Monday, May 26, 2008

Custom Printed Hat

I had this hat custom printed front and back, to inform people of my veganism. Unfortunately the text was not as large as I had wanted.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chipotle's "Food With Integrity" Philosophy Lacks Integrity

I find it particularly unethical when a corporation purports to be something that it’s not, especially regarding concern for animals, the environment, workers, etc. Such is the case with Chipotle Mexican Grill, a chain of “fast-casual” restaurants across the United States.

A substantial portion of Chipotle’s website is devoted to its “Food With Integrity” philosophy, which is described as food that is “better tasting, coming from better sources, better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce.” Other sections of the site boast of “naturally raised” artisanal and organic meats free of added hormones; tout “sustainable practices”, “family-farmed”, “seasonal”; and describe working with dairy suppliers to eliminate synthetic growth hormones in their sour cream.

In the section titled “Steve’s Vision” founder and CEO Steve Ells recounts opening his first Chipotle in Denver in 1993, and how at the time he had no idea that the number of restaurants would eventually grow to several hundred. He expresses his love for cooking and the challenge it represents. He mentions that he continually strives to improve things.

Then he describes how he learned about factory farms by reading an issue of a newsletter written by food writer Ed Behr that focused on Niman Ranch, and an Iowa hog farmer named Paul Willis who “raised pigs the old-fashioned way.” He delves into the cruel practices of factory farming and contrasts them with what he calls “old school animal husbandry naturally raised”, which his company has embraced to “help create a more sustainable food chain that emphasizes the welfare of people, animals, and the land.”

Ells says that “Learning about this dark side of modern agriculture made me want to find out how we could do things differently.” But incredibly, he doesn’t seem to consider the killing of animals to be part of that “dark side”.

The company now buys most of its meat from several small niche-market suppliers, who avoid the use of antibiotics, and provide their animals with more space, better bedding, and vegetarian feed.

While it doesn’t surprise me, I think it’s horrific that Chipotle suggests to people on its website, in its advertising, and on its in-store menu boards, that they are doing something conscientious, or morally superior, by eating cows, pigs, and chickens that have been enslaved in a somewhat nicer way before being sent off to their deaths.

Chipotle commodifies these animals by referring to their flesh as “artisanal” or “organic”, as if it were talking about loaves of bread or bottles of wine. By framing the exploitation in the contexts of “naturally raised” and “Food With Integrity”, Chipotle rakes in profits as it attracts customers who are perfectly willing to spend more money to eat “humanely raised” animals without guilt.

The company claims that “Food With Integrity” isn’t a marketing slogan, but that’s precisely what it is. Because if Chipotle was really concerned about the welfare of animals (or the health of the environment), they wouldn’t have them on the menu.

This is an example of how the promotion of “happy meat” at best perpetuates animal exploitation, and at worst, increases it. Not only does Chipotle offer the public absolutely nothing in the way of incentives to stop eating animals, it provides insincere reasons for them to continue to consume them as usual.

Ells wraps up by writing: “we know that at the end of the day, we can't judge our own integrity. That's for our customers to decide.” Well here’s one customer who’s decided that Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” philosophy, lacks integrity.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary

Since 1997 Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has taken in rescued farm animals and provided a permanent home for them at its 105 acre location on the US state of Colorado’s eastern plains.
Two things were strongly evident to me as I finished reading all of the posts on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog: Joanna Lucus’s ability to readily recognize the complex personhood of nonhuman animals, and this organization’s firm and unwavering commitment to abolitionist principles. 

My favorite post is the most recent one, dated May 2, 2008, and titled Letter From A Vegan World. In this powerful piece, Lucus describes in detail the physical and emotional suffering that animals raised under “humane farming practices," are only vaguely aware of. Lucus criticizes the welfarist mentality that pushes “humane” meat, dairy, and eggs, and seeks reformed exploitation; justified by the idea that social change in the form of a vegan world, won’t emerge anytime soon, if ever. She writes that such thinking represents “a fear of action, a failure of will, a self-defeating attitude and, ultimately, a self-fulfilling prophesy.” 

I could not agree more. Her words offer me hope. I’ve been looking around for some progressive animal protection organizations to donate to. I’ve decided that Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary will be one of them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Myth of "Humane" Dairy, Eggs, and Meat

Years ago there seemed to be more awareness among animal rights activists that cage-free or free-range eggs represented only marginally less cruelty than battery-cage versions, and efforts were made to point this out to each other and to the consuming public. Free-range eggs, while preferable, still involved atrocious conditions for the laying hens and the human workers, and still polluted the environment, as the economics of mass production made these things inevitable. They were clearly not an ethical or humane alternative, people were told.

