I encountered a typical complaint the other day, one that over the years I’ve heard more variations on than a chess master has openings.
“I don’t really like to eat meat, because those animals are just so abused.”
The speaker was an otherwise intelligent, well-educated young woman with enough smarts and savvy to have risen to the managerial ranks in her company at an age my biggest accomplishment was blowing my measly paycheck—and my weekend—on the futile pursuit of whatever girl du jour I had no chance of landing.
This particular young woman was a sucker for the “pumped full of antibiotics and hormones” rhetoric that anti-industry activists are so adept at disseminating. Even though she admits to being underweight and anemic, she vowed to gain her way back to a normal BMI by increasing her consumption of—wait for it—peanut butter.
I’ll grant you, George Washington Carver was a genius who created some 300 uses for the peanut, but none of his patents involved the reversal of anemia. Although highly nutritious, a jar of Skippy isn’t going to take anyone to a place, nutritionally speaking, that lean meat can’t go more efficiently and, truth be told, contributing far fewer calories and fat to one’s diet (a single cup of peanut butter delivers more than 1,500 calories, two-thirds of them from fat).
That’s the predictable part of the discussion I had with this young woman. The interesting part, however, was that her objections to eating meat centered not on how animals are killed, but on how they lived. It’s not about humane slaughter, it’s about humane lifestyle, if that term can be properly applied to farm animals.
Interesting, because her objections echo the more recent positioning of the activist community. Ten years ago, there were high-profile campaigns against inhumane slaughter, and lots of accusations about animals being skinned alive and chickens getting manhandled at the plant, and pigs jammed into overheated trailers on their way to slaughter.
Those issues, however, have largely subsided, and for the past five years or so, the thrust of both the activist community’s propaganda and its campaign funding has been focused squarely on living conditions, not slaughter. Thus, the referenda launched against gestation stalls and battery cages and veal crates, and the concurrent marketing of the benefits of free-range production, open housing systems and the outdoor access that many alternative agriculture participants preach to their customers.