“Why keep looking for the right way to do the wrong thing?” I first heard this question posed by an animal advocate during a discussion about “humane” farming. I thought it was incredibly insightful. After all, if needless killing is wrong, then why keep trying to find better ways to do it?
Why not just stop?
True, there may have been a time when killing animals was necessary for our survival, but for those of us living in the modern world, that is (thankfully) no longer the case. Today, we continue to harm and kill animals only out of habit, convenience, desire or for profit. Killing for those reasons is not ethically-defensible, regardless of whether the killing is done by a worker in a factory in Ohio or by some local guy in our own backyard.
And what of the assumption that it’s somehow better to kill a happy, loved animal than a miserable one? Isn’t that awfully disturbing when we stop to think about it?
I thought of these questions again today while watching a video featuring Jonathan Safran Foer promoting “humane” poultry products. For those who aren’t familiar with Foer, he is the author of Eating Animals – a compelling and eloquent exposé of the meat industry (including so-called humane farms). I’ve heard him speak in person and found him immensely persuasive, personable and entertaining. (No small accomplishment when the topic of discussion is animal abuse and food.) I have tremendous respect and gratitude for his work.
As far as I know, Foer is vegetarian with pro-vegan leanings. During the lecture, someone asked about eggs and dairy. He was very clear that there is suffering involved in ALL animal products, and that in his opinion, when it comes to animal cruelty, “eggs are the absolute worst.”
Here’s a sampling of a few more things Foer has said over the years:
On The Myth of Consent
It’s disappointing that a person who has spoken so eloquently in defense of animals would become a spokesperson for Buying Poultry.com. And yet, it’s easy to understand what his rationale might be: so long as people continue to consume animals, we might as well ask them to seek out products that have been produced in less horrific ways.
But the trouble is, I believe the promise of “humane” animal farming is a false one. It’s a practical impossibility and a misuse of the meaning of the word humane. And yet, most people see these labels as absolution. I know I once did. So long as we believe we are making humane choices, there’s no motivation to switch to a plant-based diet.
On the plus side, Buyingpoultry.com does expose the horrors of factory farming and rightly informs consumers that “No food in the nation produces more suffering than poultry.” They also provide a link for meat-free options. But the site’s main focus seems to be connecting consumers with “high welfare” and “sustainable ” poultry products.
This brings to mind one of my favorite passages from Foer’s book. He writes: “Children confront us with our paradoxes and hypocrisies, and we are exposed. You need to find an answer for every why — Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that? — and often there isn’t a good one. So you say, simply, because. Or you tell a story that you know isn’t true.”
I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that those of us who want to feel good about eating animals need to believe in false stories.
It may be a positive sign that more people are expressing concern about how we keep and kill animals. But I think the real ethical issue is why we continue to keep and kill animals when we no longer need to. Everything else is just a distraction. Just a way of looking for the right way to do the wrong thing.