A reader writes:
Your acceptance of the “simply morally unacceptable” eating habits that you currently follow leads you to the “eat less meat, or eat better-raised meat” solution. That seems like an obvious, and perfectly reasonable, reaction when one views the evidence surrounding factory farming. But would that actually satisfy one’s moral compass? While eating less meat by definition reduces the number of animals killed, it implicitly gives sanction to eating some meat. I don’t think society generally accepts that sort of logic when approaching other acts that are morally frowned upon. It would not be acceptable for the US to waterboard fewer prisoners, a rapist to target fewer victims, or an abusive father to beat his children less often, and claim to be acting in a morally upright manner.
And the option of only eating more humanely raised/killed meat is simply not a realistic option. While specialty stores may stock meat that purports to be miraculously free of animal suffering, it is often little more than a marketing ploy. The overwhelming majority of meat sold (in order to be economically competitive) comes from factory farms. The same applies to the egg and dairy industries.
Eating less meat, or eating better-raised meat, as a morally-sound solution is simply a lie that many of us tell ourselves to feel better about our current habits.
I’m trying to be realistic here. Another vegan is less rigid and has some very helpful tips on cruelty-reduction:
You correctly state that people can still make big differences through their food choices in ways that suit their needs and desires. I would like to offer some guidance on that. No deep thoughts, just some practical advice. (Yes, some advice on eating animals from a vegan. Anything to reduce suffering!)
To begin with, if you want to reduce suffering as much as possible and still include animal products in your diet, reduce anything from pigs or birds.
These are by far the most abused animals in farming today because they can both be raised indoors in tight confinement. They have body parts hacked off to minimize the problems of living in such confinement, among other reasons. Pigs and birds are both very intelligent and social (crows are one of the five most intelligent non-human animals on earth). I believe you are totally wrong when you suggest that chickens have a low level of emotional experience – that describes clams, mussels, and oysters (but likely not most fish). Further, a single chicken yields far less meat than a single cow, so chickens are tortured in vast numbers.
First reduce or eliminate eggs, chicken, and turkey; and pork, ham, and bacon. Next on the reduce/eliminate priority list is dairy. Buy delicious nut milk cheeses and coconut milk/almond milk/soy milk/rice milk yogurt and ice cream.
Beef and lamb are much better choices, as they must live at least some of their lives out in pasture. “Grass fed” is good but deceptive, as they do end up in CAFOs eating grain. Grass-fed and grass-finished beef is better, as they don’t end up in feedlots – this is probably the closest to the “one bad day” school of agricultural animal welfare.
Be very suspicious of feel-good labeling, as most of it is highly deceptive. Terms like “cage free”; “free range”; “natural”; “humane” etc. are mostly used on products from atrocious factory farms. Do not believe them! Look for stores or products that use the labeling system from the Global Animal Partnership, as Whole Foods does, and try to stay in within the green labels. If you feel you must use eggs, make sure they are “pasture raised” or “pastured” – these still surely have their problems but are vastly better than anything without some form of the word “pasture” on them, when that word is used honestly.
Try ideas like Vegan Before Six, Meatless Mondays, meat as a small part of dishes, only on weekends or for special occasions, or any such approach that works for you. Buy vegetarian/vegan cookbooks. Read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. Watch the documentary Earthlings (narrated by Joaquin Phoenix; music by Moby).
Of course if you add the environmental concerns to the cruelty concerns, then that may bring you closer to vegan … maybe, someday. Either way, everyone can help reduce suffering.