Is Eating Meat the Best Way to Fight Factory Farms?

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Whether you are into backyard slaughter and hog butchery workshops, or vegan organic agriculture and the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, there seems to be a battle going on between those who believe eating sustainable meat helps change the system, and those who think calling any slaughter "humane" is like putting lipstick on a pig.The debate is sure to kick off again as a result of Jenna Woginrich's piece over at The Guardian on why buying meat from sustainable small farms is more effective than vegetarianism if you are interested in fighting animal cruelty. Woginrich—who incidentally used to be a vegetarian and now raises her own animals for slaughter—argues that vegetarianism is akin to pacifism, and as such it does not engage or impact the interests that perpetuate animal cruelty:

"It's a hard reality for a vegetarian to swallow, but my veggie burgers did not rattle the industry cages at all. I was simply avoiding the battlefield, stepping aside as a pacifist. There is nobility in the vegetarian choice, but it isn't changing the system fast enough. In a world where meat consumption is soaring, the plausible 25% of the world's inhabitants who have a mostly vegetarian diet aren't making a dent in the rate us humans are eating animals. In theory, a plant-based diet avoids consuming animals but it certainly isn't getting cows out of feedlots. However, steak-eating consumers choosing to eat sustainably raised meat are. They chose to purchase a product raised on pasture when they could have spent less money on an animal treated like a screwdriver."

On the one hand, I understand her point. The meat industry is more likely to respond to and react to meat eaters, than to those who eschew its products all together. And likewise, in a world where meat eating is the cultural norm, a campaign to reform our animal husbandry, rather than abolish it all together, has much more chance of near-term success.

But to suggest that those who are not eating meat are not making a difference, just because others are eating even more, is not only inaccurate—it's also disrespectful toward vegetarians. Every burger not bought is one less unit of economic demand for meat - factory farmed or otherwise.

To suggest that because vegetarians are not eating meat, they are "avoiding the battlefield" is an odd and inaccurate analogy too. The battlefield that counts is not the animal agriculture industry, but our overall food markets. The more people make more sustainable choices, whether that be following a vegetarian, vegan, reduced meat, or simply better-raised meat diet, the more pressure will build for alternatives.

I've never liked it when vegetarians and vegans dismiss those who chose to buy meat from sustainable farms, or simply reduce their meat consumption rather than giving it up all together, so I have to cry foul when I see meat eaters doing something very similar. We're all in this together—we just chose our different paths.