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Meat is Murder

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“You people are like another species, you have such a disconnect from these animals. And you talk about how you love them, and you respect them…all these animals are gonna be killed because they taste good, and because these people continue to exploit and profit from their flesh, their fiber…are we not more abolitionist, do we turn our cause to bigger cages and not empty cages? I think it’s shameful…” – Jenny Brown, from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, voicing her disgust during a talk given by a ‘humane’ pig farmer at HSUS/TAFA 2007 (Taking Action for Animals: The complete article, which follows this excerpt, was written by Josh Hooten for the August 2007 edition of Herbivore Magazine.

Thoughts on the Taking Action for Animals Conference

Or: How I spent my summer vacation and if I had it to do over again, I would have gone to the beach.

By Josh Hooten

I slept for 12 hours last night. I took Ruby up at 8 to put her to bed and neither of us stirred until 8 this morning. Michelle was up and working when we came down, groggy and rested. The coffee pot was empty; she’d been up for a while working. She had that perky I-just-drank-a-pot-of-coffee! zing in her step.I was exhausted. We took a family trip down to Los Angeles for the annual animal rights conference put on by The Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) the previous weekend and last weekend I went on a solo mission to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sponsored Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference in Washington D.C.

While at the FARM conference, word on the street was that meat producers—producers of the oxymoronic “humane meat”—would be presenting at TAFA.

‘Humane’ Meat

There has been plenty of criticism of HSUS flying around of late; some I agree with, some I don’t. Largely, I’ve felt HSUS is trying to affect change on a level I do not have access to or any sway in. I can be patient with a lot of the tactics and campaigns HSUS is working on, despite the fact those campaigns don’t go as far as I’d like, because even watered down AR messages on the scale HSUS reaches can do some real good. This isn’t about what I want; after all, it’s about the animals. What works and doesn’t work in regards to their ultimate liberation is very unclear right now. What I do know is that change on a mainstream level is always going to be incremental, always going to be disappointing, and always going to affect far more people and animals than just grassroots action will. Plus, I think it’s a fallacy to deny the trickle down effect working on a mainstream, more welfare-based level will have on people going vegan. Welfare campaigns make many people think, for the first time ever, about the treatment of the animals they eat. Yes, this can have the unwanted effect of making people think they can ethically eat animal products. But isn’t it plausible to think it has another unintended effect as well? Isn’t it plausible to think some folks will hear about the awful conditions factory farmed animals live and die under and decide they want nothing to do with that system, and go vegan? For the mainstream, surely this is a good thing.

I am willing to abandon this line of thinking if someone can prove to me that massive mainstream welfare campaigns and grassroots vegan outreach make fewer vegans than just grassroots vegan outreach. Until someone can show me numbers saying one is working better than the other at making vegans, I can’t abandon hope in either, or their combined appeal.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for example, had a lot to do with Michelle and I going vegan and with starting this magazine. Herbivore Magazine has made a few vegans. Perhaps those vegans have made a few vegans. PETA has flaws, undoubtedly, as we all do, but how many vegans have they made directly and indirectly? This doesn’t mean PETA, or any of us, should not be scrutinized, but it does mean they have been effective at making vegans. I would guess more effective than anybody else, ever.

I am slow to condemn tactics that don’t jive with my personal wants. One approach didn’t win black folks civil rights, women the right to vote, or the 8-hour work day. Who knows what will make different people respond? Our responsibility is to be there with outreach and information for as many types of people as possible and meet them where they are, instead of expecting them to meet us where we are.


