In the previous episode of The Animal Guide for Curious Humans, host Maureen Armstrong spoke with Steve McIvor, CEO of World Animal Protection about the many ways humans are cruel to the animals we rely on for food.
It was an illuminating and somewhat disturbing discussion that ended on a positive note: you have the power to help reduce the cruelty caused to animals in the food system even if you aren’t a vegan or vegetarian.
In this episode, Maureen shares her seven strategies for thoughtful consumption of animal products in our diet that will help address the current animal cruelty crisis in the global food system.
The strategies include looking at what we eat, where we eat, and the importance of speaking out to create positive change for billions of animals.
Ready to start? Have a listen, and be sure to share your thoughts!
- Animal Welfare Institute – Consumer Guide to Food Labels
- ASPCA Consumer Resources Meat Eggs and Dairy Label Guide
- World Animal Protection Humane Shopping Guide
- Animal Welfare Approved certification by A Greener World
- GAP 5-Step Animal Welfare Program
- Maureen’s Blog: Being Thoughtful When Consuming of Animal Products
Welcome to the Animal Guide for Curious Humans, a podcast that explores the vast world of filling human animals in our relationship to them. I’m your host Maureen Armstrong. For more information please visit our site TheAnimalGuide.com.
Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of the Animal Guide for Curious Humans. I’m your host Maureen Armstrong. On today’s show, we’re going to share some strategies you can employ, if you eat animal products, but want to be more respectful and thoughtful in doing so. This is a continuation of a discussion we started on the last episode when Steve McIvor, the CEO of World Animal Protection gave us a great overview of factory farming, and how animals are treated in that industry around the globe. If you haven’t yet listened to that episode, that’s okay, you can follow along with this one, no problem, but I highly recommend you go back and check it out, it’s really quite interesting, Steve gives a great overview of what factory farming is really all about.
For context, as a reminder, it is estimated that 70 billion animals are killed every year for human consumption. And as population grows, and it’s accelerating at a high rate, more people are coming out of poverty at the same time and they wish to enjoy the benefits that others in the middle and upper classes have enjoyed for centuries, like eating meat. Further, the industrialization of farming means that the conditions for farmed animals and fish has really deteriorated quite significantly over the past century. Most of the animal produce we find in our local grocery store comes from animals that have or had zero quality of life, they were acquired, fed, and kept alive for the sole purpose of producing milk, eggs and or meat for us, they are used as commodity with no regard for their natural habitats, behaviors or needs. They spend most of their lives in concentrated animal feeding operations known as CAFOs with limited space and limited ability to move around. They’re fed foods and supplements like antibiotics and hormones designed to maximize their growth, more meat per animal equals more human food per animal and more revenue per animal.
One solution to this cruelty crisis would be obviously if every human became a vegan. Currently, it is estimated that approximately 8% of the world’s population are vegan or vegetarian. And the trend is certainly growing. It’s noteworthy how many of those folks though live in India, where some 22% of the population are vegetarian, and 19% are vegan. In a country of over a billion people, they account for a significant portion of the world’s population not eating animal flesh. But with only 8% of people being vegan or vegetarian that means the other 92% of the nearly 8 billion of us is not, we need to find solutions to the treatment of animals in the food system that doesn’t rely exclusively on every human being becoming a vegan or vegetarian. So, if life without consuming animal products seems like a bridge, a bit too far for you at this point, there are still many things you can do to reduce needless suffering of animals who are part of the human food system. In this episode, we’re going to set out some guidelines for consuming animal products that will help alleviate some of that cruelty associated with the system.
So, let’s start by clarifying what we mean by various terms to describe people’s eating habits, because they are not universally defined, but for the purposes of this show, I’m using the terms in the following way. So, a vegan is someone who has a diet that contains no animal products, whether it’s generated by live animals, like dairy or eggs or even honey from bees, or it requires the animal to be killed. And animal in the sense is inclusive of all animal species, so fish and seafood would be included. A vegetarian is someone whose diet is without the consumption of the flesh of animals, including fish and seafood, but it may include products from live animals, so dairy and eggs. A pescatarian, as someone who does not eat meat, but does eat fish, they may or may not eat products from live animals, but fish they will consume. A flexitarian is typically someone whose diet is predominantly plant base, but they will occasionally consume animal products. And finally, an omnivore is a diet that consists of both items both plant and animal origin, whether it would be from live animals or, or the flesh of animals.
I guess in the spirit of full transparency, I should say that while I was a vegetarian for almost two decades, I am not currently vegan or vegetarian, I did return to eating meat for health reasons that were unique to me. There are lots of studies out there on the health benefits of a diet exclusively comprised of plants. And if you haven’t tried a vegan or vegetarian diet, I highly recommend you do so, maybe give yourself 2 or 4 weeks eating only plant-based foods, and by that I mean quality foods, lots of junk food is vegan, but it doesn’t actually sustain the human body, you spend some time reading up on the health and environmental benefits of it, while you give your body and your palate the chance to adjust, because it does take some time, you may be surprised at how good you feel though, I recognize at the same time that for some people there can be health implications that prevent them from permanently maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet, it isn’t just about personal preference, although also obviously there are people who it is a matter of personal preference.
With that as background, I just wanted to present to you some guidelines that I’ve developed over time for consuming animal products. The guidelines are designed to help be more respectful of animals and to help reduce the amount of suffering they endure in this human food system. So, with that, let’s jump into my 7 tips for consuming animal products.
So, the first guideline is by far the most important of the 7, if you don’t do any of the rest of it, this one is the big one, and that is to choose only humanely raised produce. When purchasing animal products seek out only those items that are from humanely raised farm animals, this means choosing products from farms where the animals are raised in conditions close to their natural state, they’ve been fed what they naturally eat, usually care is also taken in the end of life process to minimize the physical and the emotional pain caused to these animals.
You’ll need to do some research of sources of humanely raised animal products in your area, but there are certainly a growing number of farms employing these great practices to keep up with a growing demand which is great. Farmers are in my opinion, some of the hardest working people you will ever meet and I have great appreciation for those who are really dedicating themselves to employing these humane practices. So, when looking to purchase humanely raised animal products you will notice a few things, first is without all the artificial growth stimulants, these animals are typically smaller in size, so you’ll find a harder time looking to get extra-large eggs coming from matric chicken who lives free range, cows and pigs that have had the opportunity for a healthy life outdoors and have been given room to roam will typically be leaner than to the poor animals who have suffered months or years of confinement, and a grain rich diet, so you do need to get used to the portions on your plate looking different.
Secondly, there are remarkable distinctions in taste and color of the food, butter from grass fed pasture raised cows is a completely different experience in my opinion from industrial dairy production, as is meat from them, so you will really notice I think in the taste, and even the color, some distinct differences. And finally, the cooking times are generally shorter for pasture raised and free-range meat, so you need to pay attention to that in terms of modification of recipes that you may be taking more what you’re accustomed to, your cooking terms or you’re accustomed to. As you shop for these humanely raised animal products, you will encounter some food labels that may be a bit confusing, in some cases they are outright misleading, so you really need to be aware of the ways in which you know some producers are putting labels on food animal products to suggest that they’re humane, when in reality they aren’t. Also, there’s times where the label may actually be accurate in reflecting a positive step that has been taken, such as not giving the animal growth hormones, but they are still using CAFOs that prohibit high quality of life for the animal. So, there are some guides out there to assist you in understanding the food labels The Animal Welfare Institute has a consumer guide to food labels and animal welfare. Some of the national societies for the protection against cruelty to animals SPS, PCAs of a number of countries have similar tools, and World Animal Protection Canada has a comprehensive guide to humane shopping. I will put links to those resources in the show notes, so if you head over to the AnimalGuide.com, you can look them up there.
In the meantime, a few terms that you may really be cautious about because they are quite misleading, or things like natural, ethically raised, no added hormones, antibiotics free and locally raised, these terms again they may signify something that is leaning in the direction of being more humanely raised, but they usually are not actually sustainable humanely raised animal products.
On a more optimistic note, there are humane certification programs popping up all over the world and they are providing greater assurance that the source farms are using humane practices, generally certification programs are run by independent agencies who develop standards to which suppliers must comply in order to gain and then maintain that certification. A good certification program includes an audit process where the farms and slaughter facilities are visited to ensure they meet the program’s high standards, it’s not just that they’re meeting minimum standards that may be set by local or national government.
At the same time unfortunately, at the moment, not all certification processes are created equal, and some have really such weak standards and certification processes as to be of very little value to you. We’re going to explore this topic in greater detail on a future podcast episode, so stay tuned for that. But I will try to link a couple of resources for you on certification programs in the show notes as well, okay, so that’s the really big one is limit your consumption to humanely raised products.
The second guideline is to cap your consumption of animal products. And this one frankly works very well with the first one, because to be honest, the cost of humanely raised animal products is higher than what you pay for the cruelty of conventional farming and the products that comes from that, so unless you are pretty wealthy, you probably can’t afford to consume humanely raised animal products with the same frequency you may have eaten conventional meat for example, but the benefits really are so well worth that. I use a what I call a 25, 35, 40 rule to cap my consumption, so no more than 25% of my meals include animal meat, at least 40% of meals are vegan, and the other 35% are vegan or vegetarian, so in my case, I generally only eat 3 meals per day, I don’t have snacks, and so up to 5 meals per week can contain meat, although of course they don’t have to.
