Guest Post: "Natural" products mask speciesism

Jan Austin Smith is an English and creative writing student at UC Irvine and president of Irvine Students Against Animal Cruelty (ISAAC). He has two novels under his non-leather belt already, and is developing ideas for the animal rights novel he hopes will be the hardest-hitting semi-fictional expose this side of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

“Natural” products mask speciesism
by Jan Austin Smith

This past weekend the Anaheim Convention Center hosted the Natural Products Expo, an industry-only showcase for thousands of companies and products. With the help of a gracious superstar vegan athlete, I was able to get in on Sunday. I spent the day trying out samples, talking to people, soliciting advertising for Go Vegan Radio, and scowling at certain unsightly exhibits.

I think I sampled at least half a dozen dairy-free nice creams—that’s like ice cream, but nicer—including the delicious Temptation out of Chicago, the only nice cream made on equipment not shared with non-vegan ingredients. While there were many fantastic vegan products being exhibited, there was also a preponderance of disconcerting ones. One booth featured elk meat and venison… As if it wasn’t bad enough that we’re intensively breeding, confining and slaughtering animals by the tens of billions, we round up wild animals and turn them into a neat little packaged consumer product, too?

It seemed like everywhere I looked, I saw “humane meat” and “cage-free” eggs. I contest both of those terms. There is no conceivable way to kill someone needlessly for food and have it be humane. It just can’t happen. Eating “humane meat” is kind of like putting a pillow at the bottom of the stairs before you push grandma down them. And while the hens may be free of small wire cages, they are still packed together by the thousands in sheds (larger cages), trapped in bondage to humankind.

This has been a frequently-raised issue lately. With Whole Foods Market’s new commitment to “Animal Compassionate Standards,” and groups like HSUS and PETA praising the chain for its ethical treatment of animals, “humane meat” is a rapidly expanding market. This couldn’t be more troubling. Now people—people who may’ve been leaning toward a plant-based diet, or even those who’d already adopted one for ethical reasons—are lulled into feeling good about consuming animal-derived products again. After all, the two most publicly prominent animal protection groups have given it their seal of approval. It must be okay now!

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The only humane meat is no meat (or perhaps organic soy “meat”). The only cage-free eggs are no eggs at all. The most insidious part of animal agribusiness is the fundamental principle underlying the exploitation and commodification of living beings, not the hormones and antibiotics or the size of cages and gestation crates. We must never turn down the opportunity to convey that animals have a vested interest in not being ours to use and manipulate, no matter how well we treat them. Advocating on behalf of animals is about undoing speciesism, not making it more palatable with grossly misleading terms.



  1. Another hidden cruelty of cage-free eggs occurs at the hatcheries, where male chicks are routinely and systematically destroyed soon after hatching. They are by-products of the egg industry, cage-free or not. And this is millions of tiny beings every year.

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