McWilliams on Framing Anti-Meat Rhetoric

James McWilliams has another solid anti-meat article in The Atlantic. He does a terrific job of explaining why meat production keeps going up, despite the growing sensitivity to issues surrounding animal cruelty:

One place to start is the Worldwatch Institute’s own assessment of the problem. After highlighting the truly horrific environmental and human health costs of our collective and ongoing meat fest, the organization’s press release proceeds to instruct consumers to eat “organic, pasture raised livestock” and to support “pastoral farming systems.” This advice sounds sensible — support the production of animals raised outdoors! — and it certainly fits nicely with the foodie creed that there’s a viable alternative for every food preference. But it’s fatally flawed. In fact, it’s advice that only perpetuates the problem we’re trying to solve.

Yep. This gets back to Henry Spira’s three R’s: Replace, Reduce, and Refine:

Replace: Rid your diet entirely of animal products, replacing them with healthful and delicious vegan foods.

Reduce: To the extent you’re not ready to go 100 percent vegan, you can make an important contribution by reducing the animal products in your diet. The Meatless Mondays campaign embodies this approach.

Refine: For the animal products you do eat, you can reduce the suffering and environmental impact these foods entail by choosing cage-free, pasture raised, and so forth.

Each of these steps is vital when it comes to encouraging people to make as great a change as possible in their food choices. But where Worldwatch and other mainstream undermine their effectiveness is by emphasizing only one of the three R’s, and the weakest of the bunch.

The food movement needs to give people accurate information and as many options as possible for making a difference. Unfortunately, too many top organizations refuse to tell the complete story when it comes to offering up actions you can take. It’s as if an emphysema patient was told by his doctor to simply choose low-tar cigarettes, and not advised to stop smoking entirely.

McWilliams builds a strong case that as long a huge global meat trade exists, factory farms will be the dominant method of production. So groups critical of the meat industry ought to be challenging its existence, not simply offering watered-down advice to choose less cruel and more sustainably produced meat. Getting down to specific advice on how to frame the issue, McWilliams writes:

Until meat as meat is stigmatized, factory farms will thrive as assuredly as a dropped object falls downwards.

Exactly right. As Lakoff ably demonstrates, how we frame things determines our effectiveness. And stigmatizing meat has long been at the center of my rhetoric. (Thanks, Ryan.) Link.


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