Now you may want to tweak those figures to better suit your personal circumstances, if you are currently eating meat, basically at every meal, and there are some people who do that dropping to no more than 25% right away might seem a bit challenging, so perhaps you started to know more than 50% are in, and you work your way down from there. Similarly, there are plenty of flexitarians, or even pescatarians, who may already limit their meat eating and vegetarian meals to less than the figures that I’ve laid out, so they may want to modify according to what already is working for them. But creating targets and tracking your progress, I think is really a valuable, are valuable tools for a sustainable future. There are just too many people on the planet to facilitate most of us eating large quantities of animal products. More importantly, the higher the demand for the products, the more resistance there will be to eliminating the harmful farming practices, so I think if we have enough people who are moving towards are really limiting their consumption of animal products, we are going a long way to assisting with what is a really a global crisis of animal cruelty.
Okay, guideline number 3 is honor the whole animal. So, in the traditions of many peoples, including many indigenous peoples of North America, when the animal, the life of an animal is taken, all parts of the animal are used in honor of the sacrifice the animal has made, so this means that all the edible elements are consumed and the rest is put to good use, whether it’s clothing, used to create jewelry, or somehow in the home. In the modern world, plenty of us have gone to a place of favoring certain cuts of meat, chicken or fish and then we just forget about the rest. My local grocery store tends not to display organ meats or other animal parts such as tongue or feet, they present a much more sanitized version of animal products, nothing that really reminds us of where the product actually comes from, this of course is not the case everywhere and even in Canada let alone around the world, but the point is that there is a tendency to ignore large sections of the animal whose lives have been taken in the name of feeding humans.
If we’re going to use animal products, I think we should be prepared to consume all of it, forget about picking out boneless, skinless, chicken breast without ever touching chicken legs or hearts, ribeye steaks shouldn’t be eaten to the exclusion of ground, beef, liver, or tongue, I confess that this particular guideline is a bit of a challenge for me, I didn’t grow up eating a lot of awful animal organs and such, and so I’ve never really acquired a taste for it, but I keep trying and I will continue to try, because I do believe that it is important for us to honor the full animal. My dog does get the benefit of this from time to time when I really can’t eat it, because of course I wouldn’t throw it away, but anyhow, it’s I do think that this is a very important piece of the puzzle that each of us as individuals should be prepared to consume all of the animal, not just selective parts.
Moving on to our next guideline, number 4 this is explore meat substitutes and cultured meat. In recent years, meat substitutes have really grown in popularity and in availability, these are plant-based products made to look and taste like chicken, beef or pork. Many fast food and chain restaurants now have meat substitutes on their menus, and there’s a large number of companies who produce this material, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are two of many of them, I think they’re probably two of the largest. But these meat substitute products can be really tasty, very nutritious and very satiating, some of the nutrients found in them are different than what you would find in meat, but it is not inferior. There was a good scientific study done more recently on the subject at Duke University, and they found there were distinct differences in the metabolites of grass fed beef versus plant based beef, quote, unquote, I am not aware of any credible research to the effect that meat substitutes are unhealthy in any way, you may find some of those assertions out there from time to time in a fake news universe, we can obviously see that plant-based meat is a disrupter to what is a large and powerful farming industry, so we can expect that there might be some pushback, but at this point, I am not aware of any credible research that suggests that it is anything other than very healthy plant based product, and certainly has the look and feel of meat which for many people is quite satiating.
Cultured meat is a newer phenomenon, it’s still in early stages of development, and it involves taking a biopsy from a live animal and extracting stem cells that are then mixed with a culture medium, so then those cells are able to grow into protein and fat in a laboratory environment that becomes meat for human consumption. As I understand that the culture medium most often used to facilitate the growth though is a fetal bovine serum that is extracted from a dead calves. Cultured meat is not widely available at this point, I’ve never tried it, I would be interested in hearing from you, if you have had the any experience with it, and any event, it is a development worth following and another potential tool to move us out of the factory farming industry.
