Animal Advocacy – Making Progress
When it comes to the way we view and treat animals, humanity is shifting. Since the turn of the century, over a dozen countries have banned fur farming. In the US, eight states have passed laws to end the sale of animal-tested cosmetics. Declawing, puppy mills, and horse-drawn carriages are also coming under increasing scrutiny. In some cases, legislation has been introduced to limit or prohibit these practices which, until recent years, have received little attention.
Similar trends are taking place in the food industry. More plant-based options are appearing on grocery store shelves and restaurant menus – which may have something to do with the 30-fold increase in Americans following a vegan diet since 2004. Undoubtedly, environmental and health concerns have assisted in driving some of these numbers. However, when viewed alongside other shifts happening in the food industry, it becomes clear that now more than ever, people are taking animals into consideration with regard to their eating habits.
This is especially true when it comes to products that involve overtly brutal processes. Activism and social media awareness have led to widespread public condemnation of veal crates, live sushi, the boiling alive of lobsters, and shark finning (wherein sharks are “de-finned” and thrown, alive and immobile, back into the ocean), to name a few. Increasingly, the products resulting from these kinds of cruel practices are being slashed from stores and restaurants around the world.
Foie gras is another product garnering criticism. Following months of pressure from one central-Florida animal rights activism group Direct Action Everywhere – Orlando to remove foie gras from their menus, five Orlando restaurants have dropped the item. The growing list of Orlando restaurants eliminating foie gras includes the Wine Room, the Ravenous Pig, Chef’s Table, Kres Chophouse, and La Boucherie Orlando.
For those who are unaware, foie gras – meaning “fatty liver” in French – is a product that involves the force-feeding of ducks, causing their livers to swell up to ten times the normal size. Videos of the practice show the animals with metal feeding pipes forcibly inserted deep into their throats before their stomachs are directly injected with grain and fat.
On social media, the activists of Direct Action Everywhere have celebrated the successes of their diligent anti-foie gras campaign – briefly. Because while the removal of individual “inhumane” products from individual establishments can be viewed as a sign of progress, for groups like Direct Action Everywhere, it can also feel like a tiny drop in an ocean of work to be done.
Through the Eyes of an Activist
I joined Direct Action Everywhere – Orlando in June of this year. Being a newbie activist in the group, it’s been remarkable to watch and learn how societal changes are made on the grassroots level, one protest, email, or phone call at a time. Yet, speaking for all of us, there’s an element of irony here that shouldn’t be missed: where foie gras has been ousted, steak and pork chops remain.
We called for the removal of foie gras instead of other animal products for one simple reason: we knew this was the extent of what we could realistically accomplish. But why is this the case? Why is it easy for restaurants and their patrons to recognize the inherent cruelty of feeding tubes and not, say, the shredding alive of rooster chicks (standard practice in the egg industry)? Or gestation crates (meat industry)? Or the repeated, forced impregnation of cows (dairy industry)?
In this day and age, many readily acknowledge that factory farms are horrendous for both animal welfare and the environment. Yet, while studies suggest around 75% of US adults believe they buy humane products, more than 99% of “food animals” live on factory farms. And conditions on these farms are indeed inhumane – living spaces are often filthy and cramped, and horrific practices like debeaking, rape racks, and battery cages are not only commonplace, they are the standard. This means that unless a product or meal is vegan, the money used to purchase it is funding gross abuses of animals.
This brings us back to the foie gras question: Why do most people seem to care about certain forms of animal cruelty and not others? Perhaps it’s not that anyone believes products like foie gras, veal, and shark-fin soup are the only truly cruel products in an industry of otherwise perfectly humane options. Perhaps it’s that these relatively exotic food items are easy to give up, and don’t require any committed lifestyle change for the average person.
Nobody (except maybe a small percentage of psychopaths) thinks it’s acceptable to needlessly harm an animal. Let’s face it – the internet erupts when a cat is kicked or a dog is shot. Yet the same individuals who oppose the mistreatment of dogs and cats readily support the needless abuse, slaughter, and dismemberment of “food animals.” (And consuming animal products is truly needless according to the UN, the World Health Organization, the American Dietetic Association, and other leading health organizations.)
This is why, as a vegan of nearly ten years, I believe most people are not living by their own standards of morality. A decade ago, I wasn’t either. Yet, after a bit of education and some critical thinking, I was able to make the connection and start living my beliefs. The explosion of plant-based alternatives means it’s never been easier to enjoy our favorite foods with a clear conscience, and the number of vegans is increasing every year. I encourage you to join the movement. If you need additional convincing, watch this.
It’s been inspiring to see just how much general public perception and attitudes about animal welfare have stoked change in recent years. But the success of Direct Action Everywhere’s anti-foie gras campaign highlights the importance of targeted activism. We may have a long road ahead, but we will continue to celebrate our wins and challenge others to speak up for animals. Since their screams are being ignored, it is up to us to speak up for them.