Bad News for Red Meat Is Bad News for Chickens

Guest post by Ginny Messina, RD

Red meat has a bad PR problem. Two recent meta-analyses—one published in 2009 and one in 2011—linked red meat consumption to increased colon cancer risk. In May, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund reaffirmed conclusions from an earlier comprehensive report, saying that the evidence for a relationship between red meat and colon cancer is “convincing.”

And it’s not just cancer; a study published just last week found that adults who consume 4 ounces of red meat per day have a 20 percent increased risk for developing diabetes.

The evidence strongly suggests that it’s a good idea for everyone to reduce their intake of red and processed meats. But from the animals’ perspective, this is not necessarily great news. That’s because many of these studies find that other animal foods—which can easily replace red meat in the diet—don’t carry the same risks. There is no compelling body of evidence to suggest that eating white meat raises cancer risk and, some research suggests that replacing red meat with white meat lowers risk. (This is not to say that white meat is itself protective or has any particular health benefits. It’s probably neutral and therefore lowers risk when it replaces harmful red meat)

People are likely to react to news about the dangers of red and processed meats by replacing these foods with other meats—from fish and chickens—and in the process cause suffering to many, many more animals.

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Assuming that one steer provides around 450 pounds of meat, a person eating a pound of beef per week would be responsible for the death of one steer every 8 ½ years or so. Replace that pound of beef a week with a pound of chicken (assuming that the average chicken yields 2 pounds of meat) and the number of animals killed would be about 220 chickens over the same time period. In fact, even if the health-conscious, meat-shunning consumer chose to reduce her meat intake by 75 percent—eating just 4 ounces of meat per week and getting all of it as chicken flesh—she would still be responsible for the death of more than 50 birds over that 8 ½ year period.

Clementine of Farm Sanctuary

And not only do more animals die when people replace red meat with chicken in their diet, but chickens and other birds live and die under conditions that are horrible even by the usual horrible standards of modern farming.

Red and processed meat consumption is a serious public health concern, and people need to know about the importance of reducing these foods in their diets. But publicizing every new study about the hazards of red meat doesn’t promote veganism; it promotes animal suffering.  A message about a vegan ethic, on the other hand, is a double win. It helps reduce animal suffering while also encouraging people to eliminate hazardous foods from their diets.

Edited on 3/13/12 : A study just published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine  found that all types of red meat are associated with increased risk for cancer and heart disease. Just 3 ounces a day of red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of dying during the course of the study. The researchers also found that replacing red meat with poultry or low-fat dairy foods decreased risk as much or more than replacing it with legumes. This is another example of how a focus on the health risks of red meat in particular doesn’t necessarily translate to a positive vegan message.

 

Living in a Non-Veg World

Talk, as prepared for the AZ Veg Food Fest, January, 2016
Matt Ball

I assume that if you are here today, you have some issue with living in a non-vegetarian world, that being surrounded by meat eaters most days isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

I should start by saying that I don’t have any brilliant insight or 12-step plan to make everything better. I can’t conjure up a unicorn for everyone. I stopped eating animals almost 30 years ago, and have yet to discover the magic incantation to make living in this world easy.

What I can tell you is that I’ve experienced a lot of what many of you have gone through and are going through. Anger, frustration, rage, despair, disappointment, depression – I’ve been through all these.

And I can tell you, every single one of these feelings is justified. I assume each of us here knows just how much suffering there is on factory farms, how much incredible cruelty farm animals face every moment of their lives. We could spend all day watching horrific footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses, and we wouldn’t begin to capture how bad things are.

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We each know this, and yet we live in a world of complete denial. If we look around, there is no sign that so many animals are being tortured and slaughtered right now. All the people around us – including many of our family members, our friends, and our co-workers – go about their daily lives as though factory farms don’t exist; as if there is no brutality lying hidden, just below the surface.

It is as though we are delusional, that we simply had a bad dream where we just imagined that animals suffered and died to become the meat being consumed all around us.

What often makes it even worse is that we love many of the people who continue to eat animals. It doesn’t matter as much that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Dick Cheney pay people to kill chickens and pigs. But when it is our Moms, our brothers, our cousins, our childhood pal, even our spouse – that adds an extra layer of heartbreak to having to live in a world where animals suffer and die to be eaten.

