My friend and fellow activist Jake Conroy routinely asks this specific question of the vegan-animal rights movement: “Are we winning?” If you’ve seen his entertaining and cranky YouTube videos, you know what I’m talking about. In a time when innovation and booming sales of plant-based meats are regularly and widely celebrated in the media, it may seem like an odd question. But it’s a fair question, and a necessary one.
Just take a look at the reactions from many activists (I’ve definitely been guilty of this) and animal protection organizations any time a fast food restaurant announces they’re adding plant-based meat to their menu: You’d think all factory farming had ended and animal liberation had finally been won. I mean, at least there’s major movement toward overall meat reduction, right?
Well, not exactly. At least not according to the numbers.
A new piece in Bloomberg highlights the reality behind the hype. Discussing the recent downturn in sales of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King, the article painfully points out that meat consumption in the United States is at an all-time record high, and that the introduction of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King hasn’t cut into the sales of the meat-based Whopper one bit.
Despite the rising popularity of faux meat, Americans are also eating more real meat than ever. Total red meat and poultry consumption is expected to rise to 225.6 pounds per person this year from 224.3 pounds in 2019, according to USDA data. Even at Burger King, there’s no evidence that the meat-free option has led to less meat consumption. Impossible Whopper sales were not cutting into regular Whopper sales, according to a note from UBS analyst Steven Strycula in December.Bloomberg
This is something you’re not going to likely hear from activists or animal rights organizations, but it’s something that needs to be dissected.
We keep telling ourselves “we’re winning” but looking at these numbers, are we really? And if we’re not, what can we do differently?
I truly wish I had the answer. But perhaps we can at look to history to begin to find a solution.
At the turn of the 20th century, automobiles were coming into fashion – but they didn’t catch on at first. It wasn’t until the 1920s that they took off and began seriously replacing their animal counterpart, the horse-drawn carriage. So what took so long, and why did the automobile suddenly gain popularity? In short, Henry Ford (a virulent anti-Semite and Nazi lover) found a way to make cars cheap. Using his new assembly line, Ford was able to crank out Model T’s, which average Americans could now afford.
It wasn’t that people all of a sudden decided to care about the exploitation of horses and demand change, it was that cars were cheaper and more functional to their needs.
We already know that meat consumption waxes and wanes largely based on cost: The price of meat goes up, consumption goes down. The price of meat goes down, people eat more. So, what if plant-based or lab-grown alternatives to meat suddenly became more accessible to the general public? In other words, what if they were cheaper than animal-based meat?
Now, before we go off singing the praises of capitalism and looking for ways to mass produce the cheapest plant-based or lab-grown meats to save the animals and the world, I need to throw some rain on the parade. The sad fact is that unbridled capitalism leads to exploitation and a shameful lack of humanity.
Don’t believe me? Google what was going in this country before the New Deal. Or better yet, take a look at what’s happening right now. Research the calamitous impact of the cheap “fast-fashion” industry or the plight of workers in assembly plants around the world, where they work endless shifts for pennies so we can buy cheap shit. Take a moment to read about the countless Americans suffering with diabetes who don’t have access to insulin thanks to greedy pharmaceutical companies. You cool with that? Cause I’m definitely not.
This is where socialist policies come in. I know, I can already hear the collective groan of millions of Americans who think anything featuring the word “socialism” is pure evil. But, before you start complaining, I’d like to remind you that “socialism” is a key reason you pay $2.75 for a gallon of gas in the USA instead of $5.75 like they do in London. It’s the reason McDonald’s can afford to charge $1.00 for hamburger.
You see, each year our government takes billions of our hard-earned tax dollars and gives them to industries like big oil and big ag to artificially
lower regulate prices. That’s socialism – we just call it subsidies to make it sound pretty. Many of these billion-dollar industries are also given significant tax breaks.
Surely if our government can do this with the meat industry — which is fucking up our planet and torturing billions of animals each year — they can do this for companies that produce meat from plants or in a lab. One could argue that we don’t even need to go that far, we could just stop giving
hand-outs subsidies to the meat industry so people would pay the true cost of their products.
Would that end all animal exploitation? No. But it would certainly make it less convenient for Americans to support it.
Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. I believe we need to pass laws protecting animals and I believe we need to educate the public on who animals actually are and why they should matter to us. But I know this: Expecting a system that thrives on exploitation to somehow magically end exploitation is a losing strategy.
Main image: Jo-Anne McArthur / Eyes On Animals