James McWilliams “Veganism for Omnivores: Counter-Narratives”

James McWilliams Elise Desaulniers Martin Gibert Christiane Bailey 05
James McWilliams in Montreal Sept 26, 2013


“Veganism for Omnivores: Counter-Narratives”

A report on James McWilliams‘ talk – by Christiane Bailey

Most people agree factory farming is hideous because they sincerely believe we should take care of animals who are completely dependent on us.

Following the principle guiding the sustainable food movement – “know your food” – some people turn to (and sometimes into) small-scale farmers in order to meet the needs and respect the preferences of animals.

This move is honestly and deeply felt as a compassionate choice for animals themselves, but do these small-scale farms can really respect the interests of animals?

Following five counter-narratives, James McWilliams show how people truly committed to animal welfare end up doing much the same – and sometimes worse – than larger-scale facilities.

Gathering tales from many inexperienced, but well-intentioned people who try to do better for animals, James reveals that non-industrial farms are full of problems we just don’t hear about in the newspapers.

  • Small-scale farmers have many difficulties with diseases (such as e-coli and salmonella) and end up having to use medication (antibiotics and vaccination).
  • Because pasture chicken and egg-laying hens attract predators, farmers have to find ways to kill wildlife around their farms (such as foxes and snakes).
  • Like factory farms, they often practice castration without anesthesia nor pain-killers on pigs (meat taste better on castrated pigs) and use nose rings to prevent pigs from rooting in the dirt (making it painful to root at the ground).
  • The “Do-it-yourself slaughter” is particularly awful. Let’s just say that, too often, knives aren’t sharp enough and death quick enough.

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What I liked most about James’ talk is the way in which he builds UPON strong intuitions we have, instead of AGAINST these intuitions.

He could have entitled is talk “veganism for farmers.” He does not philosophize on grand moral principles as most vegan do, but he patiently and carefully show that small-scale farms are not viable a solution to the problem encountered with larger-scale farms.

The real choice is not between “bad farms/gentle farms,” but between “bad farms” and no farms at all.

“Giving a good life to animals” imply giving them a reasonably long life, but small-scale farmers do not keep their animals alive substantially longer than factory farms. Most animals are killed and butchered while they are still babies:

An-Unnatural-Life-Span LARGE
Slaughtering animals as babies.

For more on James McWilliams, visit his blog and his books:

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Pour un résumé en français : voir celui de Chuck Pepin.

Here is a longer review by Giselle

“James McWilliams began his talk, titled “Veganism for Omnivores: Counter Narratives,” by giving statistics about the huge detrimental effects that factory “farms” have on the environment and on the animals forced into these deplorable conditions, facts that many people know at this point.

He then went on to explain why the sustainable food movement (buying local, “humane,” “free-range” animal products), the new trend popularized by people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, is not ethically consistent with society’s supposed values.

Moreover, these terms describing animal products often mean nothing. Small-scale farms raise, kill, and commodify animals just like factory “farms” do. And although many people make choices to support more “humane” farms, showing that they care about the animals’ well-being and believe animals have moral standing, they cannot ethically justify the killing of these animals.

James then went on to describe 5 situations/reasons that non-vegans often give for supporting small-scale farms, and he debunked the claims for all of them.

First, he told us about mobile slaughterhouses, that is, USDA-approved trucks that come to farms and kill the animals right outside on the farm grounds (the slaughter cannot lawfully happen inside the truck, because it would be too dangerous for the person killing the animal). And although many people would claim that this is a much better situation than carrying animals hundreds of miles on a transport truck, without food or water for days, often becoming injured from being crammed together inside the truck, it is very inefficient both economically and ecologically. It would cost too much money to kill all animals in this capacity, and there would be far too much blood to clean up outside (a problem that slaughterhouses do not have, as they have set up highly advanced mechanized ways of getting rid of all the fluids).

Second, James talked about the claim that, with grass-fed beef, there is a much lower risk of E. Coli bacteria spreading. However, studies have shown that there is no difference in safety between factory farmed cows and grass-fed cows. Also, because so many acres of land are needed to raise grass-fed cows, this would not be an ecological solution at all. It would literally be impossible to meet the current demand for beef without factory farms.

Third, he described the new trend of “DIY” slaughter (Do-it-yourself slaughter), where people raise their own chickens, pigs, and goats, and then kill the animals themselves. These people often justify killing and consuming their own animals by saying that they are “showing animals more respect.” However, with DIY slaughter, there is often a lack of knowledge in knowing how to kill animals. This often leads to the animals experiencing slow, painful, and traumatic deaths. James quoted numerous excerpts that people have given about conducting or witnessing DIY slaughter, and they all described very graphic, emotionally upsetting scenes for both the animals and the humans involved.

Fourth, he told us about the plethora of information he found on the raising of pastured chickens and selling their eggs, something that non-vegans often think is ethically sound, but which has many recurring problems. The most common problem that these farmers have is predation. Wildlife, such as raccoons and coyotes, kill the chickens. Thus, the farmers kill these animals in order to protect their chickens and the profit they will make off of them. Also, many farmers experience disease outbreak in the chickens, for which they give numerous antibiotics to the animals. Therefore, the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella is not only a problem on factory “farms.” Furthermore, as James described in the Q&A, pastured chickens come from the same hatcheries factory farmed chickens come from, the same hatcheries which separate male and female chicks at birth and either grind up or suffocate the male chicks, as they are of no use to the egg industry.

Lastly, James talked about free-range pigs and all the problems which go along with farming them. On these small-scale farms, there is still breeding and castration (done without painkillers) forced upon the animals. There is also often mutilation of the animals, where nose rings are forced into their snouts to prevent the pigs from eating all the grass on the pasture. This is a painful process for the animals and continues to be painful whenever they eat or root, both of which are natural activities for pigs. Also, with small-scale pig farming, there are higher rates of Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii.

Inherent in all of these narratives and counter narratives was the fact that it is morally unjustifiable to kill animals, especially when the age at which they are slaughtered is at 1/10th of their natural lifespan, regardless of whether they come from a small-scale farm or a factory “farm.”

Review by Giselle

Pour un résumé en français : voir celui de Chuck Pepin.

*This was the first of a series of conference organized by Élise Desaulniers and Martin Gibert.

The next conference will be by Melanie Joy.

conferences penser avant ouvrir la bouche elise desaulniers martin gibert james mcwilliams melanie joy