Vegan – More Than Just “Tofu and Sprouts”

Photo: United Poultry Concerns
Jill and Juniper
Jill & Juniper

UPC President Karen Davis published the following Comment in the Internet letters section of The Independent, a popular newspaper in the United Kingdom. It is a response to what The Independent called “the distressing and unnatural conditions endured by Britain’s 800 million ‘broiler’ chickens” documented in a new video by Compassion in World Farming.

At the same time as these revelations appeared, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals published a video of Tyson workers at a U.S. slaughter plant in 2007 urinating on live chickens and other vicious behaviors. It is time for the humane people of the world to abandon animal-based diets and choose to eat compassionately. Leave “pee pee” steps to baby chicks – take a GIANT STEP!

A response to “The Cost of Cheap Chicken,” Jan. 4, 2008

By Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns, The Independent, Jan. 22, 2008 Edited and updated for this issue of Poultry Press.

Governments, corporations and others are looking for smarter, more efficient technologies to neutralize the negative impacts of intensive farmed animal production. There is this idea, this hope, that 6 billion-plus people on the planet, devouring huge quantities of animal products, can somehow consist with “humane, sustainable” animal agriculture. I think this is false, and that if a vegan solution to our environmental and animal welfare problems seems hopelessly idealistic, a shift away from industrial animal production practices to supply billions of omnivores is even more so.

It isn’t just “factory farming.” The problem is animal farming (which is all basically industrial, because hundreds and thousands of animals in a single commercial location = industrial). Make no mistake: even improved living standards for chickens and turkeys and other farmed animals are far lower than the standards most people would consider minimally acceptable for animals of comparable sentience and intelligence, such as a dog, a parrot or a cat. Farmed-animal “welfare” will never come close to meeting the complex needs of the animals involved.

In addition, animal products pose a significant food-safety risk. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the major foodborne pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Listeria) that make people sick and susceptible to arthritis and other degenerative diseases are to be found in “meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.”

Given the international trade in animals’ bodies and in processed foods containing animal products – which are increasingly assembled not only from different animals but from different countries – it is virtually impossible to regulate the agribusiness economy in the interest of food safety. Each hamburger contains tissue from a hundred different “spent” dairy cows, as noted in Gail Eisnitz’s book Slaughterhouse. The dairy industry’s brutality to “spent” cows was recently documented in a highly-publicized investigation by the Humane Society of the United States at a California slaughter plant. But what was revealed there goes on all the time all over the world.

An icky little grease ball item like a chicken nugget can be made out of stuff from the four corners of the earth and is basically an assemblage of diseased flesh – skin, scabs, sores, bruises, pus. Chicken nuggets and patties supplied to the USDA’s National School Lunch Program have been said by inspectors to be made out of chickens who “usually have either airsacculitis, a pneumonia-like infection, or inflammatory process, which is similar to an infected cut.” In both cases, “pockets of pus” form in various parts of the body that can be “like a jelly.” However, “Even if a diseased bird is found, little is likely to happen.” An inspector can find “sores on 52 percent of the birds, and the company’s product still will pass inspection.”

By contrast, a vegan diet is not only an opportunity to create a less violent and toxic world, but an intelligent food safety choice that doesn’t depend on the government. Nor will a vegan diet sacrifice jobs or ruin the economy. As long as people exist, the same amount of food will have to be produced and sold, and all plant food has protein.

As consumers, we can use our purchasing power to speed technological conversion to the production of all-vegetarian foods. In retooling, producers will hire just as many workers as before to feed the hungry-as-ever population. For those who care about animals, health, and the well-being of the planet, the happy task is to show people the many wonderful vegan products, recipes and menu items that are available – delicious cholesterol-free meats, soy ice creams, and much more.

In any event, no one should be allowed anymore to get away with dismissing vegan food as a boring “diet of tofu and sprouts.” Not that there is anything wrong with tofu and sprouts; rather, what is unacceptable is the stereotype of vegan consumers and foods as meager and ascetic. We can have a happy, healthy life without slaughterhouses.

– Karen Davis

“The promotion of Freedom Foods products, free range systems and the use of slower growing chickens can only ever have a marginal impact on bird welfare. The lives of these ‘high welfare’ birds are also miserable and deprived. The fundamental problem is the commodification of chickens (and of other farmed animals). There will always be a niche market for less roughly-treated birds, but for so long as animals are mass produced, fattened, transported and killed for food products, then those engaged in such activities will obey the rules of the market place and seek to reduce unit costs and maximise output. These cardinal rules of the marketplace translate inexorably into animal suffering. Animal Aid believes that it is cruel and immoral to treat animals as commodities, which is why we promote the non-animal diet.”
From “Give it up, guys,” by Andrew Tyler, Director of Animal Aid in the U.K., The Guardian, March 1, 2008
Vegan Power
Illustration by Nigel Burroughs