Meat avoidance and what it means

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003–

“In terms of nonreligious literature handed out to
pedestrians, Why Vegan? may be the most widely distributed brochure
in recent years. Hundreds of people and organizations distribute
hundreds of thousands of copies annually–more than 500,000 in 2002,”
Vegan Outreach cofounder Jack Norris recently wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Norris listed ways in which the most recent updated edition
of Why Vegan? differs from previous versions, including the addition
of “a spread depicting real experiences on factory farms, described
by people who have been there.”
Yet the new Why Vegan? includes less descriptive text about
animal suffering, overall, than in the recent past, and is
actually quite different from the original edition issued in 1999.

The drift, through several updates, has been away from an emphasis
on issues of diet and philosophy, toward bluntly reminding readers
that meat comes from animals. The animals on the front cover are
alive and appealing. Most of those inside are clearly miserable,
albeit in standard factory farm conditions, and some are already
dead and butchered.
Not long ago, vegans and vegetarians were commonly believed
to fall into either of two categories: those who renounced meat in
connection with maintaining personal health, and those for whom
giving up meat is a matter of conscientious ethical choice.
Meat industry research, however, in the late 1980s
identified another vegan and vegetarian category, larger than the
other two combined. These are “meat avoiders,” who avoid consuming
animal products and byproducts as a matter of preference, often
without articulating either to themselves or anyone else just why
they eat as they do.
Meat avoiders turn out to have a strong aversion to meat
which is emotionally rather than intellectually based, and tends to
become a lifelong habit. While people who become vegan or vegetarian
for reasons of health or abstract philosophy are notoriously likely
to backslide when their peer groups change, meat avoiders find ways
of evading meat consumption even without acknowledging that they have
in fact become committed vegans or vegetarians.
Why Vegan? has evolved from trying to “convert” people who
might quit eating meat for reasons of health or philosophy, into
helping meat avoiders “come out of the closet” so as to help lead
others into choosing meatless meals as part of a compassionate
lifestyle. The Vegan Outreach idea seems to be that far more people
are willing to become vegans or vegetarians than are willing to say
so, thereby bringing upon themselves the associated social risks.
As more meat avoiders become overt vegans and vegetarians, however,
avoiding meat and even professing meat avoidance becomes easier for
not yet fully meat-avoiding sympathizers, who may nonetheless have
already reduced their meat consumption.
A study commissioned by the British organization Animal Aid
in March 2003 confirmed the extent to which vegans and vegetarians
still battle prejudice–and the extent to which the barriers to meat
avoidance have been lowered. Among 800 vegetarian parents, 47% felt
that they were subjected to “negative pressure” for not feeding their
children meat.
“The finding that shocked us most,” Animal Aid campaigns
officer Becky Lilly told Jonathan Thompson of The Independent, “was
the amount of pressure coming from close relatives–no doubt
well-meaning, but ill-informed. This is despite bodies such as the
British Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association
confirming that a well-balanced vegetarian, indeed vegan diet, is
exceptionally healthy.”
The finding that shocks ANIMAL PEOPLE most, after
experiencing and observing half a century of vegetarian family life
in the U.S. and Canada, is that more than half of the vegetarian
parents surveyed by Animal Aid had not encountered the “negative
pressure” that for most U.S. and Canadian vegetarian parents remains
ubiquitous and omnipresent.
Even now, the purported veganism of a Long Island couple who
nearly starved their infant daughter Ice to death on a decidedly
non-vegan diet of nuts, juices, and cod liver oil receives heavy
news coverage, while parallel neglect cases involving parents of
ordinary diet receive scant notice. Mainstream news media
to date seem unaware that “Ice” is a name more closely linked with
methadrine use than with any aspect of veganism–and rarely note that
vegans do not use cod liver oil, which is made from fish. Popular
perception is therefore that the child was a victim of parental
fanaticism rather than of criminality.
The Vegan Outreach Vegan Starter Pack, published as
follow-up to Why Vegan?, goes a long way toward enabling
psychologically normal and healthy vegans, vegetarians, and meat
avoiders to cope with the social and practical difficulties they are
likely to encounter. Even longtime vegans, vegetarians, and meat
avoiders will find useful tips in it, especially in the opening
essay “On being vegan” and in the last-page question-and-answer
The Vegan Starter Pack is online, free for downloading,
linking, and forwarding at Printed
copies of Why Vegan? and the Vegan Starter Pack are available from
Vegan Outreach at 211 Indian Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15238;
Much as individual vegans and vegetarians were once
divided into the health/fitness and philosophical categories, vegan
and vegetarian societies until relatively recently tended to avoid
strong identification with humane concerns. Commonly attracting more
male participation than humane groups, whose support base in the
U.S. and Britian has been about 80% female since the mid-19th
century, vegan and vegetarian group leadership may have felt that
exhibiting concern for animal suffering was “unmanly,” and might
have scared away the athletes and intellectuals who gave their cause
whatever mainstream respectability it enjoyed. Already subject to
ridicule for not eating meat, male vegans and vegetarians might have
flinched away from any risk of enduring further mockery as alleged
Conversely, many humane organizations to this day eschew any
identification with vegetarianism and veganism, from evident and
sometimes admitted fear of losing economic support from meat-eaters.
The advent of the animal rights movement included the rise of
national groups which were not afraid to engage in both vegan or
vegetarian advocacy and overt animal defense. Animal Rights
International, founded in 1976 by the late Henry Spira, was
initially identified by mainstream media with antivivisectionism,
for obvious reasons, since the first four ARI campaign victories
were ending cat experiments at the American Museum of National
History, persuading Avon and Revlon to give up animal testing, and
convincing Procter & Gamble to invest $120 million to date in
developing alternatives to animal testing of pharmaceuticals.
Spira broke the stereotype by founding the Coalition for
Nonviolent Foodand campaigning mostly under that banner throughout
thelast 14 years of his life.
By the mid-1980s the emergence of the Farm Animal Reform
Movement, PETA, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,
the Humane Farming Association, and Farm Sanctuary had repeatedly
demonstrated that campaigning against cruelty and meat-eating could
be successful as part and parcel of the same platform.
Newer anti-cruelty and pro-vegan or vegetarian organizations
including United Poultry Concerns, Defending Farm Aninals, and
Viva!, an ambitious British import, have more recently developed
successful niche campaigns on behalf of specific farmed species and
with specific regional accents.
Two separate surveys of self-professed animal rights
activists and antivivisectionists confirmed in 1990-1991 that 85%
were already vegan or vegetarian. Yet only 1% of Americans were
vegan, and only 3% to 4% were vegetarian–and these percentages seem
to be remaining relatively steady. Among the 281 million Americans
today, just 10 to 15 million declare themselves to be vegans or
vegetarians. By contrast, there are believed to be as many as 50 to
60 million supporters of mainstream humane societies.
The U.S. Bureau of the Census and Department of Agriculture
in fiscal 1994 discovered, however, that while overt vegetarianism
and veganism are growing only in approximate proportion to the total
U.S. population, meat avoidance is markedly more prevalent among
each younger generation. As of 1994, members of the Korean War
generation ate 4% less meat per capita than members of the World War
II generation; members of the Baby Boom generation ate 20% less;
and members of the post-Boom generation ate 31% less.
These numbers appear to be holding up over time, and are
perhaps becoming even more skewed.
Also by now clearly no fluke was the 1996 survey finding by Scott
Plous that animal right advocates under age 35 considered the
treatment of farm animals to be the most urgent concern of the cause.
Activists who were 35 then are 42 now, just entering their peak
years of economic and political influence. The World War II and
Korean War generations are meanwhile thinning, and only population
growth and the still disproportionately large size of the Baby Boom
generation keep total U.S. meat consumption relatively steady.

