Go Vegan or Go Home

Where others see gray, animal advocate Gary Francione sees black and white
interview by Deb Olin Unferth, from The Believer
July-August 2011
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Corey Arnold / www.coreyfishes.com


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Gary Francione is the most controversial figure in the modern animal rights movement. 

In the 1980s he was an indefatigable and high-powered young attorney who worked on prominent animal rights court cases with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In the early 1990s he broke from PETA and from the organized movement, and in 1996 he wrote the controversial book Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, an incisive critique and reenvisioning of the movement.  

Francione’s theory is described as the abolitionist approach. He maintains that we cannot morally justify using animals as human resources, and that we should abolish animal use. He opposes efforts to reform or regulate animal use, arguing that they will necessarily provide limited protection to animal interests, because of the status of animals as property.  

Francione is a professor of law at Rutgers University and the author of six books, most recently The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? from Columbia University Press. 

Most animal advocates encourage people to become vegetarians, yet you feel that promoting vegetarianism is a step in the wrong direction for reducing animal exploitation. Why? 

There is absolutely no morally defensible distinction between flesh and other animal products, such as milk or cheese. Animals used in the dairy industry usually live longer than and are treated as badly as, if not worse than, their meat counterparts, and they all end up in the same slaughterhouse anyway. The meat and dairy industries are inextricably intertwined. As far as I am concerned, there is more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak, though I would not consume either. Vegetarianism as a moral position is no more coherent than saying that you think it morally wrong to eat meat from a spotted cow but not morally wrong to eat meat from a non-spotted cow. We do not need any animal products for health purposes, and animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. The best justification that we have for killing billions of animals every year is that they taste good. That simply cannot suffice as a moral justification.

 

Many animal advocates approve of farms that raise animals in humane ways for consumption. Yet I understand you are opposed to these kinds of farms, and even to campaigns to improve the lives of animals on factory farms, such as Proposition 2 in California, which prohibits the use of some kinds of chicken cages. Why are you opposed to campaigns like these?  

I think that people who advocate such practices actually do more harm than good by perpetuating the fantasy that we can somehow tidy up the concentration camps and make the institutionalized exploitation of sentient beings morally acceptable. It is always better to do less harm than more. If you are going to murder someone, it’s better not to torture her as well. A concentration camp with comfortable beds is better than one without. But this approach neglects a fundamental question about the moral legitimacy of the underlying activity of treating animals as human resources. For those who support these supposed reforms, the issue is how we use animals; for me, the issue is that we use animals.

I am opposed to animal welfare campaigns for two reasons. First, if animal use cannot be morally justified, then we ought to be clear about that, and advocate for no use. Although rape and child molestation are ubiquitous, we do not have campaigns for “humane” rape or “humane” child molestation. We condemn it all. We should do the same with respect to animal exploitation.

Second, animal welfare reform does not provide significant protection for animal interests. Animals are chattel property; they are economic commodities. Given this status and the reality of markets, the level of protection provided by animal welfare will generally be limited to what promotes efficient exploitation. . . . There are laws that supposedly protect animal interests in being treated “humanely,” but that term is interpreted in large part to mean that we cannot impose “unnecessary” harm on animals, and that is measured by what treatment is considered necessary within particular industries, and according to customs of use, to exploit animals.

The bottom line is that animals do not have any respect-based rights in the way that humans have, because we do not regard animals as having any moral value. They have only economic value. We value their interests economically, and we ignore their interests when it is economically beneficial for us to do so.

At this point, it makes no sense to focus on the law, because as long as we regard animals as things, as a moral matter, the laws will necessarily reflect that absence of moral value and continue to do nothing to protect animals. We need to change social and moral thinking about animals before the law is going to do anything more.

 

Deb Olin Unferth is the author of Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt, 2011). Excerpted from The Believer (Feb. 2011), a magazine of essays, interviews, and cultural coverage published by McSweeney’s in San Francisco. www.believermag.com 

cover-166-thumbnailHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader


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Post a comment below.

 

cm_4
8/9/2011 6:45:09 PM
let me spell it out real simply. Diabetes is not caused by a reliance on meat products. It is caused because of excessive carbohydrate exposure exhausting the pancreas and increasing insulin resistance. Yes, carbohydrates trigger type II diabetes.

One person even experimented with comparing the blood sugar response of a can of Pepsi to whole grains and found there was virtually no difference. Both made the blood sugar climb. http://diabetesupdate.blogspot.com/2011/07/healthy-whole-grains-just-as-healthy-as.html

my personal experience and that of other diabetics show that vegetarian or near vegetarian diets are reasonably good predictors of developing type II diabetes. comparing my low carbohydrate approach versus a diabetic I know who is vegan, my blood sugars run in the 100 to 120 mg per deciliter range in his run in the 250 to 400 mg per deciliter range. At this point, the question becomes should I die a slow and painful death from neuropathy, gangrene and other illnesses, raising the overall cost of health care for others by sticking to a "moral" diet or should I eat a low carbohydrate meat based diet which gives me a healthy life, a chance to age gracefully and pass my wisdom onto my grandchildren?

