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In which I respond (sort of) to Slate’s James McWilliams


So, James McWilliams apparently finds himself surprised to learn that “humane” marketing is largely just marketing, in a recent article on Slate. Go read (I’ll wait):
Now then – he concludes with the following tidbits, worth some comment:

As responsible consumers, it’s easy to decide to avoid factory-farmed pork.

No, it’s just no longer possible to pretend that cruelty on a massive scale isn’t happening. It has nothing to do with consumers being more responsible; it has to do with the animal rights movement making the cruelty of standard industry practice unavoidable.

The hard part is what to make of the most acceptable alternative.

This after fretting for several paragraphs over which pigs to kill and eat, trying to decide which ones were “raised humanely” enough to assuage his own moral conscience. News flash, kiddo: killing any of them is inhumane. Period.
It’s not a difficult question in the least: go vegan. All of the rest of the tap dancing that follows simply ignores the most obvious, most effective choice if one’s ultimate concern is actually the better treatment of animals. The entire premise of this article points out what several of us have been saying: welfarist measures to “humanely” raise animals for meat only ever happen when they coincide with the commercial interests of the animal exploitation industries.The freedom that Iberico pigs enjoy is only in the interest of charging exorbitant prices for their flesh. The interests of the pigs do not matter, as McWilliams’ fretting over the utterly unsurprising “welfare” of the pigs in question illustrates. McWilliams may be surprised to learn that “humane” marketing is JUST marketing, but no one in the animal rights movement is surprised in the least.

Does free-range farming justify the mutilation that’s often required to keep pigs outdoors?

Of course it doesn’t, any more than it justifies the unnecessary slaughter of these animals. This seems to be treading on the worn-out myth that since meat eating “won’t ever” go away, we should do meaningless things that make us feel like the animals have been well-cared for instead. This utterly ignores the most obvious solution to this particular ethical dilemma: stop eating animals.

As an ethical matter, the question is open to endless debate. What the conscientious meat eater can take away from it is not so much a concrete answer as a more nuanced way to think about our food choices.

While you and the rest of your so-called “conscientious” carnivore cohorts are wasting time trying to tell yourselves that what you’re doing is somehow “humane”, millions of animals a day on factory farms are being kept and slaughtered in horrifying conditions, absolutely none of which is materially affected by your navel-gazing and worrying about whether the incredibly expensive delicacy meat you have the luxury of buying may not actually be quite the “humane” option it’s marketed to be. None of this faux concern for animal welfare changes anything: the vast majority of meat, dairy and eggs are still going to be produced on factory farms, no matter what happens on so-called “humane” farming operations.

In this age of deeply convincing attacks on factory farms, consumers must be careful not to immediately assume that every alternative to factory farming is as “all natural” or humane as its advocates will inevitably declare…

Again, this is a realization that’s only new or novel to you; it’s telling that you’re leaving out the most obvious, most easily resolvable solution to the ethical dilemma that these false claims of “humane treatment” actually demands: go vegan. Just stop eating animals, altogether.