United Poultry Concerns stands out among the longer running animal-advocacy organizations as one of the few that has never sold-out the animals for its own interest in fund-raising or growing it's organization or base of support. When PETA, Mercy for Animals, HSUS and so many others followed Peter Singer's lead and signed on to the infamous Whole Foods Letter that undermined the ethical messaging of animal advocacy, UPC was one of the few that did not do that.
That was why I was especially excited to be invited this year to present at UPC's Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley, California. My presentation was one of three in the morning, while the afternoon featured a jaw-dropping debate on clean meat -- probably the first such debate to happen in the movement.
There was an amazing synergy at this event. When I gave my presentation: "Don't Push Your Values: Under Pressure -- Social Justice Progress amidst Societal Group Coercion" (see my presentation Here) I didn't know the specific evidence that professors John Sanbonmatsu and Vasile Stanscu (arguing that clean meat would harm animals in the debate) would be presenting to counter the slick polished rhetoric of those trying to promote clean meat at this event. But the debate provided the audience with an amazing opportunity to witness for themselves the very dynamic my slide presentation sought to bring to people's attention -- part of which involves good people facilitating injustices they claim to oppose.
Well known activists, Bruce Friedrich and Paul Shapiro led the crusade to get animal advocates to support clean meat and it is due almost exclusively to the efforts of these two men that many of the large animal advocacy groups have given their endorsement to clean meat. Previously I wrote about ethical problems when Shapiro and Friedrich appeared on stage at KC's first vegfest in my article, How Co-option of Grass Roots Activism Played out in KC's First Vegfest, after that event's organizers made the unfortunate decision to "Trade patronage for power" by having Friedrich and Shapiro as its main speakers. (I just learned of the term, "Tradiing Patronage for Power" from a sociology student at the Conscious Eating Conference, who told me after she watched my presentation that there was a term to express what I was describing.)
If you have been working for justice for animals for a long time, you may appreciate how devastating the marketing of "local" "organic" "happy" "humane" meat has been to the cause. Following the growing popularity of the locovore movement the number of abused animals increased dramatically. There are theoretical reasons that may explain this such as the fact that these marketing ploys have given more respectability to killing other beings (as long as it's done the "right" way.)
I can certainly see evidence of this in my own community of Lawrence, Ks.
When Lawrence's natural foods coop formed, it was entirely vegetarian. But once it started selling happy meat, the shelf space dedicated to animals and their bodily secretions began to grow year after year. Coop advertising worked to legitimize and then increase demand for these items. Then the coop began selling CAFO meat, dairy and eggs alongside the "humane" versions. So clearly, rather than simply providing an alternative to CAFO products, Happy meat legitimized CAFO products and paved the way for its growth into new markets.
Happy meat simply provided yet another option for enjoying body parts of exploited beings, while serving to placate some people's moral sentiments, in the process of helping to grow markets for a wider variety of products that involve violence to animals.
As far as I can tell, coop member-owners who justify their meat/dairy/egg consumption on the grounds that they consume "ethically" produced products, raised no objections about the fact that CAFO meat was now being sold at the coop too. Nor have I witnessed the many people I know personally who raise and kill their own animals, refusing to partake of CAFO products when they are served at public events or at private gatherings. And when I went on the local farm tour, one of the farmers who was also a mother, told me that she told her children, "it's ok to eat CAFO meat" because it's going into their, "happy bellies."
So now, alongside the exploding growth of vegan options everywhere, we have record numbers of animals being physically and sexually assaulted and then killed for profit. Since it is now easier than ever to be vegan, as the marketplace of vegan options explodes, how can anyone suggest that the introduction and growth of "humane" "organic" or "pasture-raised" options for meat/dairy/eggs have overall been a good thing for animals? And yet -- that was the very reason that many animal advocates gave some years back as to why we should encourage the growth of "happy meat" options. In fact, one of the loudest voices, from within the ranks of those claiming to support justice for animals was Bruce Friedrich.
It was Friedrich who spoke first in last weekend's debate, and emphatically stated that because the vegan movement has utterly failed (which he supports with numbers showing that per capita meat consumption is at an all-time high) he believes he can do more good for animals now by shifting from promoting veganism to promoting the brand new -- as yet untested technology of clean meat (also known as cell-based meat or cultured meat.)
But to say that we in the vegan movement are not making progress in our work to lay a foundation for the largest peaceful revolution the world has ever known begs the question...why?
