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A Weird Argument for "Happy Meat"

For people concerned about the abuses involved in factory farming meat, there are basically two alternatives that one might promote, by some combination of personal consumer choice and advocacy for policy change: veganism or "happy meat."

One argument in favor of the "happy meat" path that makes no sense to me is the idea that it creates direct market pressure on factory farms in a way that vegans do not. This argument is made here by Jenna Woginrich, who went from vegetarian to happy-meat farmer after making the realizations described in her article. She argues "Your fork is your ballot, and when you vote to eat a steak or leg of lamb purchased from a small farmer you are showing the industrial system you are actively opting out." So far, I'm with her. This is the basic boycott logic behind changing personal habits to change food systems. Yet Woginirich seems to think this logic doesn't count for vegans: "It's a hard reality for a vegetarian to swallow, but my veggie burgers did not rattle the industry cages at all. I was simply avoiding the battlefield, stepping aside as a pacifist."

This doesn't make sense. A vegan fork is taking one vote away from factory farmed meat and giving it to chickpea farmers. Vegans are participating in the "battle" just as much as "happy meat" consumers -- that doesn't change just because their alternative protein sources are different species than the factory farmers'. The scale of the factory farm industry is determined by the number of factory farmed burgers purchased, and people following both strategies are purchasing equally fewer factory farmed burgers. It's consumer behavior in buying X instead of Y that determines whether X and Y will be competitors in the market, not anything about the inherent similarity of X and Y.

Indeed, there's reason to be concerned that a focus on "happy meat" could ultimately be less successful at "getting cows out of feedlots." If "happy meat" becomes as popular as Woginrich hopes, there will be a big incentive for factory farms to get in on the trend. But they won't want to do it by actually changing their farming practices. They'll do it by slapping happy labels on their existing meat. You can misleadingly claim that a feedlot-raised pig is happy pork. But it's a lot tougher to claim a feedlot-raised pig is a falafel.


Anonymous Braidwood said...

I only eat meat from animals raised on farms, AND I agree with you that not eating meat at all definitely is voting with your fork!

That was a weird argument. I would be completely vegan except that if I cut out a food altogether, it just makes me want it more. So, this is my compromise with myself.

12:07 PM  

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