Sadly, Happy Meat
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Sadly, Happy Meat

By Eddie Lama (The Witness), September 2006

Years of protest from animal rights organizations were finally making an impact. The public was learning and understanding their own complicity in the meat industry’s atrocities against animals, and a new social consciousness was emerging. The industry was being forced to come up with a strategic response, one that would placate animal groups as well as allay the public’s guilty conscience. They found Temple Grandin.

Temple of Doom

Dr. Grandin, a professor of Animal Technology at Colorado State, purports to have a strong and special connection to animals’ consciousness and their existential experience. This “gift,” she claims, is due to her autism, and she uses it to create systems that are employed at different stages of animal exploitation including the feedlots, stockyards and slaughterhouses.

A well-paid consultant, Grandin is a boon to the meat industry. She has invented slaughterhouse machinery and techniques she claims reduce the terror experienced by farmed animals at the abattoirs. These systems have helped streamline and facilitate the unwieldy chore of killing massive numbers of animals. Effectiveness and efficiency is good business, and less psychic trauma is great public relations. It’s a win-win for the meat industry, but a lose-lose for farmed animals. Alas, animals can now be killed faster than ever, and the people who eat them can feel much better about it.

”Happy Meat”: A Brilliant Business Move

Many visionaries in the food business have glommed on to the idea of “Happy Meat,” a Madison Avenue-type construct for animals that have been raised less inhumanely and slaughtered according to standards set by agri-business.

Last year I attended an animal rights convention in North Carolina which featured John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, as the keynote speaker. Mackey was there to proudly announce new “animal compassionate” standards for farmed animals—animals destined to eventually wind up attractively packaged and for sale in miles of refrigerated sections of his stores. With Whole Foods projected to become the second largest food retailer in the U.S. next to Wal-Mart in 10 to 15 years, this translates to a lot of dead animals.

As Mr. Mackey explained his new standards and the various ways of raising and killing animals, I looked around the room and observed the audience. The room was not filled with the glow of joy, rather, a pall was cast. There was a surreal Kafka-esque quality. The people appeared rigid and uncomfortable, uncertain over whether they should clap or cry.

Then a well-known, longtime icon of the animal rights community and staunch promoter of Whole Foods’ new “animal compassionate” standards stood up to applaud, even letting out a shrill, high-pitched whistle. All eyes and ears were on him. He was like the maestro leading his band, or perhaps the shepherd leading his flock. After all, if it’s good enough for the icon, then it must be good enough for everyone. The crowd took his cue, and the uncertainty morphed into applause.

My heart sank. I was terribly discouraged and deeply saddened for the critters. Right in that moment, I understood what the movement had lost, in the same way Dr. Faustus may have understood his loss after shaking hands with the Devil. Later that night, I imagined what the animals might say after listening and witnessing this scene: “Et tu, Brute? Et tu?” Alas, an unholy alliance, if you will, forged by the lure of illusory success and money, at the cost of abandoned principles and compromised beliefs.

Shift Happens

Some 10 years ago, I was awakened to the plight of the animals through the love of a little cat. I guess you could say I was smitten by a kitten. Before that time my only relationship to animals was on my dinner plate. Like most people, I viewed animals as a commodity to benefit humans. And if asked, of course I would have supported giving “food animals” an easier, better life and death before I ate them. But my epiphany and subsequent understanding went far beyond this way of thinking. Looking in my cat’s eyes, the eyes that came to represent all animals, I knew that there was no way I could sign on to hurting any one of them in any way. I could not in good conscience eat or use them anymore. Hence an animal rights person was born. As was so well explained in Dr. Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights and Gary Francione’s Rain Without Thunder, the intrinsic meaning of animal rights is that no animal should be used or killed for human purposes. Their rights as individuals are sacred, and no benefit to myself or my taste buds can trump their right to be.

The (Humane) Death of Animal Rights

For the meat industry, humane standards are good. Sales are up. It is also good for meat-eaters. They are made to believe they can now consume animals with a cleaner conscience. As for animal welfare institutions, the industry’s humane standards are in line with their ideology, that is, better treatment of animals within the paradigm of exploitation. But for me, it is a tragedy not only because more animals are being killed, but because a new culture of meat-eaters is being created. The concept of “Happy Meat” is entrenching a new system of animal exploitation into the world. It is making the killing of animals more acceptable to society’s psyche and soul.

Is it better to treat animals more kindly before they are killed? Is it better they have a semblance of what nature intended before becoming Happy Meals? Is it better that a chicken can stretch her wings before she gets scalded? Is it better that a pig is able to root before he is stunned, strung up and stabbed? Perhaps it is in the short term. But animal rights’ raison d’etre is not to put a seal of approval on better living conditions for the doomed or better methods of killing animals, but to advocate against killing them at all!

Signing on to Whole Foods’ “animal compassionate” standards and supporting Temple Grandin’s slaughter techniques is taking the unproven back door method of animal welfarism, which yields animal compassion labels on dead animals leaving through the back door of slaughterhouses.

Some AR organizations have revealed that their strategy is to trick the trade into abolition via the Happy Meat idea. Unfortunately the reality is that AR’s involvement is being leveraged to benefit meat sales. Hence AR’s cooperation becomes a trick of the trade. Wouldn’t it be of greater service to the animals and to our beliefs if we were to speak out against the murder of sentient beings? Yet when we sign on to “humane” standards we are signing on to a less than desired outcome. We unwittingly become complicit not only in the death of animals, but also in the death of our beliefs.

How did Temple Grandin become both the meat industry and AR’s sweetheart? Why do seemingly antithetical organizations support Whole Foods Markets’ Happy Meat? The only answer that makes any sense is that the AR movement has become ill. It has been taken over by a spiritual malaise that is the result of disempowerment and poor leadership. Its vision has been impaired by a psychic myopia. The lines between killing and not killing have been blurred. AR needs to heal itself in order to regain its perspective. Most of all, AR needs to keep its eye sharp on the prize: life, not a less horrible death.


Eddie Lama is a longtime animal advocate who founded the innovative activist technology FaunaVision and the sanctuary Oasis. His awakening to animal cruelty and activism was chronicled in the award-winning documentary The Witness. To learn more, visit www.oasissanctuary.org.

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