A reader writes:
I think one of your readers missed the point completely. Their example was: “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.” But we’re not talking about “fewer”; we’re talking about different. So interrogations with a waterboard are unacceptable, but other forms of interrogation are fine. Physically beating a child because they’ve misbehaved is unacceptable but disciplining them is fine.
Now if you have an absolutist view that we can not harm animals for our own needs, all of those absolute examples make sense. Any harm to any animal is unacceptable. If your view is that eating meat is a perfectly normal thing for a human to do, and what you wish is to do is spare animals unnecessary cruelty during their lives, then the “Sully Approach ™” is pitch perfect.
Another quotes the other vegan reader:
“First reduce or eliminate eggs, chicken, and turkey; and pork, ham, and bacon.” A healthy hen can produce 300-400 eggs in a lifetime, but only 3-4 servings of meat. So it would seem that removing chicken meat is 100x more effective in reducing the number of chickens affected by your consumption than eliminating eggs.
One of many more readers:
Eggs are actually the easiest to procure outside of the factory system. The backyard chicken coop used to be a staple of urban households; it really is not that hard to do.
Plus, besides eggs, chickens provide a good way to recycle kitchen waste, producing valuable fertilizer for the tomato plant. And a chicken is no more of a neighborhood nuisance than the average dog. It isn’t all roses and sunshine: there is still the problem of disposing of excess roosters and old, no-longer-productive hens … you can eat them, but to do that you still have to kill them. But raising chickens does put you in position to make your own moral decisions.
Don’t forget farmers’ markets whenever possible. We’re able to raise our own chickens and lambs and we barter with others for beef and pork. All of them are humanely (and even lovingly) raised and slaughtered. Those not so lucky should shop at local farmers’ markets and also talk to them about how they raise and dispatch their animals. Even in NYC, humanely raised protein is all around. Just don’t buy it at the supermarkets or in restaurants – especially fast food!
As a non-vegan, I would only add that more of us should be familiar with the Cornucopia Institute, which audits and rates dairy and egg producers on a wide range of ethical standards. They go far beyond “free range” or “organic” labeling and identify producers that really do avoid some of the worst practices, such as the debeaking of egg-laying hens. It was through them that I learned about Vital Farms, a genuinely sustainable (and national) egg brand that really does make an effort to ensure their hens live a good life. Their eggs are expensive as a result (about twice the going rate compared to typical organic), but I think it’s well worth the price.
I strongly second your moderate vegan reader’s recommendations on reducing the cruelty footprint of your diet. And whether you want to go vegan or just make reducing your meat consumption easier and tastier, I cannot recommend any vegan chef more highly than Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her Veganomicon is my bible.
As background, I have historically been someone who was very health focused, and I have tried various types of diets, including meat-centered ones such as the Paleo Diet. I have also toyed with vegetarianism in the past (mainly for health reasons), and I have read some other books on the broad topic (including Four Fish by Paul Greenberg and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, both excellent). But Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals had a significant emotional effect on me that the others did not. It gave me the same sense of epiphany on the topic of vegetarianism that I received on the topic of religion from reading The God Delusion, and I felt that I could no longer consciously deny that eating meat led to a moral wrong.