caged birds sing

12 08 2007

As an animal rights activist, I’ve been recently blown away by this recent surge in passion for the movement. I went to City Bakery in New York the other day, fully expecting to resign myself to some iced tea and maybe a bagel, and they had three separate vegan cookie options (which cost and tasted on par with the non-vegan fare). The dining section of a recent Wednesday Times article chronicled (at 3000 words, no less!) the plights of different animal rights groups across the globe. And during a storm last Friday walking to work near Union Square and carrying a Food Fight canvas bag (Food Fight is a tiny, Portland-based vegan junk food mart), a complete stranger grabbed my shoulder and said, “Food Fight! Nice!”

I thought it was possible this was all sheer coincidence… until, that is, this morning at (vegan) brunch when a friend pulled out the front page of the Sunday Times displaying a color shot of chickens in a supposedly cage-free environment (shown)New York Times -- ; the corresponding article declaring, “The toy industry had its Tickle Me Elmo, the automakers the Prius and technology its iPhone. Now, the food world has its latest have-to-have-it product: the cage-free egg.”

It’s true, of course, that the demand for cage-free eggs is high. That’s good news. Cage-free eggs, though, as the story just touches on, really aren’t much of an improvement from their alternative (just check out the picture). Although I do remember the days in high school when I’d preach to crowds of six or seven fellow revolutionaries about the horrific eight-to-a-single-cage, de-beaked, de-feathered, diseased conditions caged chickens were doomed to. As the Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society concludes in the article, “While cage-free certainly does not mean cruelty-free, it’s a significant step in the right direction.”

While I’m thrilled at the awesome reality of the biggest newspaper in the United States running an animal rights story on the front page (I never thought I’d see the day, truth be told), I can’t help but think of lying in my room debating vegetarianism with a jaded ex-vegetarian roommate last semester, who aptly reminded me that veganism was an expensive, bourgeois cause. And while I bitterly fought with her, reminding her that a salad or mashed potatoes was exponentially cheaper than a sirloin, I couldn’t help but agree with her a little in my head.

And then there’s this little wish-it-weren’t-true tidbit in the Times article:

“There is a lot of talk about cage-free, but are people actually buying them?” said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. “I think the consumer walking into the grocery store sees cage-free and they cost two or three times more, and they don’t buy them.”

Mr. Gregory is right. Sure, there are a lot of people buying cage-free eggs, and everyone would probably like to be buying cage-free eggs (except the truly heartless, but let’s exclude them from this discussion). Unfortunately, animal rights has become a cause that many well-meaning liberals view as in blatant conflict with many human rights. There are a lot of people who frankly don’t have the means to eat vegan, and that’s a really depressing reality.

Our food and agriculture system has grown to be such a divine mess that it’s time the government gets involved. And not in a paltry, ball-less way (The insult that is Nancy Pelosi’s farm bill 2007 doesn’t even come close). We have got to start looking out for the living things that call America home.

  • Countries all of the world have animal rights acts in place; Chicago has outlawed foie gras; it’s time for America to step it up and develop comprehensive standards that absolutely must be met so that we can all sleep at night knowing that animals in this country are treated with respect.
  • Fresh produce and local agriculture needs to be made available in lower-income urban areas.
  • In my mind, corporate farming should be illegal. Just imagine how many jobs and how much healthy food would result from a country running on privately-owned and operated farms.
  • We’ve gotta quit importing so much meat and fish. We don’t realize how destructive our eating habits are when their sources are thousands of miles away (also: carbon gas emissions, anyone?)
  • No one in America should starve. There’s enough money in the world for every human being to have a million dollars. I know I’m sounding annoyingly idealistic, here… but no one in this country should be starving. That soup kitchens and food pantries across the country are strapped for resources is downright wrong.

In the meantime, I’m grateful people are buying the “cage-free” eggs. It’s a good way to start my Sunday. Next time, though I hope the New York Times steps it up a notch and gets their fingers dirty. It’s time to start reporting about animal cruelty — the parts about it no one wants to read. Because then, maybe, they’ll really pay attention.




4 responses

12 08 2007
Lola Lyndon

Ah. I really enjoyed your post. Particularly your friend’s remark. That is very true.

I think that there is a great increase in the number of people who are becoming sympathetic to the cruelty-free cause. If not solely for the sake of the animals, then in the interest of their own health.

Thank goodness for selfish motives, alas.

Demand will push the prices down inevitably, I believe.

13 08 2007

Thanks Lola. I really hope you’re right about demand. Sincerely.

15 08 2007

Cage free or free range is so much better and top is organic free range. More expensive yes but, once we get into the habit of paying a little more then cheap, nasty food really doesn’t make sense!

Great article.

13 09 2009

I love animals and take them from the streets, thank you for caring.

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