So the main thing I can offer you today is understanding. I get it, the anger, the hurt, the disappointment.

And others are going through this, too. I’ve given hundreds of talks in the past decades, and I can tell you that so many people have asked me, often almost pleadingly, “What can I do to convince my sister, my Dad, my husband?”

I would love so much to be able to give you the answer. But I can’t. And I know understanding isn’t enough.

But maybe I can help at the margins. Maybe I can show that there is hope.

The first thing I would suggest is to remember that few people change overnight from the standard American diet to a cruelty-free lifestyle. There are some, yes, but research actually shows that the quicker people change, the more likely they are to revert back to eating animals again. So to begin with, as much as we would love everyone to GO VEG RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW, realistically, we should give people a break.

Even if you changed overnight and maintained that change forever, know that most people don’t. For example, once I learned the reality behind meat, I kept eating animals. When I first went veg, it didn’t last. Cutting out eggs and dairy took me a long time. And it is likely that if people had mocked my weakness, or treated me with disdain or hatred for my rationalizations, I would have used their anger as an excuse to maintain my meat-eating ways.

My story shows us several things. The first is that many people – probably most people, nearly all – don’t want to change. They don’t want to be different from their friends and family. They don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Like me, most people are capable of great cognitive dissonance. They want to consider themselves good people. At some level they know eating animals is wrong. And yet they don’t want to change. So they’re looking for an excuse.

And as justified as our anger is, we have to know that being “the angry vegan” gives people an excuse to maintain the status quo. I’ve seen this over and over again. I saw one example of this last year, when I participated in marketing research at the University of Arizona. One of the key findings was that the general public views vegans as angry, unhappy, and unfriendly. The general public also views veganism as extreme and impossible.

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So we find ourselves in this catch-22 – we are understandably angry because the people around us create the demand that causes animals to suffer so horribly. But our understandable anger is a key reason people are able to avoid facing reality.

I’m in no position to judge. I acted from anger so much, and gave many people a lifetime excuse to not consider the animals’ plight. I consistently made it about winning an argument, or speaking my truth, rather than actually creating real change that would make a difference. It took me so long to finally stop expressing my anger and justifying my lifestyle. And it is something I still struggle with every day –truly dealing with people where they are, rather than chanting and arguing about what I want.

With the help of some very insightful friends, I finally realized that if we truly want to create fundamental, lasting change in the world, we must deal with our emotions in a constructive way. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Are we willing to direct our anger, rather than have it rule us?
  • Are we willing to put the animals’ interests before our personal desires?
  • Are we willing to focus seriously and systematically on being the animals’ voice?

 

It is not enough to be vegetarian, or vegan, or even a dedicated advocate. I believe we should focus on actually reducing suffering – and actively be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Just as we need everyone to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our sorrow and our anger to optimal advocacy. We must learn “how to win friends and influence people,” so that we leave everyone we meet with the impression of a joyful individual leading a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Understand, though: I’m not saying we should put on an act of being happy. Rather, as thoughtful advocates, we can truly be happy!

Looking at the long arc of history, we see how much society has advanced in just the last few centuries. It was over two thousand years ago that the ideals of democracy were first proposed in ancient Greece. But only during the 18th century did humanity see even the beginnings of a truly democratic system. Not until late in the 19th century was slavery officially abolished in the developed world. In all of human history, only in the last hundred years was child labor abolished in the developed world, child abuse criminalized, women given the vote, and minorities given more rights.

Many people worked diligently to bring about those ethical advances for humanity. Now, because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason they suffer, I believe animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. If we take suffering seriously and commit to optimal advocacy, we too can bring about fundamental change. We can already see progress in just the past decade – there has been a huge increase public concern for farm animals, as well as condemnations of factory farms. There are more vegetarians, near-vegetarians, and vegetarian products. Our focus, tools, and programs have also improved immensely during that time.

Animal liberation can be the future. As the magazine The Economist concluded, “Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation. To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.”

We can be the ones to bring about this next great ethical advance. We should revel in the opportunity we have to be part of something so profound, something fundamentally good. This is as meaningful and joyous a life as I can imagine!