Humane Farm Animal Care

If the present trends continue, the 10 billion animals per
year killed for U.S. dinner tables could decline to seven billion or
fewer during the next 20 years. Unfortunately, that would leave
seven billion animals per year still suffering on factory farms,
including more than six billion chickens. Thus there will be a
continuing need to pursue improved standards of farm animal care, as
well as promotion of meatless eating, through the foreseeable
This leaves a critical role to Humane Farm Animal Care, the
new organization founded by Adele Douglass to carry on the Free
Farmed certification program that she began in 2000 under the name
Farm Animal Services and the umbrella of the American Humane
Association. Though the financially troubled AHA proved unwilling or
unable to sustain the Free Farmed initiative, under the standards
that Douglass and leading livestock behavior experts developed,
Douglass and her entire scientific team are pushing on as planned.
Eventually the U.S. may become a vegetarian nation, but
until then, the best hope for improving the lives and deaths of farm
animals will be certification programs like HFAC, which ensure that
the animals are raised and killed according to “best practice”
standards, not just the minimums that can be established by law.
Laws can only set the floor for acceptability, which will almost
always be at approximately the majority status quo, because if a
legal standard is set too high it cannot be effectively enforced. A
certification program, by contrast, can set standards at any level
that it can persuade participants to try to meet, based on
perception of a sales advantage in operating above the floor level.
“The new humane certification program will be modeled on the
Freedom Foods effort in the U.K and the Free Farmed program in the
U.S.,” Douglass told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The Royal SPCA began its
humane labeling initiative in 1994 with all products sold under the
Freedom Foods brand name. Accredited farms now represent 90% of all
non-caged egg production and 25% of all retail shell eggs. The
Freedom Foods’ share of the British pork industry is estimated at 5%.”
Douglass believes her Free Farmed program “helped 1 million
farm animals. Fifteen producers representing the beef, chicken,
pork, egg and dairy industries joined the effort. Four million
products carrying the Free Farmed logo have been sold in leading
stores such as Albertson’s, Giant (Ahold), Wild Oats, Whole Foods,
and Trader Joe’s.”
The RSPCA Freedom Foods program has already run into at least
one scandal when some producers allegedly failed to uphold their
animal care standards after passing inspection, and when the RSPCA
was allegedly lax about follow-up. Yet this setback was typical of
the early years of any accreditation and certification program,
including those that have become the front line of defense against
quack doctors, shyster lawyers, and rapacious innkeepers. Over
time, in countless professions, accreditation and certification do
tend to protect consumers at least as well as occasional prosecutions
of malefactors.
The greatest risk inherent in a certification program for
“humane” livestock farmers is that if it is hugely successful in
establishing baseline standards of care which are not then gradually
raised, it might eventually be used by agribusiness as a shield
against criticism– much as the mostly unenforced Humane Slaughter
Act has served since 1958 to reassure the public that the routine
slaughterhouse atrocities documented by Gail Eisnitz of the Humane
Farming Association, former SHARK investigator Dug Hanbicki, and
others are aberrations.
Yet humane certification has the potential to significantly
reduce what Henry Spira called “the universe of suffering” during the
decades between now and whenever meat avoidance becomes the norm.
Meanwhile, scrutinizing Humane Farm Animal Care as keenly as HFAC
scrutinizes producers, will be an increasingly sensitized activist
Many years from now, the time may come when HFAC is an
anachronism, after the demise of factory farming, but by then the
Vegan Outreach activities will also have become irrelevant, and the
question Why vegan? will long since have become Why not vegan?, in a
world in which instead of growing numbers of supporters of humane
societies, we have societies that are increasingly humane.

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