Animal Use - The End or Just a Reform?
by Mary Anne Douglas
Vegetarianism is becoming popular. New products are on the market to appeal to vegetarian shoppers and it is now an acceptable style of cuisine.
Besides, many people agree it is a healthy way of eating. Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton claims that 19% of women and 13% of men in Australia claim to be "partially vegetarian".
How can a person claim to be partially vegetarian? Many readers will favour the view that you are either fully vegetarian or you are not. However, with a new emphasis on health, nutrition and the great taste of vegetarian food we may be doing the movement a disservice by limiting our message. While we may just be presenting an alternative cuisine to try for a dinner party, or budget meals a couple of times a week; any move towards vegetarianism is welcome.
Food historians have claimed that it is natural to move away from the predictable and to seek out variety. They see the move towards vegetarianism as a natural progression and assert that is part of the history of human nature to want something exotic or rare. How else would humans have lost all respect for nature and her seasons producing and consuming fruit and vegetables on demand? We tend to go to great lengths to get what they desire with little regard for how it is grown. If we like something, we want it easily and in excess.
This has certainly been the story with animal farming and all the horrors of factory farms. We are now seeing some heartening increases in awareness of the cruelty and constant abuse of animals and a movement which seeks to abolish such practices. People talk of the rights of animals and arguments favouring them are more readily accepted. When Bernard Rollin, author of many books on animal rights and worldwide lecturer asked more than 6,000 ranchers and cattlemen about animal rights, over 98% asserted that animals do have rights and expressed concern regarding the treatment of animals. Industry is constantly involved in market appraisal, and farmers are looking towards new industries. From what we hear all over the world we might well agree with Alan Clark, whose piece on the success of animal welfare campaigns in the Financial Times, March 1995, suggests that from evidence presented, "the days of the 'meat trade' in its present form are numbered".
Lest we become overly relieved or complacent, we should remember that telling phrase, 'in its present form'. People may be giving up some aspects of meat processing or use but this does not necessarily herald a complete end to our use, abuse and imprisonment of animals. In fact, other industries are only just becoming established and are growing at an alarming rate. In Australia, the emu, deer and ostrich industries are merely replacing sheep, cattle and pig production. Emu meat is becoming more available to the ordinary shopper. Kangaroo meat is readily available at restaurants. Wildlife farming is gaining ground, despite controversy.
These "meats" (from wildlife) may yet become addictive and common fare as they are marketed as "healthy" and are also something new to try even for those "partial vegetarians". Animal abuse is not over. Have we somehow lost the message of compassion to all life? We are calling for an end to animal use and not just revision or reform. This can only come about if the hearts and minds of humans are touched with the message of our ethic of compassion. Perhaps this is an important focus for our own lives too.
References: Clark, Alan, "The Last Days of the Meat Trade", Financial Times, March 4/5, 1995.
Montanarai, M, The Culture of Food.
Rollin, Bernard, "Animals Rights Preserving an Ancient Contract" in Voices on the Threshold of Tomorrow, 1993.
Stanton, Rosemary, Sun Herald, March 26, 1995.