So, guideline number 5, this is with respect to what I will call sexually immature animals, a very young veal, lamb, suckling pig, at some point I think we need to acknowledge that pulling very young animals, baby animals away from their mothers for inevitable slaughter is really uncivilized. Veal is primarily a byproduct of the dairy industry, male dairy calves are the source of it, of course, because they can’t produce milk, they’re taken away from their mothers within a few days of birth, kept alive and confined conditions until they’re about 6 months old and then slaughtered, some are killed within hours or days of birth. Suckling pigs, obviously they are indeed still suckling when they are killed, usually it’s between 2 and 6 weeks old. And lamb generally refers to sheep under a year of age, and they can be slaughtered as young as 1 month old. The physical and emotional adverse effects on both the mother and the young animal I think is so profound that we just have to say no to the consumption of these products.
So, our next guideline has to do with eating out, and what it means to read carefully restaurant menus. Obviously, there are a lot of superb vegan restaurants all over the world, and it was really interested to hear over the last several months of a one fine dining restaurant in New York called Eleven Madison Park, there recently transitioned to a fully plant-based menu, thanks to its owner Daniel Humm. If you’ve had the chance to eat there under its new menu, please let me know how it was, I’m super curious about what it would be like to eat a fully plant-based meal at the hands of top chefs, like Chef Humm, but in addition to these establishments, many restaurants are moving to using only humanely raised animal products for their non vegan dishes. That having been said obviously, plenty of restaurants just aren’t there yet, so it’s important how you choose the restaurants and fast food chains that you want to frequent, and then what you’re going to eat when you’re there. Obviously, most of his time when we’re eating out, it can involve other people, family, friends, maybe it’s a work thing where one doesn’t have the final say on which restaurant you’re going to go to, but if you find yourself at an establishment that has meat, chicken and fish on the menu, you do have options available to you. First, find out if the products come from humanely raised animals, most of the time, if they are, it will say so rate on the menu somewhere, if you don’t see it there, you can always ask your server, but I would suggest that if the response is anything short of a really clear, concise statement regarding how the products are sourced, and how the establishment knows that they are humane, you might as well assume that they aren’t, and then that means you would be choosing a vegan dish preferably, or asking for a modification of another dish to make it that way. If you’re comfortable doing so in these cases, I recommend that you let the restaurant know that you hope that they will move toward humanely raised animal products in the future, and that you would be more inclined to return if they do some establishments provide you with comment card, or you can send your input to them through their website or social media, but it’s important to let them know in a respectful way that you have made choices in terms of going to the establishment or what meals that you’ve chosen there, because you are thoughtful about and seeking out humanely raised animal products, these are businesses and they will very frequently take into consideration the input of their customers, because they want to try to do right by people, so it’s worth sharing with them.
The final guideline is a bit linked to what I was just saying about advising restaurants of what your preferences are and your choices, and so number 7 is really share what you were doing and the choices that you’re making broadly, it’s simple, and it’s very impactful. If you were sharing with others, that you were making choices in terms of consuming animal products, and that you really want to see changes to the factory farming system that goes a long way in helping to make a change to the system as a whole, so if you are applying one or more, all of these guidelines in your daily life that is superb. Please share that with others in your circle, your family, and your friends, for even greater impact, because they may choose to join you on that journey. I think the more people who are prepared to exit from the factory farming system, that whole chain of events, and the sooner that we all do it, the better we are, it will be for literally billions of animals around the world.
Now I know people who are reluctant to let others know they eat animal products for fear of the response that they will get from friends or family who are really strong vegans, and I do appreciate that concern. There are some folks out there who are so passionate about removing animals from the human food system, that they can be quite critical of others. But listen, as I said at the very beginning, animals cannot wait for the whole world to turn vegan, we need to take action now around the farming system. Let’s help push out the message of alternatives that are more humane, than the current circumstances and help change that whole system as we know it now
So, to recap then our 7 guidelines for being thoughtful in consuming animal products first and most important, crucial, crucial, crucial is try to consume only humanely raised animal products. Second one is cap your consumption limit it in some form, and keep track of the limits that you’re following. Number 3, honor the whole animal, be prepared to consume all parts of the animal, not just selective pieces. Number 4, explore meat substitutes and cultured meat starts to come further online. Number 5, refuse to consume sexually immature animals it truly is uncivilized. Number 6, be aware when eating out, check restaurants carefully and look at their menus and make good choices even when you are in the hands of someone else at a restaurant or fast food chain. And finally, share what you’re doing, share it with your friends and family through social media and other means, share it with the grocery stores and the restaurants that you are frequenting so that they understand the choices that you’re making as well, and together if enough of us are doing this, we may be able to actually really shift the needle on what has become, as I say a true animal welfare crisis, that is the factory farming industry, so those are the guidelines, I think they are, can be very helpful, I’m really looking forward to hearing from you, let me know if you try them, how it goes for you, do you have suggestions for others that we should add to the list, I’m really looking forward to getting your feedback. Until next time, all the best to you and the animals in your life.