The answer simple for me, I want to live, I want to enjoy my life for myself, my wife, and our children. I honor the deaths of the animals that feed me but people I love think I am more important than the animals. who am I to argue?


john d
8/8/2011 11:36:56 AM
How refreshing to read the intelligent comments...far more intelligent than the spleen-venting article. Humans have as much moral right to eat animals as has the shark which eats surfers. Lao tzu opined that we invent morals and ethics when we lose the great way.

Lisa
8/8/2011 10:07:19 AM
How refreshing to read such a well-thought-out and well-presented group of comments! Yes, Francione's entire argument rests on his assertion that it has a moral foundation. I wonder, does he find the Native American culture of the Great Plains immoral? Those people were integrated into their ecosystem, and - at least as the stories are told - fully respected and utilized the animals whose lives they ended to support their own. Was it immoral that they did this, simply because they also happened to be humans? Because that is the final resting point of Francione's argument. (Surely he does not try to apply his "morality" to the other predator species of the earth?) The fact of eating/using other beings to sustain oneself is how this earth evolved; the morality of this is not in question - at least not by the earth itself. There are massive problems with the conventional ways animals are used in our society; I guess many of us who raise our own animals for meat, eggs and milk are motivated by a desire to get as far as possible from that system. But I believe Francione's sweeping, flawed logic rests on a common "environmental" theme: that humans are separate from nature, and that - in the hiearchy that stems from that separateness - nature is superior to humans. Therefore, the animals that humans raise and use are inferior lifeforms relative to "nature's" animals, and do not deserve to exist at all. That is the logical outcome of Francione's "morality."

Patti
8/8/2011 8:22:18 AM
Taking a moral stance is well and good but one must be aware of the biological facts as well. For 99% of human history, we have been hunters and gatherers and it has only been for the last 8,000-10,000 years that we have relied upon agriculture as a food source. This short, short amount of time has not allowed for humans to evolve in a way that their bodies will make the correct use of carbohydrates from vegetable and plant sources. We have evolved as meat (protein and fat) eaters, with a part of our diet coming from nuts and plants. One can see the results of the medical establishment championing high carbohydrate diets in the last 4 decades with meat and fat being only a small part of that diet - overwhelming incidences of obesity, diabetes, heart and cancer disease, digestive problems and more.So-called technological advances in the way food is produced has exacerbated the problem with highly processed and less nutritious packaged and fat foods making up a large portion of our diets. Our fat cells are designed to make use of protein and fat for energy and to store the energy from carbohydrates as fat for use when meat is not plentiful. Flooding our bodies with carbohydrates has made us a sick society. I think that the view offered by Francione is not only extreme but also unrealistic when what our bodies need to be healthy is exactly the opposite - meat, cheese, vegetables, some fruit, little or no sugar, little or no bread or flour products.

Richenel Ansano
8/8/2011 7:51:45 AM
I find the description of food/eating as "use as human resource" intriguing. On the one hand it gives Francione the latitude to use many arguments against animal use that are logical and principled. On the other hand: where do we create the boundaries that we assign to sentient life. We know that the vegetable kingdom is also an expression of life. Current biology and science have shown that these forms of life also have awareness and intelligence, communicate in highly sophisticated ways, respond with suffering/withdrawal to traumatic events. Francione's impassioned plea for animal rights should be extended to the rest of nature and modified to have humans be humane, honoring creation, eliminating suffering, and staying alive. We are animals, capable of ethics, living in a universe where we eat to survive. Life as we know it entails consuming sentient life.

LINDA EATENSON
8/8/2011 7:51:41 AM
(First, everything eats AND is eaten by something else. We can't escape it, but we can be more humane.) What caught my eye in the article was the idea that we shouldn't use animals as human resources. So I guess we shouldn't use humans as human resources either! Seriously, let's get rid of all the Human Resources departments. The parallel is that we treat people as badly as we do animals. We are not just "resources" any more than cows or tomatoes are. Our ability to respect the planet and all the planet's inhabitants is sorely lacking, and our treatment of animals and/or people is not likely to improve much unless we recognize our total dependence on and interrelationship with all that is.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand
8/2/2011 10:06:22 AM
The moral argument is one of first principles, and hard to get beyond yes-we-should, no-we-shouldn't. I eat animals I raise myself, which wouldn't exist but for me, and I make it a point to give them a good life and a humane death. But, on the practical side, I'm curious how Mr. Francione avoids vegetables grown with animal inputs. Surely eating a carrot grown in soil fertilized with chicken manure violates his moral scheme as much as eating an egg does. Beyond that, though, how does he plan to grow the world's vegetables without animal inputs. Manure from our horses, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens are essential for growing crops sustainably and efficiently.

Alex Paul
7/14/2011 3:23:48 PM
It is not immoral to eat animals. I submit that a moral code must be an absolute, not dependent on circumstance. In addition, it must play equally between those parties bound by the moral code. I know of no vegetarian that would not eat an animal after 10 day of starvation. Vegetarianism is a luxury brought about by abundant agriculture. Take away civilization and we will all eat animals, and hopefully, we would not in that case break the moral code of eating humans, but history has shown even that moral code is set aside during famine. And I know of no bear that would not eat me if hungry and given the opportunity, so this moral code obviously does not play equally between parties! If we adhere to any moral code it should be that we treat animals we eat decently and give them a painless, swift death to honor their sacrifice. In a perfect world that death is administered by the person eating the animal, so that we respect what the animal, and God, have given us. That is not an immoral act, it is a religious practice.








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