I’m not all that different from a “compassionate carnivore.” You know the ones. They’re the people who eat vegan most of the time but they eat some animal products from local, organic, free-range farms occasionally (once a week or once a month, not everyday and never from a fastfood restaurant). In fact, I think when it comes to factory farming we agree 100% that it needs to be abolished.
For example, even anti-vegan Simon Fairlie responded to the question “Are there any merits to factory farming?” by saying bluntly: “No. The only excuse is that it provides cheap protein for poor urban people, but these are people who have been dispossessed of their land by the very agricultural system that has developed factory farming.”
And when it comes to agriculture in general, we probably agree on about 80-90% of the issues. For example, we’d both like to see more local, organic food in our groceries. And we agree that food labels should be clear and meaningful. And we agree that the best diet for human health, as well as for the environment, is a diet that consists primarily of plants.
And to be perfectly frank, the areas where we disagree are not all that significant at the moment. That’s because only teeny tiny percentage of animal products available for human consumption fit into the “compassionate carnivore” diet. Let’s take a closer look…
If you recall, the New York Times recently published a graphic that illustrates exactly how many eggs produced in the US come from battery cages (factory farming systems which “compassionate carnivores” should avoid like the plague):
The graphic explained the breakdown as follows: 97%, 2%, 1%.
97% of all eggs produced in the United States are from hens that live in tightly packed battery cages, with no way to roam outside. These eggs are unethical by any standard. They pose a threat to human health by increasing the spread of Salmonella, they endanger the environment, and they are cruel to animals.
2% of US eggs are from cage-free birds, which live exclusively indoors. These, too, are “factory farmed” eggs and should be avoided by a “compassionate carnivore.”
1% of US eggs are from free-range birds that have the option to go outdoors. These systems vary widely and require personal inspection in order to meet a “compassionate carnivore’s” standards.
That means fewer than 1% of eggs produced in the US can meet the standard of a nonvegan who cares about animal welfare, environmental destruction, and public health. In simpler terms, that means that if someone cares about these issues and decides to actually live their values, then they’ll eat a vegan diet most of the time (at the very least).
Though birds tend to be forced to endure more suffering than any other farmed animal, other animal agriculture systems are similar: the majority of meat, dairy, and eggs come from inhumane, polluting factory farms. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s investigation of the issue in his book Eating Animals, he concludes:
“We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the number of ethical eating options available to most of us. There isn’t enough nonfactory chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island and not enough nonfactory pork to serve New York City, let alone the country. Ethical meat is a promissory note, not a reality. Any ethical-meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare.“
So, while we can certainly disagree about whether or not “compassionate” or “ethical” are accurate terms when applied to animal slaughter, for the time being the point is virtually moot. For now, it’s more urgent to convince the majority of people (who eat animals everyday) to stop eating animals who come from factory farms (and thus to eat vegan food the majority of the time) than to convince a tiny minority of people who rarely eat animals to stop.