Saturday, January 16, 2010


on family farm meat.

So I'm really just thinking out loud here, so please, no vicious responses if there are holes in what I'm saying. I was just curious about something. Obviously I would never impugn the decision of someone who wanted to abstain from meat products entirely.

My question there something to be said for the idea that it may be an ethically positive choice to eat meat from family farms, not as an alternative to eating meat from factory farms, but as an alternative to not eating meat at all.

Given that 99 percent of animals available to be eaten come from factory farms, and given what I'm reading about in Eating Animals and what I saw in Food Inc and a bundle of other places, it's clearly the case that the family farmer is being aggressively squeezed out by corporate factory farming.

So, given that, in the short term, people will be eating meat, is there anything to be said for the notion that an immediately essential thing is to provide business for family farming, so that their product can be distributed at increasingly affordable rates? So that some alternative continues to exist to Tyson's et al?

given that, the world isn't going to turn vegetarian in the next....5-10 years, it seems like the worst scenario would be for those family farms to go out of business during that time.

please don't yell at me.



Kevtron said...
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Kevtron said...

First off, this isn't yelling, but I do want to say what I think: I don't buy it.

I think you're grasping at straws here. I don't mean that to sound mean. But this proposal reminds me of when many people blamed Ralph Nader for Florida 2000, and ignored DIEBOLD and Justice Scalia.

Should the recovering alcoholic do the ethically positive thing by drinking a microbrew instead of a Coors Light? I'm not sure if "apples to oranges" is quite right, but it springs to mind anyway.

I really loved Eating Animals. It's an important book, because it's raising awareness of the plight of family farms. These recent books and movies are the reason we're having these very public discussions, which may be read by dozens of people. And it might cause just one person to act differently. And that is huge, and awesome.

But I do feel that JSF approached the subject from a largely self-centered point of view. He wanted to protect his child, first and foremost. And I can totally understand that.

However, if one's reasons for abstention are limited to disgust at the actual contents of CAFO meat products (with animal cruelty as a secondary reason not to consume), then eating family meat makes perfect sense, and the support of the responsible farmer is absolutely the right thing to do. I suppose strictly eating family meat could be a valid alternative to vegetarianism or veganism, depending on one's motivations. But there exist other reasons to avoid meat that family-farmed meat simply doesn't address.

I believe that family farms are wholly positive and beneficial to all involved, but I would suggest that a truly holistic/symbiotic agricultural system involving the production and consumption of animal products in a personally and ecologically sound manner likely necessitates actually living, and perhaps working, on a farm, or within a farming community. I can't back that up with any fact, it's just a gut feeling.

I know that in SF, and probably here in Baltimore, finding a source of humanely raised meat wouldn't be too hard. But what is a responsible, ethically minded individual in Flint, MI to do? How about Tokyo? Are we going to raise animals to a decent age after a nice life on a pastoral farm, slaughter it humanely, and then package the meat and put it on a boat or plane to another country while people here and around the world are malnourished and dying of starvation? That's one of the main reasons why I don't eat any meat.

For me, the understanding that it is possible to thrive without eating animals prompted me to do so, as it seemed to be the most ethical choice. If I lived on a farm, I might think and act differently.

I hope you don't mind my feedback, and I hope you don't feel attacked. I really enjoy these dialogues.

ben said...

yeah I'm having trouble coming up with any sort of apt analogy. The Nader one makes a lot of sense. But to be frank, I'm still not sure how I feel about a vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. I have frequent difficulty determining when I should fight for short-term versus long-term gains.

In the same way I would never criticize an individual who voted their conscience with Nader, I would never criticize someone who ate according to their conscience by abstaining from all animal products. Nonetheless, it does seem to be apparent that the world TODAY is the worse for having Nader run.

Again, this is in no way to suggest a am angry about nader running, and I believe strongly that his example may be instructive to those who might otherwise deny the power of the third party. Perhaps in the long run, the mark left by Nader (and more powerfully, for better or worse, earlier in American History with Debs, TR....Strom Thurmond), will be far more significant to the success of democracy. But still..

ben said...

I think I largely agree with you.

but going back to the Nader analogy.