Was HSUS really going to invite meat producers to present at TAFA? It seems like the kind of rumor that has legs. One person says it and the whole room has heard about it within minutes. I called some people who would know for sure and, yes, a pig farmer and a turkey farmer were presenting. When you donate enough money, you get to host a panel discussion. The Animal Welfare Institute, as is noted on the TAFA website, forked over $10,000, which in effect, bought them a panel. That is my understanding. AWI then invited the pig farmer and the turkey farmer to present. Those presentations included slideshows of happy animals on their happy farms living “naturally.” Those presentations didn’t show slaughter and didn’t show the grueling transportation those animals endure on the way to slaughter. One HSUS employee told me when pig trucks arrive to the slaughter facility there are always dead animals. And since the pigs are so close to slaughter, there is no financial incentive to feed or give water or care to these animals while in transit.

I was told when these “humane” farmers showed cutesy pictures of animals on their “humane” farms, people in the crowd oohed and aahed. And when Jenny Brown from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary stood up and objected saying…

“You people are like another species, you have such a disconnect from these animals. And you talk about how you love them, and you respect them…all these animals are gonna be killed because they taste good, and because these people continue to exploit and profit from their flesh, their fiber…are we not more abolitionist, do we turn our cause to bigger cages and not empty cages? I think it’s shameful…”

…she was booed. Booed for confronting people who kill animals for a living? Animals she rescues and works with every single day? They were presenting happy pictures of happy animals, each with a death sentence on their head. Booed for calling that bullshit.

If her anger got the best of her and what she said didn’t come off as gently as those booing would have liked, perhaps you can understand considering the work she does and her connection to the condemned animals the farmers were claiming to care about. Consider also Jenny has had visitors to the sanctuary tell her they’d been vegetarian for years but were introducing meat back into their diet because now they could get it “humanely.” If she was angry with those farmers, that panel, and that event, perhaps you can understand why.

I don’t reckon the farmers painting their idyllic Old McDonald scenario bothered to point out that all the animals they showed slides of are doomed to a horrific throat slitting, if they survive the long truck ride to the knife. Or that perhaps some of the happy animals the people in the audience were admiring were already dead, having been strung upside down and bled out? The oohing and aahing would have had a different tone if the farmers had shown the whole story.

On the AWI website they have posted a letter about these farmers presentations. You can read it here.

In this statement they defend the decision to include these farmers in the presentation and point out, “These farmers have no interest in converting vegetarians or vegans to a meat-based diet.” What? I cannot think of a single reason these farmers would attend this conference if not to grow their businesses. Why would they want to talk to what should largely have been a mostly vegetarian or vegan crowd? What was the goal if not to sell more meat?

AWI says to “create dialogue.” Sure. Except nobody on the panel was rebutting the “humane” meat line. That’s not dialogue, that’s a commercial. And HSUS got paid to run it.

AWI says in their letter we shouldn’t be “close-minded” and I heard this a couple of times. I am open to any number of tactics and approaches to the liberation of animals. I am willing to hear the bigger cages argument. I am willing to hear the vegan outreach approach. I am not willing to listen to somebody who profits from the deaths of animals tell me it’s okay any more than I would listen to a human slave owner tell me it’s okay. Does that make me close-minded? If so, I’m close-minded about a lot of things. I don’t want to hear rationalizations for violence against living creatures from people who live comfortably as a result. They will never stop this violence; their livelihoods depend on it. Indeed, they have a vested interest in more violence toward animals, as their paychecks will get bigger.

These farmers disgust me with the shameful half-truths they use to discuss the animals they raise for slaughter. It’s sociopathic. They care about these animals? They love these animals? Then why, when they are big enough, do they put them on a truck and turn them over to brutes in slaughterhouses for awful deaths?

This is not my biggest problem though. Most of the world doesn’t share my vision of a perfect world. These farmers and I just don’t agree on why these animals exist. We have a “perfect world” that is fundamentally different. Theirs includes animals being our slaves—well treated for a portion of their lives—but slaves nonetheless. The purpose of these animals existence is to serve us. They will not be allowed to live in a way that doesn’t serve us. My perfect world has no slaves. That’s fine; we don’t have this in common.

