Something almost Primal: Selling Meat to Vegetarians

“At one grocery outlet, at least, ‘certified humane’ meat is selling briskly. D’Agostino, a small grocery chain in New York, said sales of meat jumped 25 percent since it added the ‘certified humane’ logo, though the products cost, on average, 30 to 40 percent more.”

- The New York Times, 2006

During the past decade, numerous articles in magazines, newspapers and online have documented a disturbing trend. Individuals describing themselves as ‘ex-vegetarian’ or even ‘ex-vegan’, have been enlisted as spokespersons for a new fad, characterized by the promotion of ‘humanely-raised animal products’, or, as described by some animal rights advocates, ‘Happy Meat’.

Thirty years ago, for instance, no one would have imagined that the meat industry would have been able to recruit Molly Katzen, “author of vegetarian bibles The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest… and considered one of the chefs most responsible for the mainstreaming of vegetarianism in the 1970s and ’80s”. But at the end of 2009, Newsweek online published an article explaining that Katzen began eating meat again a few years ago, despite having lived for three decades as a vegetarian. She has recently come out with a new cookbook which isn’t vegetarian at all, but rather, lauds the consumption of meat from “sustainably raised, grass-fed livestock”.

In the same article, Tara Austen Weaver, author of The Butcher and the Vegetarian, seems enthusiastic about being a representative for the new trend in guilt-free animal slaughter. “There is something almost primal about it,” gushes the former vegetarian, as though the word ‘primal’ is a noble quality to be embraced by virtuous people. It seems more likely though that the directors of the puppet show are aware that ‘primal’ is simply a concept that plays to the desires of the lowest parts of our selves, to our lust for blood. Let’s not forget that the word is almost synonymous with ‘primitive’, and could just as easily be used to describe cannibalism or rape.

As Newsweek points out, these “conversion narratives… which inevitably take place at a quaint, family-run butcher shop… [some of which are] even run by former vegetarians and vegans”, are becoming increasingly common. Without fail, the stars of the show, former ‘animal people’, explain how they now have first-hand knowledge of the entire Happy Meat production process, all the way to actually witnessing (or even participating in) the butchering of the victim’s body. In some sort of bizarre and frightening twist, the result of this is that they are no longer repulsed by the idea of eating flesh or other animal products. Rather, they happily declare their enjoyment of a taste and texture sensation that used to be ‘off-limits’ to the consumer with conscience, until the kind folks at their local purveyor of flesh and blood provided them with ‘an ethical alternative to mainstream meat’.

As a public relations scheme, it’s almost ingenious. On the other hand, what do they think we are… three years old? It’s the same lie we tell our children when they first burst into tears at the idea that what’s on their plate is an animal like the one curled up at their feet – that cows are happy to be our dinner, that that’s what they’re made for, and that they don’t value their lives like dogs and cats. It’s a lie when we tell it to our children, and it’s a lie when the industry, using former ‘animal people’ as pawns, tells it to us.

In my case, I can’t help but wonder who dreamed this up around the meeting table. Which public relations executive now takes the credit for such a shrewd tactical move? A sudden influx of happy meat stories… cunningly placed in various alternative and mainstream media… portraying ex-vegetarians finally liberated from the constraints of self-deprivation… free at last to unleash their cravings and sink their teeth into the flesh they had so long denied themselves. It’s almost primal… One can actually picture the slideshow that went along with the presentation. 

It’s time to face up to it folks – we are being played. Animal slavery means big money, and you can be sure that the people who profit from it are not going to sit back and do nothing while the animal protection movement exposes their foul practices and the immorality of the institution itself. They had no choice but to come up with a plan to sway public opinion away from recognizing the injustice inherent in all animal exploitation, and toward the belief that there must be some way we can still have our cake and eat it too… some way that we can avoid sacrificing our taste pleasures while maintaining a clear conscience…

But interestingly, in the case of Newsweek, the conclusion was right on:

“While it’s true that sustainably raised, grass-fed beef may be better for the consumer, it’s hard to argue that it’s ultimately better for the cow. What these steak apologists seem to be missing is that no matter how ‘lovingly’ the cow was raised, no matter how much grazing or rooting he did in his life, he gave up that life to become their dinner.”