We have no excuse for waiting – we have the knowledge, the tools, and the truth. Taking a stand against cruelty to animals requires only our choice.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long
And ragged
And often unclear
But ultimately
It bends towards justice.

We can each help bend the arc of history toward justice!

Thank you.

Humane Meat and the Arc of History


Humanity and Humane

The vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 96% of Americans want animals to be actively protected from abuse. 96%! 96% of Americans don’t agree on anything!

Almost no one eats meat because they actually want animals to suffer. And when they find out what actually happens at factory farms and in industrial slaughterhouses, most people are appalled. This concern for farm animals is laudable, and the revulsion at cruelty to animals is a sign of our basic decency, our fundamental humanity.

The desire to buy humane meat – meat that comes from small farmers or backyard butchers – is often driven by this revulsion to the meat industry’s brutality to chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys. I have talked with many people who love animals and hate cruelty, and they tell me that they only buy humane meat from Whole Foods or local farmers. It is a popular theme in books, articles, and film (e.g., Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the film Food, Inc.).

Concerns

There are at least three areas where we should be concerned about the concept of humane meat.

The first is that most of us are very busy, and are not in a position to actually visit the farms and slaughter facilities that are raising and killing the animals who become meat. Because of this we must take the word of these farmers that the animals are being raised and slaughtered with kindness. However, without firsthand knowledge, we cannot be certain that this is in fact the case. We don’t know, for example, if the locally raised pigs might be locked in stalls in filthy barns, or the pasture-raised lamb is crawling with parasites. We saw this firsthand when we helped rescue of more than 170 animals suffering at the hands of a backyard butcher.

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The second concern is related: in our capitalist society, there will be suppliers looking to meet any demand – in this case, meat marketed as “humane.” However, those supplying the humane meat market are always driven to maximize profit, rather than treat animals kindly. It is extremely expensive to raise animals in a way that gives these individuals complete medical and nutritional care, as well as the open space and fresh air required for a truly humane existence.

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Finally, there is the basic principle upon which Farm Sanctuary was founded – that farm animals are someone, not something, just like the dogs and cats we all know and share our lives with. We would never dream of raising them and then killing them for our own use. As Farm Sanctuary’s President and Co-founder Gene Baur loves to say, “Farm animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends.”

Exposing the Truth

The author Michael Pollan has endeavored to examine these humane meat producers first hand. As an author researching this subject, Pollan has had the time and resources to investigate the various farms who claim to raise humane meat. The pinnacle of Pollan’s praise is Polyface Farm, where “animals can be animals,” living, according to Pollan, true to their nature.

So what is Polyface Farm truly like? Rabbits on the farm are kept in small wire cages. Chickens are also crowded into wire cages, confined without the ability to nest or the space to establish a pecking order. Year-round, pigs and cattle are shipped in open trucks to conventional slaughterhouses, regardless of the weather.

The chickens and turkeys have it worse. Seventy-two hours before their slaughter, birds are crated in crowded groups of eight. After three days without food, they are grabbed by the feet, up-ended in metal cones, and, without any stunning, have their throats slit.

This is the system Pollan proclaims praiseworthy and says we should ethically endorse and financially support.

Sadly, in some ways, Polyface actually is a praiseworthy system, compared to many other producers of “humane” meat. A steady string of undercover investigations has shown that the conditions on “family” farms are often shockingly cruel – in many cases almost as bad as those on factory farms.

An Individual or Meat?

In the end, Polyface’s view is the same as Tyson’s: these individual chickens and pigs are, ultimately, just meat to be sold for maximum profit. It is logically and emotionally impossible for there to be any real respect or kindness, any true, fundamental concern for the interests of these individuals, when these living, breathing animals exist only to be butchered, sold for a profit, and consumed. If we insist that we must eat actual animal flesh instead of a cruelty-free option, it is naïve, at best, to believe that any system will really take good care of the animals we pay them to slaughter.

It is understandable to want to believe in “humane” meat. But once we know the facts, we have to ask ourselves what kind of person we choose to be. Do we oppose cruelty or support slaughter? Do we make our own decisions or do we rationalize the system under the guise of humane meat?