I did, however, think HSUS and I shared a perfect world vision. Which is why I have been willing to accept a lot of incremental reform that doesn’t make me all that happy or inspired. I felt, perhaps, they knew some things I didn’t about getting to this perfect world we wanted and if we didn’t see eye to eye on tactics, I’d trust they were doing what they thought was right.

Then HSUS decided to sell a meat advertisement for $10,000 at what many think is a vegetarian/vegan event. If McDonald’s pitched in $10,000, could they present a panel and talk about how they’re using bigger cages? What about veal producers who don’t use the intense confinement methods we all know? If they dropped enough cash, could they talk about their “humane” veal? Would HSUS draw a line anywhere? If they dropped $20,000 could they host the banquet and have a meat option put on the menu? If HSUS is fine promoting “humane” meat, how big of a stretch is it to see some of it being served in the years to come? If, as the welfare line goes, people are going to eat meat anyway so they should eat “humane meat,” why was HSUS only serving it up in idea form? Why not the real thing? Is there any reason now they wouldn’t serve it?

Why didn’t HSUS try and put together a panel to discuss the ethics and general wonderfulness of fake meat? Surely some of the bigger vegan food companies out there would have loved the captive audience and would have coughed up the cash? Still a commercial, yes, but a bloodless one, and one that could have turned on-the-fence meat eaters toward vegan options instead of giving them the excuse to eat animals. If you’re going to nudge them, why nudge them toward meat?

Of all the myriad issues facing (what I thought was) our movement right now HSUS decided to hand over a part of it to the opposition and give them an open forum to sell their murderous products. Of all the things (what I thought was) our movement needs to be “creating dialogue” about and needs to be open-minded about, selling torn apart bodies of animals is not one of them. If we can’t agree that that is an egregious wrong, I’m not sure what we have left in common.

I’m a pretty patient activist. I feel like I know what we’re up against. I support a host of tactics. I feel fairly certain we won’t see a massive shift towards veganism very soon. But we keep working. Even if we never make the kind of progress we want, we have to keep working and fighting. We have to, no matter what, try to save those lives that are doomed. Coming up short like this is unacceptable. Coming up short like this is selling those lives out to brutes and liars. It is saying people can’t be changed, can’t see the beauty or benefit of a bloodless lifestyle.

But people can be changed. I changed. You changed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “If I can go vegan, anybody can.” HSUS, by selling an ad to meat producers, gave up on that little spark in countless people who can change and gave them an excuse to never fan it into a roaring flame.

Without fail there is some controversy at these conferences and I find this healthy; our movement should have critical thinkers and a variety of tactics. It’s an internal debate amongst people who ultimately want the same things. I always leave inspired, refreshed, and ready to get back to work. The personal connections I’ve made, some of the talks I’ve heard, and the general feeling that you’re surrounded by folks who want the same perfect world you do is invaluable to me. I get home so fired up for the work at hand.

TAFA was entirely the opposite. The majority of the conversations I had were about the meat producers and what HSUS was doing. Everybody I was excited to see and discuss things with was angry and confused. Almost nothing outside of this topic got discussed. I came home exhausted and pissed off and unsure if I’d, by attending and tabling, just endorsed an event that promoted the very thing I spend my life fighting against.

For portions of the TAFA conference I felt like I was at an event for an industry/movement I don’t actually belong to—that’s how alien it felt. Then I’d look up and see my man Gary Loewenthal, or Jenny and Robin from Woodstock, or Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, or Nick from Hugs for Puppies, or Ryan MacMichael from Vegblog and think “wait…these are my people! And the enemy has infiltrated us! And HSUS let it happen!” It cast a cloud over the whole event. It was divisive and counterproductive. It felt like HSUS had taken their place at the table and were now selling seats to others, at the expense of the animals and the activists who attend conferences for inspiration. But TAFA only inspired one overwhelming emotion in everyone I spoke to: anger.


Written by Ethan Handur

August 16, 2007 at 9:13

Posted in total liberation

Tagged with , , ,

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