Dear Annette, Cristiano, Leah, Liz, Marianne, and Megan,
Earth Day, 2014
I’ve been a Slow Food member for years, and am thrilled about the new leadership team for Boston!
You asked for suggestions, and I have a topic to consider, inspired by both the Slow Meat event this summer
and – as you wrote – demystifying the buzzwords “good, clean, and fair” food for all.
In brief, I’d like to raise questions about what we mean by sustainable and humane animal foods. I’ve been
doing a great deal of research into this over the past couple of years – books, articles, films, websites, and inperson visits to many New England farms – and believe this is a vital conversation for us to have.
It seems every restaurant, grocer, farmer and consumer claims to offer and/or purchase only sustainable,
humane, responsibly sourced meat, dairy and eggs, but can this really be true, given that barely 1% of animal
foods come from alternative farming?
Questions include:
1. Are there indeed farms and sources that really are what they claim?
2. Because demand is high, and profits from such products are also high, do unscrupulous producers jump on
the lucrative bandwagon of sustainability and make false claims for what are in fact industrial products?
Witness Kroger and Perdue claiming their chicken is humane and sustainable, and getting sued for it, but not
before laughing all the way to the bank. Chipotle is another prime example. And well-meaning consumers are
getting duped.
3. What exactly do the various labels assuring high animal welfare standards mean anyway?
4. How can we be sure? Are the regulatory agencies trustworthy, and actually providing oversight and
5. Or are standards being lowered or eliminated altogether so as to accommodate large producers, and
becoming effectively meaningless? Witness the MSC certification scandal reported a year ago on NPR.
6. If there are genuinely laudable producers, are they or their model scalable?
7. If they are rare and not scalable, are we promoting an ideal that can only serve a fraction of elite consumers?
8. By promoting this ideal of small-scale farming, are we inadvertently supporting industrial animal
9. Even if animals have a great life, what do we mean by humane slaughter? Does slaughter with dignity exist?
How do we know? How do you humanely slaughter someone who doesn’t want to die?
10. Given the reality of chick hatcheries which supply all egg farms (all male chicks killed, no exceptions),
even small and organic, is there any such thing as a humane egg?
11. Given the realities of dairy production – again, even small, even organic -- and its unavoidable alignment
with the saddest of the veal industry, not to mention cheap hamburger, is there any such things as humane milk,
yogurt, cheese, ice cream and butter?
12. Will the Slow Meat event include the public slaughtering of the bison before her “artistic breakdown”? If
not, why not? Shouldn’t all event participants be required to watch up close and help wield the knife?
13. Exactly how will participants be taught to make meat consumption rare? Will it be insisted that if they
can’t find a level 4 or 5 welfare rating at Whole Foods, then they shouldn’t purchase anything at all? What
about going out to restaurants, or while traveling: if animal foods offered aren’t guaranteed to be from top-level
animal welfare certification, then should they refuse to purchase or consume, and choose the veg option
instead? If not, why not? And aren’t we then supporting industrial farming? And don’t your sponsors (Niman,
Whole Foods, and Applegate) explicitly want more meat consumption?
Lest you think I’m merely squeamish about the nitty gritty of normal animal husbandry and food prep, then
know the following: I grew up on a small ranch in southern California,, right next to a large dairy operation. In
my travels, I’ve purchased meat from North African vendors with severed goats’ heads nailed to the doorway,
parsley in their nostrils and blood running down the wall (to demonstrate freshness). Also from Zaire markets,
where white enamel bowls filled with glistening black crocodile arms were a striking sight. In my haute cuisine
and catering days, I de-boned countless birds and legs of lamb, pulled veins from lobes of foie gras to make
Thomas Keller’s torchons, killed and cleaned live soft shell crabs, plunged lobsters into boiling water, etc.
But now I’m re-evaluating my beliefs and behavior, and I’d like to explore these essential issues with other
people who truly care.
Would you be willing to go through the material below yourselves, and then consider hosting an event (or
series) of some kind to discuss these issues? We can certainly reject the conclusions of the works below, but
shouldn’t we do so only after giving them sincerely fair hearing? And be able to articulate exactly why they’re
wrong, theoretically and practically?
Some resources that have touched my heart and thinking considerably are:
1. A recent book by Hope Bohanec, The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? ( It’s thoroughly researched and powerfully compelling.
Hope also has a short post on “Factory Farming vs. Alternative Farming: The Humane Hoax” published on
2. The multi-award winning film “Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home” about five
farmers’ transformation in their relationship to animal farming. Beautiful and moving. Shown on PBS.
3. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
“The Humane Farming Myth”:
“Deciphering Humane Labels”:
4. Karen Davis, and her famous site, United Poultry Concerns. A key pdf is: “Free Range Poultry and Eggs:
Not All They’re Cracked Up To Be”
5. Farm Sanctuary, and its founder Gene Baur, now getting major national attention in popular press. Is all
dairy production unavoidably inhumane, given the inevitable fate of all male calves and all spent cows?
6. “Happy” Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction Or An Easier Access Point Back to Eating
Animals?” by Rutgers professor Gary Francione.
7. An overview of sustainability from David Simon, author of Meatonomics
8. Professor James McWilliams, whose work I was introduced to a while ago by a prominent Slow Food
enthusiast. His most recent major piece is the cover article for The American Scholar, and titled “Loving
Animals to Death”
James’s blog “The Pitchfork” is well worth seeking out: there are numerous concise and carefully reasoned
posts on the myriad issues surrounding small-scale animal farming, which I think we have to consider seriously
if we’re going to continue promoting such farming.
Sample posts on an analysis of Joel Salatin / Polyface farm here:
On local slaughterhouses, a reply in “The Pacific Standard” to Nicolette Niman’s NYT Op-Ed:
What do you think? What might we do? Bookgroup-style discussion? Film screening and discussion?
I would be happy to assist with any of this, and I look forward very much to your reply.
All good wishes, Ellen
Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur