During a Webinar put on by the group Farm Forward, The Beet-Eating Heeb this month finally got an opportunity to ask author Jonathan Safran Foer the question that he had been dying to put to him.
Well, maybe “dying” is a poor choice of words.
My fellow Jew, BEH asked, do you think it’s morally OK for humans to kill animals for food?
His answer was profoundly disappointing. Disillusioning in the extreme.
Safran Foer said, “The answer doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s fun, intellectually, to consider the question. But let’s talk about what’s actually in front of us. The question is the least relevant to the choices we make on a daily basis.”
What? The matter of killing sentient beings for food “doesn’t really matter”? It’s “least relevant”?
This, from the sensitive soul and gifted writer who wrote “Eating Animals,” the book that has probably created more vegans than any other written work in history?
The veg advocacy movement can ill afford to engage in internecine warfare, outnumbered as we are by the forces that are promoting meat eating. So The Beet-Eating Heeb will try to engage in some self-restraint (wish him luck) as he critiques Safran Foer’s answer.
To state the obvious, the issue is of ultimate consequence and of grave concern to farm animals, who literally moan, bleat and otherwise beg for their lives. It’s one thing for their desperate but futile pleas to fall on deaf ears within the blood-soaked slaughterhouse. It’s quite another for these innocent animals to find a heart of stone inside the likes of Jonathan Safran Foer.
However, while his answer certainly seems surprising, even bizarre, it’s actually exactly what you would expect – when you consider the morally hypocritical corner that JSF has painted himself into.
Much to the chagrin of his legions of vegan fans, Safran Foer has firmly hitched himself to the “humane” farming movement. This movement, of which Farm Forward is a part, maintains that it’s OK to slaughter animals, as long as you raise them in a humane fashion. It’s a response to factory farming.
Safran Foer discussed this movement in “Eating Animals” with a glowing profile of Niman Ranch. Since the release of the book, he has become a spokesman for Farm Forward, even doing a YouTube video that endorses consuming poultry.
The problem with Safran Foer, Farm Forward and the rest of the “humane” farming movement is the contradiction inherent in their position.
Please explain to The Beet-Eating Heeb how you can care about an animal’s welfare for a few years, then turn around on a day of your choosing and stick a knife into the innocent creature’s throat.
The Beet-Eating Heeb, as all Jews should, finds this Jekyll-and-Hyde type of morality to be troubling, even scary. BEH favors a transcendent, consistent morality.
This whole “humane” farming movement reminds The Beet-Eating Heeb of the parable of the woman who rescued an injured rattlesnake and nursed it back to full health. For the next few months, the snake would curl up in the woman’s lap as she watched TV at night, just like a pet cat.
Then one night, out of the blue, the rattlesnake lifted its head and plunged its venomous fangs right into the woman’s neck.
“My God, how could you do that to me, after we spent all these nights together?,” the woman gasped as she died.
“Hey lady,” the rattler answered, “you knew I was a snake.”
Jonathan Safran Foer has aligned himself with the snake, metaphorically speaking.
Given all this, his answer to BEH’s question isn’t surprising, after all.
He has put himself in a position where he can’t say killing animals for food is wrong. But nor, given his obvious concern for animals, can he say it’s OK.
Characterizing the question as irrelevant was just a way of dodging it. Given the morally untenable position he has staked out, he didn’t have any good options when confronted with BEH’s query. Dismissing the question as frivolous, as he did, might very well have been the least bad option for him.
Of course, Safran Foer is entitled to believe and espouse whatever he wants. But BEH, as a big fan of his book “Eating Animals, would ask him to reconsider his ties to the “humane” farming movement and give animals the moral consideration they deserve – every day and always.
The Beet-Eating Heeb was driving (in his Prius) to his day job one recent morning when NPR aired a startling report that described such bizarre bedfellows … Well, BEH feels fortunate he didn’t drift off the road and into a ditch, he was so stunned.