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



390 comments

Diane Des Rochers

Interesting knowing that my Butterfly credits can be redeemed to help the Humane Farm Animal Care on this very same Care2 site !! Care2 explain ?

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Diane Des Rochers

Interesting knowing that my Butterfly credits can be redeemed to help the Humane Farm Animal Care on this very same Care2 site !! Care2 explain ?

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Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

I find it incomprehensible that someone could raise an animal, get to know it from childhood to adulthood, and then be able to butcher it.

This 'Happy Meat' concept is obvious propaganda but, for the actual killing of these 'happier' free-range animals, they must be paying other people to do it. That's why butchering was an important profession in ancient times. Killing another being you perceive as an individual is difficult for all but sociopaths, most combat veterans will agree. In the case of mammals raised for food, it's actually very useful for the owners to pay someone else to do it as a routine professional act. Habit and duty can inure people to all kinds of things; the Nuremberg trials made that very clear.

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Stephanie S.
Stefani A6 years ago

Sure it is better that they were treated well until the end but that end should never have to arrive! I could never go back to eating meat again. The thought of eating corpses is disgusting besides all the other reasons for not eating it.

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Fallopia Tuba
Beth Sopko7 years ago

I'm no math genius, but it seems to me that if the meat industry is looking to double the world's present meat consumption, we're entering the realm of diminishing returns: there are too many people, not enough water, and simply not enough resources to sustain that many livestock, who are only killed to feed the burgeoning population.

I know many people sniff at "Meat Free Monday" and refuse to participate, but the human race is truly in a race to snuff out this planet. Happy Easter.

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Blake W.
Blake W7 years ago

'it's hard to argue that it's ultimately better for the cow.'
I disagree. Yes, the cow dies. But surely a life lasting x amount of time that is pleasant, followed by a painless death, is better for the cow than living in unpleasant conditions followed by a painful death.
Newsweek seems to be confusing merely existing for a longer period with 'a better life.'

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Julie M.
Julie M.7 years ago

Killing is never humane.

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Robyn Jones
Robyn Jones7 years ago

Hmmm, this is a new one, but not surprising. "Big Meat" wants to double the world's meat consumption in the next couple of decades; this sounds like a way to expedite the process. I don't buy it. I think the whole idea is ludicrous. Happy Meat, eh? Sure. Isn't that the image they already try to portray for factory farms? Quaint little barn in the middle of a golden prairie? I am disturbed by this. I don't care how humanely the animal was killed or what a great life it lived - it is not enough to convince me to buy it or eat it again.

Just another way to encourage the consumption of animal products. We vegetarians and vegans get enough pressure to conform to the majority's flesh-eating ways; now our own are trying to get us to do the same thing. I just don't understand.

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Victoria H.
.7 years ago

Good to see you here, Stephan B.

Wise of you to direct us to Kipling's works and messages.

The "humane" misnomer also reminds me of one of my favorite literary works: THE LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding. To those who haven't read the book, I would highly recommend it. In it, there is a gut-wrenching struggle for respect and ordered ethical(?) behavior by 2 young, well-mannered British boys, Ralph and Piggy, who boldly stand opposite the eroding morals and intensified primal cravings of the other "civilized" boys they are stranded with on an island during World War II. The story (and its heavy symbolism) mirrors the divisions we face today about this particularly sensitive subject, showing the allure of remaining somewhat primal and therefore less responsible for our day-to-day actions within our so-called "civilized" societies. It seems that, in a sense, we MAY get away with murder IF we can blame it on our answering to the call of nature. Today, in striving to throw off the disdain of that conviction, some people choose to buy into the "humane" label to soften the edges of those primal cravings... rather than to confront them directly. I myself was soothed by the "humane" label for a bit, but like Novacaine, it wore off gradually.

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Stephan B.
Stephan B7 years ago

To finish that quote::

The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God's stage" (T.E. Lawrence).

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