To answer this question, we can turn to an inspired article written by Texas State Professor, James McWilliams. It’s not all bad news according to McWilliams: the number of vegans and vegetarians are climbing, we see animal welfare laws enacted thanks to the tireless work of activists and organizations, the demand for cruelty free products is climbing and many other wins in areas such as bullfighting and animals used for entertainment. Lastly, we have recently seen an impressive amount of mainstream media attention attributed to vegan authors.
So yes, we can put a few check marks in the ‘W’ column. However, McWilliams cautions us against celebrating just yet. According to a Worldwatch Institute report, industrial meat production has tripled over the last forty years, growing 20 percent in the last 10 years alone.
McWilliams claims that part of the problem lies in Worldwatch’s solution: the organization calls for the consumption of “organic, pasture raised livestock” and to support “pastoral farming systems.” The author claims very matter-of-factly that as long as we eat meat, factory farms will be the dominant mode of production. In other words, as long as meat eating is a culturally acceptable practice and demand remains high, consumers will continue to search out the cheapest and most efficient means to acquire the product.
We often hear foodie-like mantra that sustainable alternatives exist to satisfy any gustatory request, however, research behind “humane” labels will reveal that truly cruelty-free, sustainable meat production does not exist. McWilliams does an eloquent job of reminding us that for the animal who is forced to suffer, the label on the package is irrelevant.
So what are some solutions? According to McWilliams we need work focused on the creation of a cultural shift. Activists need to be working toward not just changing consumption patterns but thought patterns. Meat consumption can only truly decrease when the idea of eating animals is stigmatized.
The author ends the article with this thought:
“When we allow duplicity, euphemism, and — perhaps most distressingly — sloppy thinking to prevent us from reaching our fullest potential as an emotionally-aware species, we quietly perpetuate the violence that, if so many of our compassionate actions are to be believed, we oppose with every ounce of our being.”