Each of us has the freedom to decide the kind of person we want to be. It is easy, of course, to close our eyes to the reality of what goes on, and allow ourselves to be lied to by those who make money killing animals. Or we can choose to live with our eyes completely open to the realities and truths around us.

A Huffington Post article summarizes:

People like Albert Einstein and Leo Tolstoy argued that using our power to harm the weak and innocent – on an issue as essential to who we are as eating – is fundamental to all moral action. Tolstoy summed it up by saying, “Vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism.” Einstein spoke of the human arrogance that considered ourselves apart and superior to other species, calling this justification for exploiting them “a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” He pleaded that “our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion,” calling for “the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

History has shown us, again and again, that one of the primary challenges of leading an ethical life is to transcend mindless acceptance of the current norms of society. Where a certain path is the easiest one, we should be very wary of assuming that it is also the best or most ethical path. As difficult as it can seem at times, we each can start to explore a truly compassionate lifestyle, where our basic decency and natural human revulsion at cruelty to animals guides us to truly humane choices.

Delicious and Powerful

Delightfully, it’s now also delicious to eat a cruelty-free diet.

maccheeseThis isn’t news to long-time vegetarians, but I still regularly meet individuals who want to make compassionate choices, but have no idea what they would eat. Naturally, they just picture their current diet minus meat, and imagine that an ethical life equals a life of deprivation.

Luckily, this is no longer the case! There is abundance – indeed, an overwhelming bounty – of amazing, familiar, and mouth-watering options out there. For example, exploring just one website – V-lish.com – gives tips for switching, lists loads of amazing recipes, and provides help for when you are eating out or traveling!

DeliciousEats_BigBenLentilBurger_SarahKramer-copyIn addition to being healthy and delicious, making our lives a part of something larger – opposing cruelty in our choices and acting from our true humanity – enriches our existence and allows for real meaning and lasting happiness.

mlkMartin Luther King Jr noted that the arc of history is long, but bends towards justice. Every day, at every meal, we can each help bend the arc! Choosing to follow a fully compassionate diet makes an incredibly powerful public ethical statement – not just about the suffering of animals, but about our fundamental humanity, the basic content of our character.

 

-Matt Ball
activist@farmsanctuary.org

2015 Something Better Now Available!

somethingbettercoverWe are very excited to announce the availability of the 2015 edition of our advocacy booklet, Something Better.

If you’ve never distributed copies before, you can see a pdf here. You can also head over to the CCC website and learn about leafleting, and get other ideas about booklet distribution. (If you’ve never spent time going through the Compassionate Communities Campaign website, there is a lot of great information all throughout!)

Contact us at activist@farmsanctuary.org to learn how you can distribute copies in your area.

Tabling

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Tip for tabling: Keep it simple. Here we have Farm Sanctuary’s unique “Adopt a Farm Animal” booklet, copies of the latest Newsletter, V-lish (the “How” of compassionate eating), and Something Better (the “Why”). Two sign up sheets for busy times.

If possible, good to have a video playing (not possible here).

And since I was doing the tabling, copies of my books.

(Photo from ThanksLiving in Phoenix, where I spoke and tabled.)

“The single most important thing…”

1) What challenges does your association face with the food industry?

In our economy, farm animals are inherently viewed as units of production. Given the competition to sell the least expensive product or else go out of business, there is no room for respect or compassion. Animals are ultimately seen as meat, rather than the intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive individuals they are. Cruelty and suffering are built into the meat industry.

2) What steps do you believe are necessary to change the way that animals are treated?
At this time, it is important to outlaw the worst abuses the meat industry uses: battery cages, veal crates, and gestation and farrowing crates.


All talk of welfare and reform aside, as long as farm animals are viewed as meat or producers of products, they will not be treated well. Profiting from the death of an animal obviates truly caring for that individual. Ultimately, each chicken, turkey, pig, and cow needs to be seen as someone, not something.

3) Why do you believe animals are entitled to rights and humane treatment other than laws?

Anyone who can think and has the ability to suffer and feel happiness is an individual, not an object or a tool. They deserve respect for their own individual life. In our society, respect for individuals is codified by “rights.”

4) Why should animal abuse in the food industry be a concern to consumers?

