by Kelly Behr
Three people in which I have come to know and deeply respect talked to NPR last week about some of their views on a vegan diet, the article was titled “Does Being Vegan Really Help Animals?” They touched on a supply/demand issue, how people in the United States do not need meat to survive and the impact animal production has not only affected our country but others we use fill our meat demands.
Barbara King of NPR posed these questions to Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society, Alka Chandna of PETA and Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary.
“Do you find it personally motivating or inspiring to reflect upon the number of animals who live each year, who otherwise would not, because you are vegan?”
Paul: Eating fewer or no animals doesn’t mean that animals who would’ve been killed will now live; it means that animals who would’ve been bred into existence to suffer on factory farms will now not be brought into the world and exploited in the terrible ways that are customary in the meat industry. It’s a supply and demand issue. Less demand should mean less supply.
Bruce: As Paul notes, by removing our demand, we’re sparing animals suffering that is beyond our worst imaginings. I do find it deeply motivating to realize that I can live my values every time I sit down to eat. St. Paul called on the faithful to pray ceaselessly. I like that every time I sit down to eat, I cast my lot for mercy, and against misery — for compassion, and against cruelty. Every meal becomes a prayer for a kinder and more just world.
Alka: I don’t think so much about the numbers of animals who are spared as much as I think about the misery and suffering that I’m not contributing to as a result of my choices. It was learning about the horrific conditions on factory farms — and thinking about the arbitrary cultural lines that determine which animals are eaten and which are spared — that compelled me to adopt a vegan diet; and I feel some comfort in knowing that my actions are not contributing to, or paying for those systems to carry out, their business. Conversely, if I am accidentally served something that isn’t vegan at a restaurant (and I know the dish is going to be thrown away), I feel like I have contributed to the torment suffered by the animals whose flesh or bodily products were in the dish. For example, if I’m given something that contains an egg, I think that my miscommunication resulted in a hen suffering in a battery cage for 34 hours (and all of the ancillary suffering inherent in the discarding of the male chicks, the eventual slaughter, and so on). It’s [weighing] the time that an animal suffered on a factory farm for that item to come into existence, balanced against the few minutes of enjoyment I might derive from eating that item.
“What is your response to a person who points out that on a global scale, veganism simply isn’t practical because people (including people suffering in poverty) must eat meat to survive?”
Paul: That may or may not be true, but we can only control ourselves. Millions of Americans are choosing to eat less meat today for a variety of reasons: to look and feel better, to prevent animal abuse, to protect the planet, and more. It need not be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Whether people are embracing Meatless Mondays, doing Mark Bittman’s “Vegan Before 6:00″ plan, or are doing, as Ellen DeGeneres does (vegan before 6 p.m. and after 6 p.m.!), we’re starting to embrace a saner, more humane and healthier diet.
Bruce: It is certainly not the case that anyone in the United States needs to eat meat in order to survive; I ran a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C., for six years, and I can say from personal experience that our nation’s poor are suffering from bad food, not lack of food. A move toward whole grains and legumes, in place of meat, would be healthier for them (and cheaper), just like it would be healthier for the affluent. On a global scale, I agree with the World Watch Institutethat diverting crops to animal feed is causing starvation. This is actually why I adopted a vegan diet in 1987, to combat the vast inefficiency of cycling crops through animals, which drives up the price of those crops and leads to starvation. I discuss that issuehere.
Alka: I would point out to that person that my parents raised me and my three siblings as lacto-vegetarians [A vegetarian who eats dairy products]. Through my younger years, my father was a graduate student and my mother worked as a librarian in Canada. But on their rather modest income, they were able to healthfully feed their four young children, preparing meals based on the peasant staples of rice and lentils. My parents didn’t buy junk food or convenience foods, so even with their limited funds, they could purchase plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. My experience is a product of my cultural heritage, of course, but if we consider the global population, I think it tends to be the case that the poorer populations, if they eat, are eating grains and legumes — and not meat or other animal products.
If we look at the volume of resources that are expended to produce meat, dairy and eggs, it seems clear that animal products are, in an increasingly crowded world, the fare of the wealthy. And, we can look to some stark examples — the razing of rain forests in Brazil to raise grain for factory farmed chickens in the U.S., and the exporting of grains from Ethiopia during the height of the Ethiopian famine to factory farmers in Europe, for instance — to recognize that reliance on animal-derived foods contributes to inequality.
Here at Native Foods we strive to make delicious 100% plant-based food that makes eating more meatless meals as easy as pie….like our Oatmeal Creme Pie!