“These Animals Are Our Dear Friends”

“These Animals Are Our Dear Friends”

Below is Gary Francione’s pithy response to a “happy meat” peddler:

From Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach

Earlier today, Anna and I went to [...] an outdoor market in the Whole Foods parking lot. Local vendors sell fruits, vegetables, baked goods–and animal flesh and products.

One vendor had decorated her “organic meat” stall with pictures of her “free-range” chickens, pigs, and cows. We stopped to look at the pictures. I pointed out to her that there were no pictures of the slaughtering process.

“Oh, well we slaughter our chickens on the premises and our cows and pigs go to a slaughter facility that is only six miles away. [...]“

Another shopper had appeared and said, “I feel so much better about buying this my meat from farms like this.”

The vendor remarked, “Oh, yes, these animals are our dear friends.”

I responded, politely but seriously: “That’s an odd thing to say; I hope that you don’t treat your other ‘dear friends’ this way.” [emphasis added]

The vendor laughed. She thought I was joking.

“These animals are our dear friends.” Think about that. Think about what terrible confusion such a statement reveals.

This is where the happy meat/animal products movement is leading us.

This is where the PETA-KFC controlled-atmosphere killing campaign is taking us.

We are moving backward. [emphasis added]

Go vegan. It’s the baseline of the abolitionist movement and is nonviolence in action.

Such a response could be employed when discussing ethical veganism with those individuals who argue that they “love” their horse companions while simultaneously forcing them to compete with others in events that are inherently dangerous. As these events occur for the humans’ financial gain and “entertainment” alone, the horse is forced to accept their potential harm and death because we enjoy doing so. Therefore, this begs the response: “I hope you don’t love your mother in this way.”

To what extent we are “moving backward” is contestable in my opinion. However, as an anecdotal matter, I have experienced first-hand Mr. Francione’s fear: “Humanely” murdered nonhumans are more palatable – morally speaking – to otherwise compassionate – and therefore potential vegans and vegetarians – humans, which directly challenges the realization of our end: A vegan world.

Mr. Francione assumes a sort of hierarchy of importance. We have a) the premise: suffering is inherently evil, and b) the conclusion: a vegan world. Abolitionists often exist in the conclusion while forgetting the premise as a very thoughtful individual once said. Therefore, efforts to reduce suffering, which is an empirical matter of course (“Does X actually reduce suffering?”), are derided because they don’t sufficiently address the conclusion: ending the property status of nonhumans. I agree in the abstract. However, in the practical, we cannot forget the suffering. Indeed, this, in my opinion, accounts for Mr. Francione’s unjustifiable challenge to direct action campaigns by the ALF, for example. As such, holistic approaches are defensible and necessary.

I wouldn’t, however, argue that Mr. Francione is harmful to the AR movement in his manifest divisiveness. This discourse is necessary and has been an important impetus for animal welfare organizations such as PETA to articulate an explicitly abolitionist platform: “Animals are not ours to X, Y, and Z.” That means nonhumans are not our property.

The effectiveness of PETA turns on the empirical matter motioned above and on the extent of the issue raised by Mr. Francione about “happy meat” = people feel better about killing nonhumans unnecessarily. Therefore, criticize and disagree; substantive dialogue is important. Perhaps Mr. Francione is correct and the death and suffering of nonhumans is more acceptable today than ever before, which suggests the failure of welfarism. Could be true, indeed. But veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages are being phased-out as well. This may only lead to more rational measures to exploit nonhumans, but it allows us to broach the subject on a national platform, which is important. Coupled with “new environmentalism,” and informed, principled information campaigns, it could be a paradigm shift.

I’m not implying that the abolitionists, a group that I self-identify with, forget the suffering. I am saying, explicitly, however, that they prioritize the conclusion and thus fail to truly consider all the wretched evil on the farm and in the lab.

Crossposted @ That Vegan Girl

6 Responses to “These Animals Are Our Dear Friends”

  1. That’s a great post, and it dovetails nicely with my own thinking. I am generally an abolitionist, and I often vocally oppose (what I think are) obviously counterproductive welfarist campaigns and goals — but that doesn’t mean I think suffering is something to ignore in light of some future abolitionist world. For me it’s, as you say, an empirical matter. If I oppose an ALF or PETA activity, it’s not because I don’t think they help the specific animals involved, but only if it’s a situation where I believe the empirical result will be that more animals suffer. This clearly covers some PETA and ALF activities, and doesn’t cover others.

    Unfortunately, statistics are hard to come by, so for most of us this boils down to a matter of intuition. I, for example, tend to think that PETA’s recent declaration of “victory” in getting KFC Canada to gas some its chickens will result in more chickens being killed and consumed by conscience-eased carnivorous Canadians, so I question the efficacy of ending their boycott as a result of it. That doesn’t mean that, in the abstract, I prefer more cruel methods to less cruel methods. It means that — in what is hypothetically a measurable way — the amount of suffering will rise. Not as a result of the gas, but as a result of PETA signing off on and celebrating the procedure, and literally telling people it is good to eat at KFC again. “If even crazy, radical, animal-obsessed PETA says it’s OK, it must be OK!”

    The same goes for the ALF. I think that, generally, an ALF rescue results in more replacement animals being used, as well as in making people less likely to support animal welfare for fear of being associated with “kooks” and “terrorists.” Does that mean I don’t think it’s good for the individual animals rescued? Of course not. I also think not having Saddam around is good for Iraq, but that doesn’t equate to supporting the invasion and occupation of the country with all of its collateral consequences. By the same token, I’m happy for the rescued animals, I just think that their gain often comes at a much more substantial loss to others. In those cases where it doesn’t, and I say bravo.

