One day soon, nearly every egg you eat will be from a hen who’s crammed into a barn with several thousand others. Yep, she’ll still be debeaked with a hot blade because the stress of exploitation causes her to engage in injurious pecking of herself and others. Sure, the producers may induce forced moulting by starving her for a week or two to compel her to regenerate her egg-laying. Of course, those tiny little male chicks will likely still be ground up alive, thrown into trash bags and left to die, or, if they’re lucky, suffocated shortly after birth. And of course, her poor body, will be racked by osteoporosis and other degenerative illnesses caused by the physical stress of being engineered to lay more than 20 times the number of eggs of her wild cousin. Then, when she stops laying, she’ll be transported a long distance to the slaughterhouse without food or water, where she’ll undergo a death that not even the most imaginative horror writer could conjure up. But it will make a HUGE difference to her that all of this will happen without the bars of a cage to spoil her view. After all, if we were to be debeaked, force-moulted, starved, have our babies killed shortly after birth, have our bodies waste away from calcium loss, be transported, and then be slaughtered in an horrific way after a life of exploitation, we’d rather do it cage-free.
But this is the kind of thing for which the animal orgs would rather we campaigned. Or, rather, these are their campaigns and they’d rather we promote them, because the animal orgs, it so often seems, are allergic to any meaningful change. After all, you know that vegan education creates meaningful change: each new vegan is one person fewer participating in any form of avoidable animal use and becoming a potential advocate who may well educate other people towards veganism.
Matt Ball, Senior Advisor for VegFund and co-founder of Vegan Outreach, writes that we, as advocates, should “challenge ourselves to approach advocacy through a straightforward analysis of the world as it is, striving solely to alleviate as much suffering as possible.” And, of course, that’s what activism is about for these folks. It’s not about changing the world; it’s about keeping the world as it always is and always has been, about accepting exploitation, torment and death, but just trying to make sure that it’s done in a way that’s supposedly slightly more palatable. Never mind that what would actually alleviate a heck of a lot of suffering is more vegans, and that promoting cage-free eggs (and praising producers and suppliers when they phase out cages) is sending out a message that is diametrically opposed to the ethical view that animal use is wrong and should end. Moral principles and the realities of the extent of suffering that goes into just one egg are, the orgs would have us believe, things that should only be talked about in hushed whispers among vegans, and even then without too much conviction.
Animal people have a perversely dystopian view of the world. In their vision, Joe Public is amoral and will need to be tricked into opting out of animal use. Veganism is an ethical system that’s too lofty for the debased majority; even those who adhere to it strictly are derided by their “own” as dogmatic purists. Morality is only for a select few, and the animals will have to lose out every time out of respect for the individual’s “journey” (which is taken in baby steps, and often in the wrong direction). For humans, it’s a pat on the back because every little helps; for animals, it’s a nightmare because every little adds up to a terrifying, brutal system of exploitation.
In this dystopia, some number-crunchers, with their calculators, got together to figure out how ethical principles should manifest themselves; they couldn’t find dice, and the Wheel of Fortune was otherwise engaged. Calculating that more hens are killed each year than any other animal, a solution was proposed: not, in fact, to address the killing of hens (which is an inevitable part of their exploitation for both their flesh and their eggs), but to make sure that killing and the preceding exploitation are done marginally “better.” “More bang for our buck,” they said, as they calculated how much they would spend on the campaign and how much they would reap in return. Because social justice is all about metrics, and the victims of oppression don’t thank you as generously as the perpetrators of that oppression do when you rubber-stamp their new method of exploiting.
When you don’t believe in the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and the antipathy towards causing unnecessary harm that’s hardwired into most individuals, you have to produce statistical analyses, populate tables with data, and invent jargon to justify your “activism.”
Of course, experience (over 200 years of it) shows that the anti-vegan advocacy brigade’s tactics aren’t working, no matter how hard they try to justify them with figures and statistics. And, of course, without education on the moral value of all nonhuman animals it merely provides speciesists with an excuse to disagree, from a subjective perspective, with the ascription of moral worth to one particular species. Further, you’ve backed yourself into a moral corner: by telling people not to eat one species, if you then argue for the others having equal moral value, you’ll not be believed. But, those who defend the tactics of anti-vegan advocacy will have you believe that such flaws have do with a lack of money and not a lack of clarity regarding moral positions. And, after all, when laying hens have it better, then the animal people will start campaigning for broiler hens (one reform of treatment at a time), and then fishes (one species at a time, one form of treatment at a time). But, of course, this keeps the calculators powered, the statisticians in a job, and the coffers filled.
So, cage-free exploited and brutalized laying hens amount to a victory for “animal people” who assuage their consciences with some trivial feel-goodery, and for the vegans for whom doing actual vegan advocacy is not exciting, edgy, or sexy enough. All about the humans; to hell with the birds (which is where they already are, whether in cages or not). Most of all, it’s a financial victory for the large animal charities who get funding to promote this incoherent campaign and who gain donations from the nonvegan public who like to feel better about the hens they’re exploiting for their breakfast omelette.
And certainly, there are people supporting these campaigns who sincerely believe they’re doing the right thing by hens. But when we promote such moral confusion, all we’re doing is giving people permission to continue using animals. And that’s not only fundamentally unjust, it’s also fundamentally nonsensical if a vegan world is what we desire.
Remember that most people do care about animals. Arm yourself with a copy of Eat Like You Care, marshal your courage, and ask for nothing less than veganism. It’s the only antidote to the pox of welfarism and it’s the only fair thing to do.