"Our generation should be able to look back and say we took the side of the vulnerable."
-Paul Shapiro, Humane Society
On November 12th I attended "Ethics and Your Plate," an inspiring seminar at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History sponsored by Go Vegan Santa Barbara and the National Museum of Animals and Society. The speakers brought a range of expertise on matters of animal welfare, factory farms and sustainable agriculture. Fresh off feeling somewhat melancholy that all we seem to be doing is preach to the choir, I left feeling newly inspired about what we can accomplish together to change the food system.
Paul Shapiro from the Humane Society spoke about animal welfare and gave an overview of animal rights in this country. Pets in the U.S. have a certain amount of legal protection, with several states making abuse of animals a punishable crime. Farm animals, on the other hand, have almost no legal protection whatsoever. This makes them vulnerable to a host of unacceptable abuses.
Interestingly, he cited a survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau in Oklahoma where results showed that Americans care deeply about the way the animals they eat are treated during their lives (e.g. 95% said it is important that animals are well cared for; 75% would vote for laws requiring better treatment). Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the way we feel and how we shop for our meat. The reason? Consumers simply don't know what they're eating and what takes place at factory farms.
Paul, a committed vegan, is interested in "common ground campaigns," or issues that vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike can come together and agree on. He cited 1) banning factory farm practices and 2) reducing the number of animals raised and killed as the two campaigns to pursue to do the most good.
Progress has already been made on many states, but he spent some time recalling the 2008 Prop 2 campaign in California which required animals to have basic human rights including the ability to lie down, turn around and extend their legs. People from all walks of life came together that year to support animal rights. Religious leaders, public health workers, vegans and meat eaters, all believed that our animals deserved better. The proposition passed by a 63% vote, the largest majority than any other state initiative to date.
I was able to speak with Paul after his presentation and he told me that he felt the Meatless Monday campaign is one of the best ways to promote change in our food system. But it can't only be in our individual homes. Meatless Monday needs to take hold at an institutional level, so that means corporate cafeterias, school lunch rooms and restaurants should collectively promote this effort which would ensure that millions of Americans have at least one meat-free day per week, saving approximately 1.4 billion animals per year from a life on factory farms.
I appreciated his optimism and practical application to an overwhelming topic. I immediately felt more confident not only in my own food choices, but in the possibility to significantly reduce the practice of factory farming in this country. Following are a few more facts from the day you may find interesting
- North Carolina is the second largest pig producer in the country, but you could drive through the entire state without seeing a pig due to factory farm practices.
- 1 million animals are slaughtered every hour in the United States; 10 billion are slaughtered each year
- Due to feed and waste automation, the average amount of time a pig experiences human contact per day is 8 seconds