    So that was long and a little off-topic, but I think all animal advocates are muddling through somewhere between Francione’s exclusive abolitionism and the welfare-centered policies of traditional activism. I hope most of us err on the side of abolition when there is an open question, but working these things out — and having a dialogue about them — is crucial.

    ~ Recent blog post: The Asymmetry of Bailouts at http://ryanmcreynolds.blogspot.com ~

  2. Premise 1: “‘These animals are our dear friends.’ Think about that. Think about what terrible confusion such a statement reveals.”


    Premise 2: “This is where the happy meat/animal products movement is leading us.”

    Accepted. Though, I don’t promote happy meat and I don’t personally know a single animal advocate who does, so I’m only accepting this premise on the assumption that “us” means our society and not our movement.

    Moreover, I don’t know a single person who was on the fence about going vegan and who decided not to go vegan because they could just buy happy meat instead. I think those people, if they exist, are extremely rare. The people who like happy meat are not “blocked vegans” who would go vegan if happy meat didn’t exist. They are people who would buy unhappy meat and rationalize it somehow.

    Premise 3: “This is where the PETA-KFC controlled-atmosphere killing campaign is taking us.”

    Not accepted. There’s a missing premise between 2 and 3. Francione leaps from a)what some animal exploiters do to b)what some animal advocates do. They are not the same and they should not be lumped in together.

    Premise 4: “We are moving backward.”

    Not accepted. The animal rights movement is growing. There are more vegans today than ever before. Society has changed. Veganism is far better understood and accepted in mainstream society. Today’s average citizen is outraged by dog fighting, cock fighting, puppy mills, and slaughterhouse welfare violations. There has been a tremendous change within my lifetime. I’ve seen it. I refuse to accept Francione’s declaration that things are getting worse. They aren’t.

  3. “Moreover, I don’t know a single person who was on the fence about going vegan and who decided not to go vegan because they could just buy happy meat instead.”

    Interestingly, I do know such a person, minus the word “buy.” In this coworker’s case, she was a vegetarian for a decade. She to this day avoids leather, drinks soymilk, and so on. She is in fact, with one glaring exception, vegan. However, she has a farming in-law that sends them personally-produced “free-range” “grass fed” beef that she eats.

    This isn’t quite the same as buying commercial happy meat, of course — except to the cow. I agree that your average buyer of commercial happy meat is not a “blocked vegan.” Happy meat is like breath mints to smokers — they make smoking more palatable to some, but I doubt there are millions of smokers who would quit if only we stopped selling mints to enable their addiction.

    ~ Recent blog post: The Asymmetry of Bailouts at http://ryanmcreynolds.blogspot.com ~

  4. You know, I like your smoking analogy. I used to smoke and I can say with certainty that no one person made me quit. It didn’t matter what they said or how they said it. What mattered was that someone continued to pester me and keep me thinking about quitting; the actual words were not all that important. The tone wasn’t all that important. The message: “Quit Smoking” was the important part. Eventually, I quit. I just got to the point where I was ready to quit. And so I did it. Some people made it easier for me and some made it harder, but the true motivation was internal, not external.

    Except by force, you can’t make people quit smoking or go vegan. If they do it, they will do it in their own time for their own reasons in their own way. We can encourage them. We can provide resources. But it’s not our fault if they don’t go vegan. It’s their fault. It’s their responsibility to live an ethical life.

    I’m tired of hearing other vegans and animal advocates trying to shift the blame and responsibility from the animal exploiters onto the vegans. Even poorly planned, poorly implemented, ineffective animal advocacy is better than animal exploitation. Nothing animal advocates do – even encouraging KFC to adopt less cruel methods of slaughter – is comparable to what animal exploiters do. PETA isn’t a happy meat provider. That distinction sometimes gets lost in the Francione inspired discourses, but it’s a KEY distinction.

  5. “Nothing animal advocates do – even encouraging KFC to adopt less cruel methods of slaughter – is comparable to what animal exploiters do. PETA isn’t a happy meat provider.”

    This is exactly why most of my problems with PETA are not (necessarily) with what they advocate the exploiters do, but with how they present the results to the public.

    It’s the part where they, to use the chicken-gassing example, ended the boycott against KFC Canada and literally declared victory — as if the gassing itself was consistent with the animal rights they stand for. What leverage does PETA have against KFC Canada anymore? At this point, they’ve not only signed off on gassing chickens to death, but they even actively promote KFC’s non-vegan mock chicken sandwich. What does KFC Canada have left to fear when PETA, of all people, is giving them free positive press on animal issues? Welfare improvements, if they are to have any teeth, have to be embedded in a rights argument that doesn’t end.

    Even if PETA continues to invest far more heavily in welfare improvements rather than vegan outreach, the minimum I would like to see from them is consistently emphasizing that these improvements are not their endgame, and in a clear way. As it stands, they typically include nothing more than a clause in welfare press releases along the lines of, “While any consumption of animals is regrettable,…” A group that describes themselves as THE animal rights organization should find a way for even the most trivial goal to be tied directly into promoting those rights. I am not automatically opposed to welfare improvements, as long as they are unambiguously seen as compassionate stopgaps along the road to rights. PETA — and some variation of this theme is really inevitable for any national-level activist group — is as ambiguous as possible to tread that thin line between being the radical fringe and mainstream-reasonable.

    I will say that my views on PETA are constantly shifting, but the above (along with their near-pathological avoidance of using the word “vegan” — even to describe actual avowed vegans) is one criticism that has remained consistent.

  6. Ryan, we agree.
    My biggest problem with PETA is how they often confuse the message. They do it for various reasons, but they obscure the message nonetheless.


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