Projecting the Effect of Introducing In-Vitro Meat into the Marketplace

 

 

Introduction

In-vitro meat (aka cultured meat, synthetic meat, or more comically “shmeat” and “frankenmeat”) has been proposed and is currently being researched to replace animal agriculture while still keeping meat on the table. Rather than raising an animal for slaughter, in-vitro meat is grown from muscle stem cells in a medium and thus would not be reliant on large-scale livestock animal agriculture (Fountain 2013). This innovation, although still not on the grocery shelves, has support and funding from environmentalists and animal rights groups (Travis 2014) because it would decrease animal cruelty on farms as well as the vast majority of the environmental costs of the meat industry (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011).

First, I discuss the economics of in-vitro beef, projecting future costs in 2030 to determine the feasibility of in-vitro beef entering the market. Then I discuss the differences in environmental costs, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, between in-vitro meat and conventional meat. Finally, I project the environmental effects of in-vitro meat replacing different proportions of the conventional meat market in the global marketplace 2030.

 

Economics

One of limitations to in-vitro meat entering the market with large-scale production is economics and funding. In 2013, Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University produced a five-ounce burger patty for $330,000 (Zaraska 2013), or $1,056,000 per lb ($478,993.15 per kg; Zaraska 2016). In 2015, Post told the press that the price had dropped by nearly 80%, meaning around $66,000 per five-ounce burger, or $211,200 per lb ($95,798.63 per kg; Ferdman 2015). By January 2016, an American cultured meat firm Memphis Meats produced an in-vitro meatball for $18,000 per lb ($8,164.66 per kg; Zaraska 2016). Post expects the price of a five-ounce patty to drop to $10 by 2020, or $32 per lb (14.5 $/kg; Ferdman 2015).

In order to project the cost and therefore feasibility of in-vitro meat competing with livestock meat, I graphed these data in linear space without transformation (Figure 1) and log-transformed (Figure 2,3). The best-fit line was linear in the log-transformed data, demonstrating an exponential decrease in the cost of in-vitro meat over time (R2 = 0.981). In order to better project the price of in-vitro meat by 2030 such that the cost does not drop to $0/kg, I also fit an exponential curve onto the log-transformed data (Figure 3). This line also had a good fit (R2 = 0.940). Using the equation of the exponential line, I project the cost of in-vitro meat in 2030 to be $1.436 per kg. This is a rough estimate based on limited data in small-scale operations. Nonetheless, the cost of in-vitro meat will surely be low, if not as low as $1.436 per kg.

figure1

Figure 1. Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat per year in linear space. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).

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Figure 2. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Linear trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.981. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).

figure-3

Figure 3. log(Price of 1 kg of in-vitro meat) per year in linear space. Exponential trend line and equation are added with an R2 = 0.940 such that the price is projected to stabilize rather than equal 0 by 2030. Figure made by author. Data from Zaraska (2013 and 2016) and Feldman (2015).

Economic Implications

Under this projection, would in-vitro beef be able to economically compete with conventional livestock? Globally, beef prices have a positive linear growth in price/kg in the past 12 years, currently around 2.99 USD/kg of beef (Trading Economics 2016, Figure 4). Because these data cost money to obtain, I was not able to project the cost/kg of beef in 2030. However, based on the positive linear trend in price/kg, I expect the cost to be above $4/kg. Thus, by 2030, in-vitro beef will be able to compete with conventional beef, potentially being a cheaper alternative to conventional beef. These calculations are only done for beef as other in-vitro meats are only recently being developed.

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Figure 4. The price of beef (in BRL/kg) over time with a linear trend line added. Adapted from Trading Economics (2016). For reference: 1 BRL = 0.29 USD.

 

Environmental Impacts of In-Vitro Meat

A 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report breaks down the environmental and economic impacts of animal agriculture (FAO 2006). The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG when accounting for the sum production chain – including crop agriculture for animal consumption, land use, respiration, ruminant methane emissions, and transportation (FAO 2006). Currently, the developed world consumes 232% of kg of meat per capita (95.7 kg per capita) than the global average (41.3 kg per capita) and is projected to consume 221% of kg of meat per capita (100.1 kg per capita) than the global average (45.3 kg per capita) in 2030 (FAO 2003). Thus, disproportionate consumption of in-vitro meat in the developed world can also influence environmental effects. It is important to note that meat consumption is not equitable across the world.

Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011) summarize the primary FAO (2006) results, broken down by meat type, relative to land use change, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and water use of the report. They then compare those impacts to projected environmental impacts of large-scale in-vitro meat production (Figure 5). According to their analyses, 1000 kg of in-vitro meat, relative to European meat, requires 26-33 GJ, 7-45% less energy input (45% less than beef, 7% less than pork) and is only more energy intensive than poultry. In-vitro meat emits 1900-2240 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg, 78-96% less than that of conventional meat. In-vitro meat uses 367-521 m3 water/1000 kg (82-96% less water than conventional meat) and 190-230 m2 of land/1000 kg (99% less than that of conventional meat). Variation in the impact of in-vitro meat relates to the effects of different climates on production costs (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Should in-vitro meat reach large-scale production at a competitive price, switching meat consumption from conventional to in-vitro meat would therefore mitigate GHG, water use, and land use. Previous pasture and agricultural land used for livestock feed could potentially be converted to standing forests or biofuel, potentially further mitigating GHG in the atmosphere.

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Figure 5. Relative energy input, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use, and water use across livestock-cultivated beef, sheep, pork, and poultry, and in-vitro meat (Cultured meat). Adapted from Tuomisto and de Mattos (2011).

Using these data, we can project the impact of cultivated meat on GHG, land use, and water use in 2030 with both low and high estimates. First, I calculated low and high estimates of GHG emissions, land use, and water use of 1000 kg of conventional meat using the relative impact percentages of cultivated meat (Tuomisto and de Mattos 2011). Calculations were done using the mean impact values for in-vitro meat. For example, in calculating GHG emissions, I estimated GHG emissions for in-vitro meat to be 2070 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. I then determined that the low estimate of GHG emissions/kg of conventional meat is 9409.09 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg and the high estimate is 51750 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg. These results are presented in Table 1.

 

Table 1. Calculations of GHG, land use, and water use impact estimates.

In-Vitro Meat (Low) In-Vitro Meat (High) Meat (Low) Meat (High)
GHG Emissions (kg CO2-eq GHG emissions per 1000 kg) 1900 2240 9409.09 51750
Land Use (m2 of land/1000 kg) 190 230 21000 21000
Water Use (m3 water/1000 kg) 367 521 2466.67 11100

 

 

The global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 with Europe and North America making up 1.19 billion or 14% of the global population (UN Economic & Social Affairs 2015). By 2030, global per capita meat consumption is projected to be 45.3 kg per capita per year (therefore 385.05 billion kg in total), with industrial nations consuming 100.1 kg per capita (FAO 2003). Assuming that industrial nations are made up of Europe and North America, this translates to 119.119 billion kg of meat – 30.9% of global meat consumption.

I calculated the raw (Figure 6), raw savings of (Figure 7), and proportion saved relative to no in-vitro meat of (Figure 8) 2030 GHG emissions, land use, and water use from meat with low and high estimates relative to how much of the meat market is replaced by in-vitro meat.

figure-6

Figure 6. The effects of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Figure made by author.

figure-7

Figure 7. The environmental savings of in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions (kg CO2-eq), land use (m2), and water use (m3) in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. Figure made by author.

figure-8

Figure 8. The proportion of environmental impact otherwise avoided when in-vitro meat taking up 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%, 50%, and 100% of the meat market on GHG emissions, land use, and water use in 2030. Data using low and high estimates of conventional meat’s environmental impacts are presented. Calculations based on a given percentage of in-vitro meat in the market subtracted from 0% in-vitro meat in the market at either a low or high estimate. This number is then divided by the impact of 0% meat in the market using a low and high estimate. Figure made by author.

 

These projected data show that even if only the industrialized world switches completely to in-vitro meat, GHG would drop 23.4% to 28.8%, 29.7% of land otherwise used for animal agriculture and feed could be used for other purposes, and 24.6%-28.8% less water would be used. Increasing the proportion of the meat market made up of in-vitro meat saves GHG emissions, land, and water.

 

Conclusions

As the meat industry is responsible for 18% of anthropogenic GHG (FAO 2006), the prospect of in-vitro meat curbing the demand for livestock agriculture, particularly in the developed world, could provide solutions to GHG emissions, land availability, and water use by 2030. Although the production costs are viewed as a limitation to the feasibility of large-scale in-vitro meat production, prices have been dropping and both academic researchers and tech start-ups have been rapidly decreasing the price of in-vitro meat. It is therefore realistic to expect in-vitro meat to be competitive with conventional meat by 2030, providing a replacement for the more environmentally costly conventional meat.