Almost everyone opposes cruelty to animals! Earlier in 2015, Gallup did a poll and found that 96% of Americans actively want animals protected from harm. 96%!

If we are buying meat, eggs, and dairy from factory farms, we are paying for and consuming cruelty. Ultimately, in this capitalist society, we are culpable for the consequences of our choices.

5) How would a change in the industry benefit the economy?

An industry based on cruelty is wrong, regardless of the economic impacts. No one would ask if ending slavery would have benefits to the economy – slavery was wrong, and good people stood on the right side of history and opposed it.

6) What are the most common questions of skepticism that you receive regarding animal rights and how do you justify yourself against these qualms?

It isn’t a question of justifying myself. I understand that it is easy to feel the need to justify yourself when you are different from the majority. But really, none of this is about me or other advocates. Also, it really isn’t about “animal rights,” either. It is about having our actions match our ethics, and being on the right side of history.

7) Was there a specific moment that lead you to advocate for animal rights?

Like many individuals, I changed my views and my habits slowly over time, as I came to learn more and to realize I could act differently. The most important point, however, was the fact that my roommate, first year of college, was a vegetarian. That set everything in motion.

8) For what reasons do you believe that the food industry is able to justify the harsh treatment of animals in their production of “cheap meat”?

I don’t know that anyone justifies anything, really. As long as the public demands cheap meat, there will be supply. The more people who make ethical decisions, the fewer animals will suffer. We’ve already seen this in the veal industry. There is no doubt in my mind that it will eventually happen to the rest of the meat industry – it is just too cruel and immoral to survive.

9) Do you believe that the only certain way to end animal abuse in the food industry is for the entire population to become vegetarian/vegan?

Ultimately, yes. But there are two important additional considerations:

A. Not eating animal flesh doesn’t mean deprivation, a life of boring salads and weird, tasteless foods. There are absolutely amazing options out there that even hard-core carnivores love. See, for instance, http://v-lish.com/new-favorites/

B. Everyone can take steps that will help lessen the number of animals suffering. Every time you choose a cruelty-free option, you are helping change the world.

10) Do you believe that more humane methods of producing animals can ever completely change the food industry?

No. When an individual exists to be sold as meat, they will be treated as meat.

11) Any last thoughts on the way that the public can change the way that animals are treated in the food industry?

By far, the single most important thing everyone can do is stop eating factory-farmed chickens. Veterinarian professor John Webster rightfully noted that industrial chicken production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” No matter what else you do or believe, boycotting factory farmed chicken is the most important, powerful step you can take.

-Matt

You Are Not Your Audience

Tobias Leenaert,  one of the founders of the Belgian organization Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, has a really insightful saying: You Are Not Your Audience (YANYA). This was one of my greatest failings in my early years of advocacy – I chose my message based on what sounded good to me, rather than what would have the biggest impact on non-vegetarians. Nobel laureate Herb Simon makes the important point that took me years to understand: People don’t make optimal choices. Rather, we make choices that are good enough. Consider this chart:
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Where the Y-axis is any negative measure – pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, saturated fat, etc. If they care at all about the measure, the vast majority of people would look at this chart and say, “I should give up A.” And a few might say, “I should give up A, B, and C.” Basically no one will say, “I should only consume I.” But put labels on the chart:

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And now vegans see something different: a case for veganism. It will, of course, be true – a vegan will generally use less water, or cause less pollution / global warming, or consume less saturated fat. The labels don’t change anything, however – non-vegan people are still going to see beef as bad, or beef, pork, and veal as bad. As you’ve probably noticed in your day-to-day lives, people substitute chicken (and sometimes chicken and fish) for red meat. This is backed up by research: in the largest recent study, those who consumed the lowest amount of red meat ate fifty percent more chicken than those who consumed the most red meat (Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 26(1), October 18, 2012). Given that it takes over 200 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one steer, this causes a lot more deaths.

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Given that chickens are so intensively raised, anything that encourages a move from red meat to chicken causes more suffering.

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I bring this up because I so often see advocates hop on every story that sounds anti-meat, regardless of how it will actually affect animals in the real world. We can’t just repeat messages that feel like they justify our personal veganism. Rather, we have to advocate such that fewer animals will suffer.