Why would someone who claims to care about justice for animals choose to highlight only evidence in a public talk to vegans, that suggests we are completely failing? Friedrich then followed up his assertion of failure with the most sophisticated PR I have ever heard about why promoting alternatives to veganism (which claim to be less terrible for animals -- but still exploit them) will be better for animals then just spending our time promoting veganism. His perspective -- especially coming from someone publicly seen as a supporter of animal rights was chilling to say the least, and looked like the perfect example of what film producer James Laveck wrote about in his extraordinary essay, Invasion of the Movement Snatchers.
Do your own critical thinking...Ask yourself, compared to ten years ago, how often does someone -- who may not even be vegan themselves, tell you about someone they know (a relative, neighbor, colleague etc) who is vegan? how many items at the store now carry a label that says, "vegan" as compared to ten years ago? And why have non-vegan business entities proclaimed 2019 as, "The Year of the Vegan"?
These things suggest veganism IS winning the hearts and minds of people in increasing numbers. When someone goes vegan whether or not they fall off the wagon several times in their journey to grow as an ethical human being -- the fact that they even try is evidence that our peaceful revolution is winning hearts and minds. Many people struggling to quit tobacco have a circuitous path to becoming a non-smoker -- perhaps many vegans do too. Keep in mind, customs that encourage animal exploitation are more ubiquitous and powered by a larger economic engine than tobacco use ever was!
It is also worth noting -- that prior to the Civil War, the number of slaves in America actually increased every single decade -- right up until legalized slavery ended. Does Friedrich know this?
Any one else having a "deja vu" experience regarding Friedrich's promotion of clean meat? In Friedrich's activism with PETA, Farm Sanctuary and Farm Forward, his most memorable messaging was not about authentic veganism (ie, it is wrong to exploit and kill other beings, and vegans should not be endorsing ANY forms of exploitation.) but rather about "suffering reduction," which as we have seen is a slippery slope to justifying ongoing violence. In his time working with Farm Forward (as a founding board member) Friedrich actually encouraged animal activists to support happy animal exploitation. He actually worked to grow the market and production capacities for animal exploiting operations. Look at these screen shots from www.HumaneMyth.org and archived pages from Farm Forward:
Pay close attention to Friedrich's rhetoric now, because once again he is THE single largest, most compelling voice within the animal advocacy movement suggesting that some new trend in exploiting animals will lead to reductions in the number of exploited and killed animals.
Friedrich's arguments that clean meat will be good for animals are similar to those he made about how "humane" meat would be good for them. By Friedrich's own estimation his previous efforts on behalf of animals failed to reduce the number of animals being exploited – so why is he using exactly the same approach in promoting clean meat? In fact, as the professors in this debate pointed out -- industry documents show that investors are expecting that rather then replacing CAFO meat, clean meat will add yet a third option to the menu for those still clinging to archaic culinary traditions based upon violence and exploitation -- with CAFO meat continuing to grow until it can grow no further because of limitations in available land -- at which point, clean meat will still be able to offer continued growth and investment returns.
One of the points I heard both Friedrich and Garces emphasize to the audience was to suggest that because they each have a long history of working on behalf of animals, and because so many other of the professional animal advocacy groups share their view that clean meat is a good idea and will help reduce the number of animals being exploited and killed, that we should trust their judgement and all of us should follow their example and support it too.
But history is full of examples of good people who jumped on board and supported bad ideas that facilitated systemic injustices. Growing justice takes more than hero worship. We need to use our best critical thinking combined with compassion, while keeping our eye on the goal -- creating a world where justice and non-violence are normalized. The character of the people promoting an idea is less important, than evaluating the idea on its own merits. When someone suggests to me that I simply do what they suggest because they are trustworthy, rather than doing my own critical thinking and dig deep for myself -- I suspect that the evidence that supports their perspective probably isn't that good.
One of the problems with the professional animal advocacy movement (ie the big groups) is that they readily absorb the corporate mindset -- which often exemplifies and reinforces paradigms that work better for supporting capitalism rather then justice. With many staff members on their payroll, growing and attracting more members/donations can take precedence over advancing justice. And justice can be hard to measure and quantify -- but the corporate paradigm emphasizes things that can be most readily measured and quantified. As a result they often use, proxies that stand in for things that are hard to measure -- which can lead to erroneous conclusions, that encourage choices that aren't always in line with justice. What is measurable may give no insight about how close we are to a tipping point, that can lead to big jumps in social justice.