 

Works Cited

Ferdman, R. A. (2015, May 20). This is the future of meat. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/20/meet-the-future-of-meat-a-10-lab-grown-hamburger-that-tastes-as-good-as-the-real-thing/?utm_term=.2dbbbbc06920 >

 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003. World agriculture: towards 2015/2030: An FAO perspective. Economic and Social Development Department, FAO, Rome.

 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: environmental issues and options. Agriculture and Consumer Protection, FAO, Rome.

 

Fountain, H. (2013, May 12). Building a $325,000 Burger. The New York Times. Retrieved from < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/science/engineering-the-325000-in-vitro-burger.html?_r=0 >

 

Trading Economics, 2016. Beef. Retrieved December 12, 2016, Trading Ecoomics. Retrieved from < http://www.tradingeconomics.com/commodity/beef >

 

Travis, J. (2014, March 3). PETA Abandons $1 Million Prize for Artificial Chicken. Science. Retrieved from < http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/03/peta-abandons-1-million-prize-artificial-chicken >

 

Tuomisto H. L. and de Mattos M. J. T., 2011. Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45(14), 6117-6123.

 

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Divisions, 2015. Population 2030: Demographic challenges and opportunities for sustainable development planning (ST/ESA/SER.A/389). United Nations, New York.

 

Zaraska, M. (2013, August 5). Lab-grown beef taste test: ‘Almost’ like a burger. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/lab-grown-beef-taste-test-almost-like-a-burger/2013/08/05/921a5996-fdf4-11e2-96a8-d3b921c0924a_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.b69c05613fa0 >

 

Zaraska, M. (2016, May 2). Lab-grown meat is in your future, and it may be healthier than the real stuff. The Washington Post. Retrieved from < https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/lab-grown-meat-is-in-your-future-and-it-may-be-healthier-than-the-real-stuff/2016/05/02/aa893f34-e630-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html?utm_term=.9c750bd70c0c >

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Linking social theory to science for a more just conservation: the case of the ivory trade

Hello all!

As some of you may or may not know, my interests in the sciences (and outside of them) are a bit all over the place. I’m doing my thesis in hummingbird plumage evolution, however I’ve been exploring political ecology both in my undergrad career and in my graduate career secondary to my work in evolution and behavioral ecology.

I think it’s necessary for those in the sciences to understand the social frameworks within which they work and make recommendations. Historically, conservation has functioned in a colonialist framework that ideologically separates “human” and “natural” processes, often in coercive measures in what’s known as “fortress conservation.” These practices have been negative and problematic, particularly when carried out by developed nations forcibly in colonies, as people have been forcibly removed from parks and antagonism between conservation and disenfranchised locals have grown. Although the era of colonialism has passed, many of these practices and social effects of these practices have remained in a neocolonialist conservationism.

One of the most evident and interesting cases of this is militaristic conservation in Subsaharan Africa to combat wildlife exchange and particularly the ivory trade. There, “shoot-to-kill”/”shoot-on-sight” policies have been passed and internationally endorsed, legalizing and condoning the killing of suspected poachers on park grounds in an escalating “war for biodiversity.” This has been justified internationally because of the connection between the ivory trade and terror networks, who gain funds as middlemen, trading ivory from poachers to developing and developed nations – particularly China, Japan, and the U.S.

Is this just, though? and is this the right tactic we should be taking considering African elephant numbers due to poaching have continued to plummet in recent years despite increased resources in poaching prevention?

I think our approach is flawed. First, I think that the concentration by NGOs and by international groups on poaching rather than on decreasing demand abroad fails to focus attention on the indirect roots of the ivory trade. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge the myriad reasons people may be driven to poach, effectively making us dehumanize African poachers and perpetuate a neocolonial outlook on conservation.

Studies of poaching incentives show that those participating in bush meat poaching are doing so because of a demand for bush meat in local areas, lack of stable governance, a lack of benefits of wildlife, lack of understanding rights over wildlife, and a lack of other viable livelihoods. The latter three are also viewed as incentives for ivory poaching, as well as a dissatisfaction or conflict with conservation policies and a global demand for ivory. Creating an all-inclusive definition for illegal hunting places both those reliant on bush meat (often poor marginalized groups) and those that take part in the ivory trade (yet again often poor marginalized groups, which may fund groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, in the same discursive category. Simultaneously, concentration on the American, European, Chinese, and Japanese consumer is ignored. Thus, the concentration on combatting the poor “African Other” by killing them rather than on the implication of the global North in consumption continues to support a colonialist conservation view and also purport a Malthusian perspective that targets the poor direct exploiters rather than the indirect market drivers. As a result, this black-and-white moral dichotomy between the evil African poacher and the morally upright park and international wildlife protection goals allows for human abuse of the locals while abdicating the roles of the North, similar to the previous colonialist conservation structure.