What turned The Beet-Eating Heeb into a Head-Scratching Heeb, when he was supposed to have both hands on the wheel?
Are you sitting down?
Here goes: The Humane Society and United Egg Producers have joined forces to lobby together for a bill on Capitol Hill.
If you don’t find it shocking that the Humane Society and United Egg Producers are collaborating, it may be because egg producers don’t necessarily come first to mind when you’re thinking about the appalling practices of factory farming.
But they should.
The sordid truth is, when it comes to the sadistic treatment of animals, the egg industry ranks right down there with the cattle and poultry industries.
The Beet-Eating Heeb could devote an entire post, or even an entire book, to the horrors of industrial-scale egg production. Suffice it to say that, as NPR noted, the standard practice is to jam “chickens into long lines of wire cages, with hundreds of thousands of birds in a single chicken house.”
America’s 280 million egg-laying hens are typically allotted a mere 67 square inches of space each. That’s a smaller surface area than a sheet of 8.5×11 copy paper. In such cruel confinement, the hens can barely move.
Don’t get The Beet-Eating Heeb started.
Anyway, United Egg Producers, the main industry lobbying group, has long defended these horrific practices, while the Humane Society, last time BEH checked, advocates for the humane treatment of animals.
So why are Wayne Pacelle, a vegan and president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, strolling the halls of Congress together?
NPR reports that they’re jointly advocating for a bill that would allow egg farmers to keep their cages, but require them to provide twice as much space, plus perches and “nest boxes.” The new regulations would be phased in over 15-18 years.
Sixteen members of Congress have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which has been sent to a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.
Is the Humane Society Doing the Right Thing?
The Humane Society loves animals, so should we trust it that this compromise bill would significantly alleviate the suffering of egg-laying hens?
Animal-welfare organizations are deeply divided on that question.
Some are supporting the bill, while others are fiercely opposing it. The opposition within the animal-rights community has started a campaign called Stop the Rotten-Egg Bill.
Ed Duvin, editor-at-large of the Greanville Post blog, accuses the Humane Society of “settling for crumbs … at the expense of any hope for liberating hens from their heinous imprisonment.”
The Beet-Eating Heeb called fellow beet-eating Heeb Paul Shapiro for a response. Shapiro is the Humane Society senior director of farm animal protection.
He insists that their compromise with the egg producers offers the only realistic hope for hundreds of millions of hens.
“What is the alternative?” he asked.
While California voters approved a ballot measure to improve conditions for egg-laying hens, the other big egg-producing states – Pennsylvania included – do not allow ballot initiatives, Shapiro pointed out. And most state legislatures – and Congress itself, for that matter – are firmly in the grip of the factory-farming industry.
Providing hens twice as much space, even if they would still be caged, is the best that can be achieved legislatively, he said.
“You can’t ignore the fact of what the status quo is. Hundreds of millions of hens are cramped in cages where they can’t even spread their wings,” he said.
Sadly, even the Humane Society-United Egg Producers compromise might not be realistic, in political terms.
The uber-powerful beef and pork industries have directed their armies of lobbyists to kill the egg bill. While cows and pigs don’t lay eggs, factory-farm lobbyists won’t tolerate any bill that regulates how animals are treated. From their perspective, United Egg Producers has gone off the ranch.
Business Week quoted a lobbyist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as saying, “It’s going to be a long time coming before we are willing to sit down with a group as extreme as the Humane Society of the United States.”
That quote speaks volumes about the mindset of the meat industry.
The Humane Society is extreme? Oh, please. Need The Beet-Eating Heeb even say this? The Humane Society is the most mainstream, most moderate, most respected animal welfare organization in the United States.
Nonetheless, despite the inanity of the beef and pork industries, they will in all likelihood succeed in killing the egg bill.
“This is an uphill battle,” Shapiro conceded.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is highly curious to know what the readers of this blog think, so please don’t hesitate to post your comments below.
One more thing: Don’t read this blog while driving.