With December 25th only days away and people planning holiday meals, I decided to repost my Christmas pigs. The dichotomy that Michael Pollan points out, in how we think about the animals we love as pets versus the animals we view as food, is bizarre when you think about it. (You can read his quote on my painting above.)
We live today in a world where billions of animals are confined, mutilated and slaughtered annually, and yet despite the massive scale of this cruelty, most of us aren’t aware of what’s going on. Eating meat, dairy and eggs is our default— considered by the vast majority to be the most normal, sensible diet. The food industry reinforces the idea that this diet is natural, wholesome and healthy with food packaging and labels that obscure the facts. We see pictures of happy cows in pasture on milk cartons, and we read comforting, yet mostly meaningless, terms, like “grass fed” and “humanely raised,” on meat packages. The reality is that the methods of raising animals for food have changed vastly over the last century, with high yield production and the bottom line profit margin having become the guiding principles of the industry. These guiding principles have led to factory farms, which is where nearly all farm animals today are raised, and where nearly all the meat, dairy and eggs we buy are produced. The life of animals in factory farms is miserable and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the bucolic farm scenes we see on food packages.
I’m as turned off as the next person by the in-your-face style of animal advocacy favored by groups like PETA. At the same time though I totally relate to the underlying feelings of horror, anger and sadness at the brutal treatment of animals raised for food and other products. I’ve recently begun listening to thinker and activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s “Food for Thought” podcasts, and I highly recommend them to vegans and non-vegans alike. They’re fascinating, informative and hopeful. One of her mottos is “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something!” So for example, if like some people I know, you feel you could never be vegan because you simply couldn’t give up cheese, then keep cheese for now and start by giving up those animal products that are easier for you to leave off your menu. Do something, rather than nothing. Every bit helps.