Social theories also illuminate ways we can rethink the role of elephants and thus our conservation strategies surrounding elephants. Rather than viewing them as resources, we can few them as individuals that affect change both in their ecosystem and amongst those that “speak for them” (mainly international NGOs and donors from affluent countries).

Conservation of elephants does matter, both to elephants and to people. Elephants are keystone species, meaning that they disproportionately affect their ecosystem. By trampling down large trees, elephants break up dense woodland and increase habitat heterogeneity. This allows increased seed dispersal and increased biodiversity, as well as increasing pastureland and ecosystem services. In fact, past over-poaching of elephants during the ivory trade of the 1800s led to decreased pastureland and ecosystem-level change in East Africa. So, decreasing poaching does benefit locals when they have access to parks. It also benefits elephants (obviously in that they aren’t killed but also) by decreasing the killing of matriarchs, those that are selectively poached, and thereby securing herd stability and recovery.

Elephants, though, are also viewed as flagship species by NGOs and thus increase funding and attention to conservation. They make great flagships given their charismatic features (everyone loves elephants, right?) and their similarity to humans (we’ve all seen those elephants paint videos) in both intelligence and social traits. The issue is, though, by humanizing the elephant we’re recreating a historically unjust system in a modern context: the poacher is dehumanized and the elephant humanized, making this war for biodiversity more digestible. Furthermore, this tension in who we prioritize can lead to local people feeling antagonized by conservation, particularly given their lack of power in decision-making. This can perpetuate the extreme human-elephant conflict we’re seeing.

So what should we do about conservation?

Obviously poaching is terrible. But our current strategy has only led to an arms-race between poachers and rangers. We have to concentrate our efforts on decreasing demand, which should also translate to decreased incentive to poach given the decrease in price. We should also acknowledge the incentives to poach and change our discourse surrounding poaching. Then we can develop strategy that targets different incentives. We should also create participatory management practices, which has had some success in South Africa and Namibia. We can then decrease tension and benefit both humans and elephants.

 

Sources here if you want to read more:

Agrawal, A, MC Lemos. 2007. A greener revolution in the making? Environmental governance in the 21st century. Enviornment 49: 37-45.

Archie, AA, CJ Moss, and SC Alberts. 2011. Friends and Relations: Kinship and the Nature of Female Elephant Social Relationships. The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal. Edited by CJ Moss, C Harvey, and PC Lee. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 238-245.

Baruna, M. 2010. Whose issue? Representations of human-elephant conflict in Indian and international media. Science Communication 32(1): 55-75.

Baruna, M. 2014. Circulating elephants: unpacking the geographies of a cosmopolitan animal. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39(4):559-573

Bingham, N. 1996. Object-ions: from technological determinism towards geographies of relations. Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 635-657.

Bond, WJ. 1994. Keystone Species. Springer Studies Edition, 99: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 237-253.

Constantin, F. 2000. L’humanité, l’éléphant, et le paysan. Bien commun et pouvoir local. Critique internationale 9(9): 117-130.

Douglas, LR, D Veríssimo. 2013. Flagships or Battleships: Deconstructing the relationship between social conflict and conservation flagship species. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 4: 98-116.

Duffy, R. 2014. Waging a war to save biodiversity: the rise of militarized conservation. International Affairs 90(4): 819-834.

Gobush, KS, B Kerr, SK Wasser. 2009. Genetic Relatedness and Disrupted Social Structure in a Poached Population of African Elephants. Molecular Ecology 18: 722-734.

Gobush, KS, BM Mutayoba, SK Wasser. 2008. Long-Term Impacts of Poaching on Relatedness, Stress Physiology, and Reproductive Output of Adult Female African Elephants. Conservation Biology 22: 1590-1599.

Gobush, KS and SK Wasser. 2009. Behavioural correlates of low relatedness in African elephant core groups of a poached population. Animal Behaviour 78: 1079-1086.

Håkansson, NT. 2004. The human ecology of world systems in East Africa: The impact of the ivory trade. Human Ecology 32(5): 561-591.

Jepson, P, M. Barua, K Buckingham. 2011. What is a conservation actor?. Conservation & Society 9(3): 229-235.