Things have changed. Major animal protection groups like PETA have embraced the Orwellian ideology of “humane” animal products with misleading campaigns and labeling schemes that have the effect of encouraging people to feel noble about continuing to eat animals, while portraying the sellers of these “improved” products as socially responsible corporate citizens, worthy of awards and positive press, for torturing animals slightly less or in different, “better” ways. Rather than working to reduce demand by challenging the underlying roots of animal exploitation, resources are diverted to welfarist programs that perpetuate it. Instead of focusing in an honest, straightforward way to convince people to adopt an easily followed vegan diet and lifestyle, veganism is presented as just another choice amidst a morally compromised menu that includes “humane farming” ballot propositions,“happy meat,” organic milk, and free-range eggs. To the delight of the animal marketers, consumers are being sold the myth of “humane” dairy, eggs, and meat. This should be no surprise in a capitalist marketplace where products and services are routinely advertised as things more and better than they actually are.

Would it be acceptable or remotely rational to promote “humane war,” “compassionate racism” or eco-friendly, drive less and kill locally serial killing? It would not be acceptable, nor would it make any sense. I would not consider a group that supported such things to be a human rights organization, any more than I consider PETA to be an animal rights organization. In 2008 we should no longer be waging wars, and otherwise hating, torturing, and killing human and nonhuman others. It’s time to stop rationalizing, compromising, and believing that societal attitudes can never change. It’s time to be civilized.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Anthropomorphism, or Things We Have in Common?

People who think like I do about animals are sometimes accused of anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to nonhumans. But many if not most of these human characteristics are really animal characteristics. Emotions, memory, personality, intelligence, and the ability to communicate are not unique to humans, and increasingly research is showing that the cognitive differences between humans and nonhumans are less than previously thought. In other words, we are not as “special” as our speciesist culture has led us to believe. This special status that is often used to justify our use of nonhumans, is an illusion that persists in part through the misuse of words such as anthropomorphism. It is this illusion that shapes our thinking and props up the institutions of animal exploitation.

People who live with companion animals recognize that the canine or feline members of their household have unique personalities and rich emotional lives. They think of these animals as nonhuman persons. But the animals whose flesh and secretions end up on the kitchen table, and the animals whose skin and hair cover furniture and hang in closets, are cognitively just like cats and dogs. There is no difference.

The bad news is that we have a huge moral inconsistency going on here. The good news is that it’s relatively simple and easy to fix.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Morally Confusing T-Shirt

The Chicago Diner, a vegetarian restaurant in Chicago, is my favorite. The menu is predominantly vegan, but unfortunately a few dishes contain cheese. The food is delicious. The dining room occupies most of the first floor of an old victorian house. When the weather is nice, you can dine on the tree shaded patio which you access by walking through the kitchen.

I went to their web site a couple days ago to purchase a gift certificate. That’s when I noticed their new “MEAT SUCKS” t-shirts for sale. Immediately I recognized that the stylized text printed on these shirts conveyed a morally confusing message. “MEAT SUCKS” implies by omission that dairy and eggs don’t suck, that these other animal products that most of us eat are morally more acceptable, and that removing them from our diets, or removing them from the restaurant’s menu, is somehow not as important.

But the reality is that animals used for their milk and eggs are enslaved, tortured, and ultimately killed, just like the animals whose flesh is eaten. Milk and egg production on the scale required to meet global market demand, is seriously detrimental to the environment. From a health standpoint, there is little difference between meat, dairy, and eggs, the consumption of which has been linked to a host of degenerative diseases.

Yes indeed, meat sucks! But so does dairy, eggs, and all other forms of animal exploitation.

A Brief Introduction to Abolitionist Veganism

Abolitionist veganism is an animal rights approach based on the principle that all sentient beings deserve to be granted the right not to be classified as property.

Abolishing the property status of nonhuman animals will permit the dismantling of the institutions of animal exploitation that currently exist within the property status framework.

Abolitionism contends that exploitation of sentient beings is wrong regardless of species, in the same way that it is wrong to use race, age, gender, or sexual orientation to afford basic rights to some humans and not other humans.

The abolitionist approach as defined by Professor Gary L. Francione seeks to clearly and directly reduce and ultimately eliminate animal exploitation through creative, nonviolent educational efforts designed to change cultural attitudes about the legitimacy of the use of nonhuman animals. This is a fundamentally different approach than animal welfare, which seeks to regulate existing forms of exploitation.

Animal welfare has been around for a long time, and has not worked. It does nothing to change society’s attitudes about exploitation and move us along the path to abolition. Rather, regulating exploitation has the effect of reinforcing the property status paradigm.

Abolitionists value moral consistency. We reject animal protection campaigns that utilize sexism or other forms of discrimination, as well as those that are in other ways contradictory, morally confusing, or embrace utilitarian “ends justifies the means” mentality. We contend that animal rights cannot be separated from other issues of social justice and oppression. These issues are interrelated and connected.

We recognize veganism as the moral baseline. Living the vegan lifestyle is a necessary component of affirming one’s commitment to abolition and animal rights. Being a vegan means at minimum not eating animals (meat, fish), not eating their secretions (milk, eggs, honey), not wearing animals (fur, leather, wool), and educating others around you by setting a good example, understanding the issues of animal rights, and pursuing honest, logical, non-confrontational engagement.

The six principles of the Abolitionist Approach to animal rights may be read here