Cheap Eggs and SNAP: A Brutally Honest Admission of Not Caring

The Atlantic.com posted a piece a few days ago about how great things are going these days for chickens. It’s a thoughtless, poorly informed article. There’s no real need to read it, but in case you are curious: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/the-state-of-the-chicken/253596/.

After posting a comment on the article–essentially an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Texas Observer–I noticed that, among the very few comments made on the piece, one stood out for its brutal honesty. Here it is:

I am sorry to say this, and my point of view may not be popular, but I could not care LESS about what they have to do to the chickens to get them to lay more eggs.

My wife and I were both unemployed for some time, and we were forced to depend upon SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) to feed ourselves and our three choldren.  I went back to work in December, but it is still a struggle.  I would not wish upon an enemy the worry that comes from not knowing if your benefits will last until the end of the month and, if they don’t, you have enough gas money to drive 20 miles round-trip to the food-bank and back, or get the kids to and from school for the rest of the week, but not both.

Eggs are an inexpensive source of nutritionally complete protein that my kids will eat.  In all sincerity, if I heard on the news that there was a new way of raising chickens and increasing egg production that would DOUBLE the pain and suffereing endured by the average chicken, and save me $0.50 per dozen eggs, my first reaction would be “Fantastic!  That will save me at least $3.50 a month.  That’s enough for another gallon of milk!”

I find myself enraged by any legislation that could potentially increase the cost the consumer pays for chicken and eggs, making it more difficult for struggling parents to feed their children.  And I find the attitudes of people who laud the benefits of said legislation, willfully ignorant of the way they are placing the welfare of chickens over that of human beings, to be thoughtless, arrogant, and self righteous.

Frustrating as it is to read this response, advocates of veganism should not ignore it. Several points stand out, points that both guide and caution those of us working to negotiate the tempestuous sea of food politics.

First, there remains much to be done when it comes to educating consumers about the abundance of available and affordable plant-based, protein rich foods–something everyone from the USDA to big food companies have done an excellent job of preventing. Peanut butter, anyone? (Oh wait, allergies . . .)

Second, evil can be so depressingly, so maddeningly banal. As I listened to this person–this father of three children no less–actually wishing that chickens could feel more suffering to make his eggs nominally cheaper, I was reminded of Carol Adams’ “absent referent,” noting to myself how effectively the invisible apparatus of production has removed consumers from the living beings that we exploit for food we don’t need. (see The Sexual Politics of Meat)

Third, economics matter. They really, really matter. Cheap animal products and animal products raised humanely are an inherent contradiction. This is something that the author of the original piece, the commenter, and everyone from Slow Food USA to your local sustainable food center will never acknowledge. They blather on as if economics were a form of astrology. The fact of the matter is simple: those who seek sustainable, humanely raised, local animal products are those who will price the underprivileged out of the foodies’ guilt-absolving, albeit false, consumer choices. Needless to say, that’s not very fair. A plant-based diet can, I believe, escape this conundrum.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

9 Responses to Cheap Eggs and SNAP: A Brutally Honest Admission of Not Caring

  1. Ann says:

    While I take the larger points you are making, this particular post from the “father of three” immediately struck me as “Astroturf” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing). The use of the meaningless, pseudo-scientific “source of nutritionally complete protein” – the kind of stock phrase that is always trotted out by industry spokespeople – seems a tip-off to me.

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Ann, I had not heard of Astroturfing before now. Thank you for pointing that out. It makes perfect sense that the mentioned comment is likely Astroturf.

  2. BlessUsAll says:

    Yes, James, and I would venture to say that the writer doesn’t make the connection between being harmless and being protected from harm. Meaning this: I have found that when I act unselfishly, compassionately, ethically toward my neighbor (animal or human), unexpected and abundant good flows my way.

    An example: Last July, I loaned a goodly sum of money to someone I didn’t know well, but trusted. One of the many senior dogs he had rescued needed immediate surgery and he’d spent all he had. The surgery was successful, and we all rejoiced. As the months wore on, though, he wasn’t able to repay me (and another lender) as soon as he intended. Fearful and worried, I became a tightwad instead of being my usual giving self.