I remember meeting a man years ago, who told me of his visit to a communist-block country one year before the wall in Germany fell, and censorship, and other injustices appeared to be at an all time high. This guy recounted speaking with dozens of underground justice advocates who all told him they had little hope that their efforts would create any benefit in their lifetime. But they saw themselves as laying a foundation for their grandchildren, who they hoped might someday be able to travel outside the country and not go to jail for speaking publicly about things they found unjust. But then my acquaintance returned about a year after the Berlin Wall fell, and he encountered a transformed society. The underground activist’s dream had been realized, and this point was made to me: It is hard to know just how close we might be to a “tipping point, when we are in the midst of fighting for justice.
As was brought out in the debate, currently there is no published science to suggest that we are even capable of producing clean meat without needing to feed the cell cultures with FBS (fetal bovine serum) FBS is a product obtained after a pregnant cow is slaughtered and fluids are extracted from the body of her still living baby. But Friedrich and Garces are confident we will come up with a plant-based alternative to this that is scale-able for industrial clean meat production. They are confident too that we will work out how to grow large amounts of cell based meat, in ways that will have a lower carbon footprint than traditional meat production -- even though the professors presented evidence that at it's current state of development this technology is likely to use egregious amounts of energy and produce even more greenhouse gasses.
Yet Bruce Friedrich and Leah Garces suggest that those who would like to see a vegan world, should support this new approach to marketing of animal exploitation. But in my experience Friedrich's prior attempts along this same path -- promoting humane meat --made my efforts to promote veganism even harder.
It was about 15 years ago, when I had my first experience with how counter-productive happy meat would be to justice for animals. In the decade prior to this time, when I told people about the horrific things happening to animals on industrial farms they had only two choices: Stop buying and using things from animals (ie go vegan) or continue supporting the industrial food machine and just look away. I still remember my shock and despair when I was talking with a college student on a downtown sidewalk about veganism and she looked me square in the eye and told me with all earnestness about how she wished I could have been with her when she interned on a small local organic farm. She said that she had been vegetarian before that time, but after she spent time with this lovely farm family and came to see how kind they were to their animals and how they killed them with such respect, she changed her mind about being vegetarian. (Reread that last sentence!) Over and over she kept telling me, “If you could see the respect with which we treated the animals, you would have no problem with eating them either.”
How does killing someone get “rebranded” as “respect?”
And just as importantly, how does being an accomplice to such violence, while embracing an Orwellian view of it, impact one’s ability to recognize other injustices, or oppose certain paradigms that support oppression?
As the debate progressed, it was clear that Leah Garces was less knowledgeable of the details and less invested in the promotion of clean meat then her pro clean-meat partner Bruce Friedrich. It also appeared to me, that this was Leah’s first time, struggling to defend this perspective amidst the new information she learned from Professors Sanbonmatsu and Stanscu.
After the conference, UPC took all the speakers out to dinner at the fantastic upscale vegan restaurant, “Sanctuary,” and every speaker was there – except Leah. This left me hoping that maybe Leah had actually “gotten” the gist of my presentation and was reflecting upon the role she was playing to help promote clean meat, in light of the historical record I shared in my talk, which explained how time and again, otherwise good people have played integral roles in advancing social injustices that contradicted the values that they claim to support.
It will be interesting to see how her organization, Mercy for Animals goes forward now. Will they continue to align with the powerful oppressive mindset – supported by a growing investor base, that is driving clean meat, and supported by most of the people who are her peers within the professional animal advocacy world, or will she break ranks and use her new bully pulpit at MFA to support authentic justice for all beings?
I was heartened when attendees at this event came up to me at the end and explained how they had come in expecting to confirm their perspective that Clean Meat would be good for animals, but that after the debate they now could see clearly how clean meat was just the latest example of green washing. Some went further. They told me that having previously read the OUTSTANDING essay by visionary film producer James Laveck, (linked to above -- but HERE it is again -- please read it!) they knew that they had just witnessed for themselves, exactly how moneyed interests co-opt the long term efforts of grass-roots activists, and set back our work for social justice progress.
I encourage you to watch this debate for yourself and share it widely with others. But to see it in the context of important historical facts, please watch the video of my presentation first