Today’s guest post is by my husband, Tom Breuer, talented author and fellow vegan. I’ve been bugging him for more than a year to write something for Peculiar Girl, and last night he surprised me with a shiny new post. Tom is the co-author of three political humor books including Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly.
When Mercy for Animals released the findings of its recent investigation into Sparboe Farms—one of the nation’s largest egg producers and, until recently, a major supplier to McDonald’s—I was angry and more than a little frustrated.
In the group’s undercover video, workers were shown cutting off the tips of chicks’ beaks, and male chicks were seen being left in plastic bags to suffocate.
Surprisingly, what made me angriest was not the video footage but rather McDonald’s reaction to the investigation. In a statement, the company said, “McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers.”
That’s a wonderful sentiment, but McDonald’s had to have known about at least some of the abuses shown on the video.
How can I say this? Because I knew about them. Those very same abuses are among the biggest reasons I went vegan.
About three years ago, while reading PETA’s website, I discovered that chickens used in the egg industry have their beaks cut off without painkillers and that male chicks are simply discarded. Some of these discarded animals are left to suffocate in plastic bags—as Mercy for Animals’ video showed—while others are ground up alive.
So I suppose it’s within the realm of metaphysical possibility that McDonald’s was simply ignorant of these practices—then again, I’m pretty sure the company has heard of PETA. Just a hunch.
To be fair, McDonald’s has now discontinued its purchases from Sparboe, but what sticks in my craw is how the company dealt with the brewing PR disaster. In reality, the problem is that this is how animals on factory farms are treated. McDonald’s would like people to believe the problem is one egg supplier that went rogue.
Of course, the one-bad-egg-producer theory is unlikely to withstand even the barest of scrutiny, but luckily for McDonald’s, the media—and the public—will soon direct their attention elsewhere, satisfied that no animals will be harmed in the production of their next Egg McMuffin.
(For the real story, they might want to listen instead to Mercy for Animals Executive Director Nathan Runkle, who notes, “Every time that MFA sends investigators into a factory farm or slaughterhouse, they emerge with shocking images of blatant animal abuse.”)
So I let my anger fester for a few days. I was angry at Sparboe and McDonald’s, of course, but also angry at consumers for allowing themselves to be duped. How can people allow these industries to get away with such rampant cruelty?
So I responded as many “enlightened” vegans do—with the kind of self-righteous indignation that allows us to imagine there’s a morally superior “us” eternally pitted against an ethically stunted “them.”
But then I realized how much my ego was getting in the way of my ideals. If you don’t do anything useful with it, at best righteous indignation is pretty useless, and at worst it will just piss people off.
After all, I was a meat-eater for 26 years, ate eggs and dairy for another 17 after that, and have been a vegan for only three. I rationalized, evaded, and minimized as much as any fur coat-wearer or veal lover does—indeed, as much as anyone facing any real moral dilemma does—but eventually I was confronted with facts I could not wish away.
The truth is, the vast majority of people in the world are compassionate and humane. Almost no one actually enjoys or condones animal cruelty or animal suffering. At the same time, most people eat meat, eggs, and dairy, which are almost always the products of immense animal suffering.
Unfortunately, sometimes I think that vegans get a little full of themselves and are more than happy to nurture the delusion that they’re more compassionate than the rest of the world. I think we all need to remember where we came from. I used to fish and go duck hunting with my dad, and ate enough mushroom and Swiss burgers in my day to choke a carnivorous horse.
We’re not more compassionate, we’re not better, and we’re not smarter. We just—unfortunately for us, sometimes—know what’s really going on.
I’m convinced that all it takes to turn a meat-eater vegan is a little knowledge—not a lot. In fact, there were just a few tipping points that persuaded me give up meat, eggs, and dairy—in that order. I present them to Peculiar Girl readers, in the hopes that they will realize in less than two minutes what took me 43 years to understand:
The only real difference between a dog or cat and a farm animal is that dogs and cats are domesticated animals that we love and pigs, cows, and chickens are domesticated animals that we eat. Like us, all of these animals suffer. Dogs and cats are lucky because they live in our homes. Pigs, cows, and chickens are unlucky because they live on factory farms. When I saw a protester holding up a picture of a calf languishing in a tiny crate over the caption, “If you did this to your dog, you would be arrested,” I knew I wouldn’t be able to justify eating burgers for long. Saying a dog deserves a life free of torture and a pig doesn’t because the dog is your pet is no different than saying your son deserves a life free from slavery and another kid doesn’t because your son happens to be your child.
Not only do chickens used by the egg industry have their beaks cut off without painkillers and get discarded if they’re born male, the typical laying hen is confined to a cage and forced to live most of her life on an area that’s smaller than a letter-sized sheet of paper.
Every time you purchase milk, butter, or cheese, you support the cruel veal industry. To quote Mercy for Animals, “Every year, approximately one million calves are confined in crates measuring just two feet wide. They are chained by the neck to restrict all movement, making it impossible for them to turn around, stretch, or even lie down comfortably.”
That’s it. Three short arguments representing three tipping points—or, if you prefer, 43 years condensed into two minutes. Let’s hope you’re a bit swifter than I was.
Tom Breuer is an author, vegan, practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and lover of microbrews—the darker the better. He is married to Peculiar Girl creator and writer, Cheryl Breuer. The two live in Madison, Wisconsin, with their dogs, Romeo and Griffin.
Chicken photo by CeresB on Flickr