Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Humane Society Targets Wendy's

The Humane Society is trying to encourage Wendy's to switch to cage-free eggs behind an advertising blitz in Wendy's Corp. hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
That's cool, I suppose. But then I'm more concerned with how eggs taste than how their mothers live. Happily, it turns out that if you demand flavorful eggs with richly colored yolks you will do more for the "happiness" of chickens than the Humane Society could ever hope to accomplish.

The way that the Federal guidelines are written all that a farmer has to do too claim that his chickens are cage free is to not cage them. The birds can still be confined indoors eating funky chicken feed made from stuff like cookie crumbs and other chickens and never see the light of day or a bug for that matter. So if the Humane Society get's it's way all it gets for the chickens is a bigger cage.

However, if you demand that your eggs must fragrant of grass and have yolks whose rich color is a function of a hen who eats lots of pigmented bugs, then you promote the chicken farms where chickens run around outside in the dirt all day long.

I'm not sure that the Humane Society would like this very much though. The barnyard is a pretty dangerous place for chickens who need to be on guard against the hawks, foxes, coyotes, feral dogs et al who like to eat them. But who knows? These animal rights activists are pretty resourceful and dedicated people. Perhaps they could form a special divison that would train and provide "chicken police" to farmers to protect the chickens from abuse by animal predators who have no notion of animal rights.

Humane Society Wants a Cage-Free Wendy's


Sean said...

The Humane Society along with PETA and most well known "animal rights" organizations take up the welfarist position within the animal rights movement. Publicly, the main thrust of their efforts is to reduce the more egregious forms of cruelty used in the raising and slaughtering of animals. That is why you'll find PETA celebrating people like Temple Grandin and praising McDonalds for using alternative methods of chicken slaughter.

I and a large number of other vegans have a problem with these tactics. While I hate to see animals suffer, and welcome any improvement in the deplorable conditions they are currently raised, the focus should not be on marginally better welfare standards but a philosophical rejection of animal exploitation. This tension between the abolitionist and welfare positions however does nothing to help animals; it merely wastes activists' time and effort with internal bickering, something the media loves to point out.

In any case the people who work for the Humane Society are not interested in bigger cages for chickens, whatever the nature of their current campaign. Their goal is the end of animal husbandry and they believe that incremental steps like cajoling Wendy's will motivate the public in that direction.

As for the snarky comment about protecting chickens - well the chickens wouldn't exist if we weren't raising them for food now would they? Instead much smaller populations of wild turkeys and chickens would roam natural environments and yes, some would be killed by foxes and other predators. The question is whether those predators can make a moral, rational choice of what to eat; failing that nature takes it course.

Bob del Grosso said...

Well said Sean.
For what it's worth I have far more respect for someone like yourself who makes a principled choice to refuse to consume animals then I do for those who try to force others to do the same.

I'm not antivegan, not by any means. Matter of fact, I was a vegetarian (I ate only plants but wore leather etc) for about 7 years until I changed my mind about the ethics of meat eating.

Really what I don't like about the Humane Society and PETA is their activism: fanatics of any kind scare me because they won't settle for a world in which each person makes their own choices. They want their choice to be the world's choice and won't rest until it is.

Imagine an organization as effctive as the Humane Society but with an opposite agenda: the creation of legislation that bans the exploitation of plants.

How would you react to them?

Thanks for the comment and I'm sorry if the snark offended you.

Sean said...

Thanks for the response. The snark doesn't offend me; if I got offended at every little slight of vegans/vegetarians I would have given up years ago and drowned myself in veal stock.

I can understand your position and see it as a postive step but I also think its emblematic of a culture that has lost a sense of moral objectivity. As an atheist I have a difficult time formulating an ethical system which would serve as a moral baseline for all people. Without such foundation, the sort of moral relativity you expressed, the idea that one's free will trumps all (or at least as far as it does not impact another's), is perfectly acceptable. I hear the same argument from a lot of liberals, that we can't judge other cultures and discourage "traditional" practices that we might find objectionable because we have no moral baseline to do so. I don't think it is a hard argument to make that honor killings or the general discrimination towards women in certain cultures is unethical. Yet in making those arguments one is often reduced to expressing tautologies or invoking some supernatural force that gave us a moral foundation.

So what about those poor little plants? I reject the exploitation of animals because I can feed myself easily without interfering in their lives which I believe is in their interest. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that plants are in any way sentient, have any physical awareness or conciousness, or feel anything that we could regard as pain. Since I must eat to live, I choose to do the least harm and eat as low on the food chain as possible which necessitates the death of plants.

Even without examining the moral foundations of the argument, I think it is clear that the argument against eating animals is rationally sound while that against eating plants is a strawman used variously out of ignorance or as a joke. While I don't like invoking emotion too much in these types of discussions, the guilt I have encountered in many omnivores, the "I wish I had the will power" responses or the faces and sideways glances as they look back at their meat laden plates, suggests a deep seated uneasiness with animal consumption that I have never seen with plants.

Hope you don't mind me opining in your comments every now and then but I appreciate the forum and the chance to discuss these issues.

sfchin said...

Sean, that was probably the most rational and well-reasoned exposition on the vegan position that I have read on a "foodie" blog. Although I am one of the ignominious "lack of willpower" omnivores, I am frequently shocked and disappointed with the ignorant and closed-minded rhetoric of the predominantly anti-vegan readership of the majority of food blogs. It's always nice to see intelligent and thoughtful commentary coming from either side of the animal rights divide.

Ed Bruske said...

Since humans have always eaten other animals (being omnivorous) and always will, I find efforts to make living conditions for livestock bearable a laudable goal. I don't know that the Humane Society has a more ominous mission in mind, such as eliminating meat consumption altogether. Do they, Bob?

As Mario Batali has been known to quip, some of my favorite things to eat are vegan. So I have nothing against veganism. But I do question the activist position of trying to eliminate human consumption of meat predicated on the assumption that animals feel pain. No doubt all animals feel pain. So do we prevent the lion from consuming the baby antelope because the baby antelope feels pain? Or is it just we humans, because we are self-conscious, who are supposed to stop eating meat? Doesn't everything at the top of the food chain eat everything underneath it? Isn't that how nature has evolved, all on its own?

The question is not one of either/or, but of balance. It would be more true to say that everything about our current food system is out of balance, and I say good luck to anyone who's out there trying to restore some of that missing balance.

Bob del Grosso said...

I really have no way of knowing what the Humane Society or PETA wants to eliminate meat consumption altogether PETA certainly acts like it does while the Humane Society seems content to focus on aspects of the industry that use techniques that seem to be difficult to justify (gavage, cages etc).
Since it is not at all clear to me that any of these techniques are morally worse than taking the life of an animal to make glue, for example, it's not obvious to me why the Humane Society would make so much noise about them unless they were using them as baby-steps towards taking down the whole industry. But really I don't know.

In any case, I think it's fine for individuals and organizations to take the principled position that meat consumption is wrong for whatever reasons. People should be free to believe whatever they choose to believe. Really what worries me about PETA and other "activist" organizations that feel they should "legislate" eating choices (and meat eating is a choice") is the same thing that worries me about the Islamists, the communists, the fundamentalist Christian activists and the NRA, far-right-wingers and far-left-wingers etc. I worry that they are fanatics -and if I know anything about history I know this: when fanatics take power, the rest of us pay the price.

I'm an very cool with veganism, what I don't like at all is militant and legislative veganism.