    One December day, I heard about a non-profit program that enables Kenyan kids, who had graduated from an elementary school my church supports, to continue with their education at high schools in the area. Suddenly, it felt right to give a child a year’s education, so I made the decision to do just that. I completely forgot about my earlier decision to withhold all further donations until the loan was repaid.

    An hour later, I went to my computer, and there, to my amazement, was an email from the borrower, telling the other lender and me that he had just received a sudden, big influx of donations to his rescue and would be able to repay us, in full, immediately. I was in awe.

    Moral of the story: when we do right by others — including chickens! — we are always provided for, beyond measure.

    Ann, I do believe you’re right! It reminds me of another suspect post by an ex-vegan who tried to befriend and elicit sympathy from vegans by calling herself an “ethical omnivore.” In other words, she was feigning love and respect for animals. But her words “all my meats” and “grass-fed only” and “naturally nested” chickens and “slaughtered fast and mercifully” didn’t ring true to me. Nor did it make sense that she had become “violently sick after 6 months on a vegan diet.” I’d say “naturally nested” is the Astroturf equivalent of “nutritionally complete protein” — would you? 🙂

  3. Tim says:

    Smells an awfully lot like a concerned “consumer” letter orchestrated by the Center for “Consumer” Freedom.

  4. Keith Akers says:

    You’re right, economics does matter, and that’s why we can’t ignore the environmental argument. Though government subsidies, market manipulation, and ignorance can disguise this environmental cost, no matter how you figure it animal products are far more resource-intensive than plant foods, and in the long run that means a higher economic cost as well.

    • BlessUsAll says:

      Yes, it makes sense that since we’re all connected, and ethics (or lack thereof) impacts each area of our lives, the enviro and economics arguments are important.

      Judy Carman appealed to the environmental community when she wrote this article for the Feb/March ’12 issue of the Sierra Club’s Kansas chapter:

      http://www.peacetoallbeings.com/2012/02/peace-and-justice-on-our-plates-latest.html

      I forwarded it to each of the emailable staff members of the Sierra Club chapters in my state and city. Maybe other readers will do the same in their respective states.

  5. Provoked says:

    If we follow the chain of regression: I could care LESS about the hens as long as it saves me $3.50 to buy milk.

    I could care LESS about the cows as long as it saves me $3.50 to buy burgers.

    I could care LESS about the slaughterhouse workers that make the burgers as long as it saves me $3.50 to buy gas… To go to a job… To buy the eggs…

    I’d say this CARE-less man is as brutally trapped as the poor hens. And in this light – I can see how truly morally impoverished and ethically starved our culture really is. Very sad indeed.

  6. Ian says:

    TWO DOLLARS.

    The Ethiopian Vegan Association has successfully dispelled many of the myths about eating a 100% plant based diet.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ethiopian-Vegan-Association/145369202165494

    One story is particularly telling, an Ethiopian vegan explaining how cheap ($2.00 USD) and healthful providing for himself and his family from the local market can be (try to read past the language barrier):

    —-

    From Mesfin….. I was pretty amazed about what I had bought from a “shiromeda gulit” (a small traditional vegetables market) yesterday: A huge bag (>6 kilos) of a variety of delicious and fresh vegetables with a total price of just 35 birr or 2 USD and I wondered how ironic it is to find most people adoring the much more expensive (70-100 birr/kilo or 4-6 USD/kilo) meat and decease themselves, innocent animals and the environment.

    —-

    From Mesfin…..To cite my veggie shopping list:

    – 3 bunches (each with about 8-10 broad leaves) of spinach for 7 birr
    – almost the same amount of kale for 6 birr
    – about 12 medium sized tomatoes for 6 birr,
    – a really big cabbage for 7 birr
    – and a rewarding collection of green papers, leek, lemons and small carrots for only 9 birr

    = ALL FOR JUST 35 BIRR OR 2 USD

    —-

    From Mesfin….This tells, unlike other places, how it is economical to be vegan in Ethiopia. A lost opportunity by many though. GO VEG AND SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY NOW TO LIVE HEALTHIER, MERCIFUL AND ECO-CONCIOUS LIFESTYLE WITHOUT COMPROMISING YOUR POCKETS!!

  7. Pingback: NYC Veg Fest, Vida Vegan Con Blogger Meet-Up, and Vegan News You Can Use (3/4/12)

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