response to my recent post disagreeing with Professor Francione’s views regarding California’s Proposition 2. She kindly gave me permission to post it on our blog. As usual, Professor Colb’s comments are thoughtful and informative. Here’s her e-mail:
We have not met, [but] I was delighted to see your new animal blog. The more attention the issue of animal concerns gets, the better. I respect your disagreement with Gary Francione on the California proposition issue, though I think my inclination is to agree with Gary because of the opportunity costs – in lost chances to foster and encourage veganism – associated with large movements to make relatively modest changes in what is a shockingly inhumane world of animal agriculture. I have so often heard people say – when they go to an outstanding vegan restaurant – “if I could eat like this every meal, I would consider becoming a vegan.”
If the Humane Society invested in vegan restaurants and education, more people who find the prospect of veganism frightening or impractical (but ethically attractive) might consider changing. [This is important] because the cruelty that produces eggs and milk is really not better (and can often be even worse) than the cruelty that produces meat. It is not the egg or milk itself that suffered, obviously, but the hens and dairy cows that produce the eggs and milk (and who are kept in horrendous conditions even on “organic” farms and who are killed for meat when their production levels drop) and – perhaps more significantly – the male offspring of hens and dairy cows (the male chicks who are buried alive, gassed and otherwise cruelly killed as babies and the male dairy cows who are robbed of their mother’s milk and then killed as youngsters for veal). Milk simply cannot be produced without impregnating cows, and their male offspring are considered a waste of resources to be quickly slaughtered. I recently had the privilege of visiting Farm Sanctuary, and even though they do press these legislative propositions, their core message is to encourage veganism. The tour guide there had a very compelling line about dairy products – in every glass of milk, there’s a little veal. [Although] we do not know each other, I was eager to reach out because there are so few friends of animals among legal academics.
Several weeks ago, Professor Gary Francione urged people not to vote for California’s Proposition 2 next Tuesday (for a discussion of Proposition 2, see Suzanne McMillan’s post here). He grounded his view on the following arguments: (1) that Proposition 2 will do nothing to alleviate animal suffering in the short or long term, as it will not come into effect until 2015, and once it becomes operative it will seldom be enforced because it is riddled with exceptions, (2) that its adoption will result in increased animal exploitation because it will make the public feel better about the way that factory farmed animals are being treated, and (3) “it is important for animal advocates to send a clear message to the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, and other groups to stop promoting measures like Proposition 2″.
I respectfully disagree for three reasons. First – contrary to what Francione contends – it is impossible to know ex ante whether the adoption of Proposition 2 will result in a decrease of animal suffering in the short term. While it is true that the measure will not come into effect until January 1, 2015, it is unliklely that factory farms will wait until New Year’s Eve 2014 to change their practices to conform to the new law. Some will surely begin confining their animals in a way that allows them to fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around freely well before the 2015 deadline. As a result, we should expect to see animal suffering in California increasingly diminish during the next several years, even if some of the suffering that the measure is designed to prevent won’t be eliminated until after 2014. Furthermore, even if it turns out that animal suffering is not reduced meaninfully until Proposition 2 comes into effect, that is no reason to vote against it. A law that requires farm owners to confine their animals in spaces that allow them to move more freely is better than what we have now, even if it will not become operative for several years. Professor Francione’s contention that the law will not significantly reduce animal suffering in the long term because it is riddled with exceptions is difficult to understand. As was pointed out in an Editorial of the San Francisco Chronicle that urged voters to reject Proposition 2 because it could destroy California’s egg producing industry, “more than 90 percent of [the State's] 20 million egg-laying hens are kept in the battery cages that would be outlawed under Proposition 2.” This seems to be an accurate estimate, as the measure provides exceptions for scientific or agricultural research, veterinary practices, transportation, state and county fair exhibitions and during the act of slaugthering the animal. While these exceptions certainly allow for the confinement of a significant number of animals in crates and cages that do not allow them to move freely, they do not reach a majority of the 20 million egg-laying hens that are kept in battery cages in California. Therefore, it is odd to claim that Proposition 2 will not substantially decrease animal suffering because of these exceptions. Even if we conservatively predict that only half of California’s egg laying hens will be confined in a larger space due to the new law, we will be able to reduce the suffering of about 10 million animals. While not a perfect outcome, this would surely be a welcome development.
Francione’s claim that the adoption of Proposition 2 will lead to increased animal exploitation because it will “make the consumption of animals more acceptable” is akin to claiming that laws banning restaurants from using trans fat will meaningfully increase the demand for french fries and fried chicken because they make their consumption more healthy. The hard truth is that a great majority of people will continue to eat factory farmed products (and french fries and fried chicken) regardless of whether measures banning battery cages (or trans fat) are enacted. Others – like me – will continue to be vegetarians and avoid french fries even if such laws are adopted. Ultimately, laws like this one don’t exert much influence over people’s eating habits. Therefore, I believe that the fear that Proposition 2 will result in increased animal exploitation is overblown.
Finally, Francione’s claim that rejecting Proposition 2 is important because it sends a message to animal advocacy groups to stop promoting such measures is not really an argument against voting against the law, unless one believes that these types of laws do not significantly reduce animal suffering. For the reasons discussed in the preceding paragraphs, I strongly believe that the enactment of Proposition 2 will meaningfully diminish the suffering of animals. Therefore, I hope that Californians support it and commend the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary for promoting its adoption.