Which is more important in the immediate? Stopping George Bush or making a powerful statement about the nature of American democracy?

At different times I would probably answer that question in different ways. In 2000 I may have suggested that a vote for Nader was more important, but I was made to reconsider this position many times.

In the short term, we may feel that the most ethically powerful and pure choice is veganism, but I wonder only if we would continue to feel that way if, 5 years from now, there were no family farms and the factory farming industry had entirely solidified their hold on American eating life.

I'm not proposing that one is better than the other, it's just been something I've been thinking about.

Kevtron said...
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Kevtron said...
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Kevtron said...

stupid typos...

Kevtron said...

For the sake of historical accuracy, it should be noted that Nader didn't actually divert enough votes from Gore to cost him the election. Gore still won more votes than Bush; the Supreme Court stopped the recount and awarded the prize to Bush. Most of us know that.

What I had hoped to illustrate with the Nader reference is that:

a) we have a common goal, and

b) the more ideologically extreme action, whether that is a third party vote or a meat free diet, is an important form of protest. I sincerely hope that we don't collectively decide that voting for the less corrupt of two corporate candidates is a viable strategy for progress, for the sake of short term goals. The reason that people like Kucinich or Nader or McKinney are considered "electable" is this sort of attitude.

It's also one reason why we had to choose between Kerry and Bush, rather than Dean and Bush in 2004. That would have at least been a good show! And while I was certainly relieved that McCain/Palin didn't win last year, I remain unclear as to which long term gains are being secured by our Democrat controlled Legislative and Executive branches. Oops, I digressed...

If you were to say that I'm "not realistic", or perhaps blindly optimistic, you might have a point. Perhaps I'm making the perfect the enemy of the good. But I could also say that the quadrennial lesser-of-two-evils cynicism is counterproductive, and among the primary reasons why we have such corrupt and despicable leaders.

(Cynical or unrealistic... I don't know, which is worse?)

But... we have a common goal. I am presently reminded of a section of Eating Animals entitled "I am a vegan who builds slaughterhouses."

If, for the sake of argument, only 3.2%* of the US ate meat, how could Tyson (for example) possibly run family farms out of business? Tyson wouldn't have any customers because McDonalds and KFC wouldn't be profitable, and the family farms would go back to doing what they did pre-Industrially. And they would probably supply their own communities, and little more. People eating Chicken McNuggets without giving a shit is what Tyson in business, and what hurts small farming operations.

Working against that is our common goal. Boycotting factory meat is a powerful action. Consuming family meat instead is another, separate action. Both are highly visible to those around us, and conversations like this, I hope, cause other people evaluate their own choices. I think that that is at least as important as the effect of our spending choices.

PS. Still not yelling! <3

*the US is 3.2% vegetarian, according to

ben said...

As a thought experiment, I'm not entirely sure it has to be either cynical or unrealistic/ naive.

Again (and I realize of course that Nader is not why Bush one, but it seems to work as an analogy here). Voting for the lesser of two evils is may be cynicism in many cases, but in others it may be a necessity. Not to belabor this example too heavily, but I imagine that if people in 2000 had a lens through which they could have seen the future, and realize that the election of Bush would, in effect, cause the deaths of 100's of thousands, many would reconsider their protest vote.

I'm not moralizing either way here, but I am suggesting that it isn't necessarily cynicism to support the lesser of two evils if you feel that the potential externalities of working outside the system could be far more damaging...

Again, not sure how I feel about this, I have always been driven to the lone voice of protest, but I don't know that the ethically purest choice is always the most ethically responsible choice.

When the vote is between let's say,
Cleveland and James G Blaine, then one has the luxury to vote one's conscience, one may not have that luxury in every situation.

So I guess my real question ends up being, what is the best possible goal in the short term? Is it a marginal (but hardly insignificant) increase in the number of vegetarians? Or is it a marginal (but hardly insignificant) reduction in the influence of factory farming.

If it is the latter, than I imagine the best strategy would be a mix of vegan/vegetarian lifestyles, and (to whatever extent this is possible) ethically omnivory (made up word).

By the by, I am not pretending that in its inception, this was not borne out of a desire to continue eating meat, but I still think it might make sense.