Food Movements and Food Courts: A Thought from Sioux Falls

The Food Movement wants to reform our broken food system. This is an admirable goal that I fully support. Where I differ from the Food Movement is that I want it to engage an essential question: how do we ethically justify commodifying, exploiting, and killing sentient animals for food we don’t need?

This is a discussion that’s long overdue. It’s happening–but only among philosophers, some theologians and legal scholars, and animal rights advocates. The leaders of the Food Movement won’t go near it. And the longer the movement avoids the issue the more its chances of achieving meaningful  change diminish. I’m inspired and in full agreement with the movement when its leaders call for food justice, fair access, living wages, improved welfare, and the end of corporate abuse and unfair subsidies.  But . . .

What confuses me is why, in light of these concerns, the movement fails to justify its implicit promotion of unneeded suffering. Raising an animal to kill and eat, or raising an animal to purloin is milk and eggs, causes suffering. We don’t need meat, dairy, and eggs–in fact, most humans would be much healthier without these products. So, I genuinely wonder: why is it okay to produce these goods?  To say we’ve always done it, or that these products taste good, or that its “natural,” or that the animals were raised with respect, or that I killed the animal myself–these aren’t legitimate answers. They’re evasions.  They beg the question.

I just walked through a Food Court at a mall in Sioux Falls, SD (the town where I’m giving a talk this evening). My experience reminded me that not only am I glad I’m not a teenager, but that Americans are killing themselves with junk food that’s overwhelmingly based on processed animal products. My mind wanders in these settings. I think to myself: will currently unthinking consumers ever be willing to radically reduce the amount of animals they eat? I’m deeply skeptical that that will ever happen.

Then I wonder something else:  how many of these consumers gorging on animal products live with a companion animal for whom they deeply care?  And I wonder how many of them would think differently of eating animals if they knew that the animals they were eating shared so many qualities with the animals waiting for them to come home. And I wonder if, based on this connection, they could break the speciesist barrier and stop eating animals. And, for a moment, however naively, I feel a spark of hope.


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.

7 Responses to Food Movements and Food Courts: A Thought from Sioux Falls

  1. CQ says:

    Yeah, having hope does feel naive sometimes, doesn’t it?

    But if we can remember one least-likely person who made the connection, it feels less silly and more possible. One such person who comes to mind is Eddie Lama of THE WITNESS fame:

    I’m grateful you’re willing to travel so frequently to give talks on behalf of our nonhuman friends, James. And grateful you make time to blog about your experiences.

  2. brian lindberg says:

    well, it seems to me that a multi-faceted approach is in order:

    1) One, for those who are into ethics and compassion (thank god for them), the animal suffering argument coupled with the absence of necessity (a legitimate aspect of moral discrimination) carries the argument.

    2) Two, for utilitarians, the health argument is sufficient . The China Study (in spite of methodological weaknesses) is a good start for this one.

    3) Three, for honest environmentalists (who have a sufficient concept of duty, obligation, necessity), the argument against animal food production is a no-brainer (these guys can still hunt and raise their own on a small scale, if they are really into blood lust).

    4) For those who have some interest in their individual “spiritual” development, or, one might say, an interest in exploring the full natural potential of human consciousness, we might look at Henry Thoreau’s statements concerning “animal magnetism” (unfortunately, this whacks out beans, too, but that solves the flatulence nuisance)….basically, it’s a downer….this came to him from the East, old stuff.

    Now, given these four points, I am personally astonished that there is so little interest in vegan diet. All I can think of (from general observation) is that most people are more afraid of being “different” than they are of oblivion itself (did the sixties never happen?)….so just keep hammerin’…..

  3. Pingback: The “politics of sight,” a rescued calf, and more vegan news you can use (4/15/12)

  4. Provoked says:

    When viewed in the perspective that sees beyond the superficial – This photo shows itself as a wasteland. It’s hard to have hope with the visual proof of our excesses…

    That said, it’s posts like this one that keep me reading and loving your blog – Sometimes a week late, but I still wouldn’t miss a word of it. It always rings consistently true. Thank you.

  5. Mountain says:

    Small, but meaningful, typo.

    “We don’t need meat, dairy, and eggs–in fact, most humans would be much healthier without these products.”

    Should read:

    “We don’t need wheat, corn, and soy–in fact, most humans would be much healthier without these products.”

    Traditional cultures based in large part on meat-eating are much healthier than cultures who subsist primarily on grain-based diets. This is true not just of individual health, but the health of the soil.

    Look at that picture of a food court again. The product isn’t really meat, it’s grains & legumes. Fed through confined animals into meat. Fed through industrial processes into breading, buns, shells, cheese-like substances, crunchy fried things, and the industrial seed oil all this is fried in. And, finally, in the coup de grace, fed as corn syrup into the drinks.

    That food court is a synecdoche of what’s wrong with the food system. But the problem isn’t meat; it’s grain.

    • Thanks for commenting, and for using the word synecdoche. I would agree with you that the monocultural production of grain is a huge problem. Of course, the vast majority of that grain is fed to farm animals. What I (and others) advocate is for a food court that provides another kind of synecdoche: a food system based on neither grain nor animal productions, but on the production of diverse and undeniably healthy fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (not just corn or wheat). One question I have: You mention legumes as being part of the problem. Can you elaborate?

      • Mountain says:

        Sorry for the slow response.

        I consider legumes to be part of the problem because they are not, as you put it, “undeniably healthy;” not for the animals (including people) who eat them, and not for the soil in which they are grown. Like grains (though to a lesser extent) they raise insulin levels in the body, and like grains they contain lectins, which damage the gut & provoke an inflammatory response from the immune system (which, eventually, can lead to a multitude of autoimmune diseases).

        In most cases, plants don’t want to be eaten any more than animals do. Unlike animals, they can neither fight nor flee from predators, so they have biological & chemical defense systems instead. The high loads of lectins & antinutrients found in grains & legumes (and eggs, for that matter) are those defense systems.

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