Keesing F. 2000. Cryptic consumers and the ecology of an African savanna. BioScience 50(3): 205-215.

Knapp, EJ. 2007. Who poaches? Household economies of illegal hunters in the Western Serengeti. Human Dimensions of Wildlife12(3): 195-198.

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, J, J Hassard (Eds). 1999. Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lindsey P, G Balme, M Becker, C Begg, C Bento, C Bocchino, A Dickman, R Diggle, H Eves, P Henschel, D Lewis, K Marnewick, J Mattheus, JW McNutt, R McRobb, N Midlane, J Milanzi, R Morley, M Murphree, P Nyoni, V Opyene, J Phadima, N Purchase, D                           Rentsch, C Roche, J Shaw, H van der Westhuizen, N Van Vliet, and P Zisadza. Illegal hunting and the bush-meat trade in savanna Africa: drivers, impacts and solutions to address the problem. Panthera/Zoological Society of London/Wildlife Conservation Society report, New York. 74 pages.

Murdoch, J. 1998. The spaces of actor-network theory. Geoforum 29: 357-374.

Neumann RP. 2004. Moral and discursive geographies in the war for biodiversity in Africa. Political Geography 23(7): 813-837.

Nishihara, T. 2003. Elephants poaching and ivory trafficking in African tropical forest with special reference to the Republic of Congo. Pachyderm 34: 66-74.

Soulé, ME. 1985. What is conservation biology?. BioScience 35(11): 727-734.

Vaccaro, I, O Beltran, PA Paquet. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology 20: 255-272.

Western, D. 1989. The ecological role of elephants in Africa. Pachyderm, 12: 42-45.

Whatmore, S, L Thorne. 2000. Elephants on the move: spatial formations of wildlife exchange. Environmental Planning D: Society and Space 18(2):185-203.

White, N. 2014. The “White Gold of Jihad”: violence, legitimisation and contestation in anti- poaching strategies. Journal of Political Ecology 21: 452-474.

Press:

CITES press release, http://www.grida.no/files/publications/rr/rraivorysummary_press.pdf.

“Al-Shabaab Kenya attack: death toll rises to 147-live updates,” The Guardian, 2 April 2015, http://www.theguardian.com.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, “We all have a role to play in ending the ivory trade,” Financial Times, 23 February 2014, http://www.ft.com.

Monica Medina, “The White Gold of Jihad,” The New York Times, 30 September 2013, http://www.nytimes.com.

 

How my veganism impacted my conservation (pt 2)

I hope that I have at least successfully made the following thematic points in part 1:

(1) Successful tactics in furthering an ethical stance do not come from forcing another to conform to one’s own ethics. Education may or may not lead another to realize they hold the same stance, but they have a right to differ.

(2) Subjective experience, particularly when culturally-relevant, and acknowledging privilege matter when thinking about moral dilemmas and people’s abilities to act.

(3) We (the West) seem to have a trend of ignoring issues at home while forcing conformity to some sense of morality abroad. This is generally problematic and hypocritical in many regards and follows the above two issues.

Where am I going with this and what does it have to do with conservation… 

I’ve had the fortune of taking a few eye-opening courses during my undergraduate career that exposed me to critical environmental history as well as political ecology. My discomforts I had always felt in discussions in conservation seemed to grow, but also were theoretically and practically validated in terms of justice. These issues follow those from which I had drawn the above conclusions.

When it comes to mainstream conservation historically and presently, we have failed to acknowledge the power relations and implications in decision-making. We have focused attention abroad or outside of our local sphere rather than acknowledging and acting on our local-scale problems. This theme has followed a neo-colonial narrative of enforcing our moral views often violently abroad while not acting in the same intensity to stop the localized issues.

How is it that we should expect it to be okay (let alone successful) to enforce policies upon others on a global scale and regional scale when on an individual basis, other morally valid ideas (that also obviously improve environmentalism and conservation such as veganism) are viewed as condescending or disrespectful when done in the same manner?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the irony has strongly influenced my perception of morality in conservation schemes. Grass-roots approaches matter to conservation, particularly given that many threats to species stem from habitat destruction often to do with our own consumption, and in the long-run, global warming – also related to our own consumption.

 

I hope this wasn’t too all over the place. Alas, I have not myself been able to ethically resolve these issues. On that note, have a great Sunday!

How my veganism impacted my conservation (pt 1)

This may turn out to be a pretty disjointed post. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 11, vegan since 15 and as such I’ve spoken to many and changed my views on activism throughout the past 10 years. I’ve come to the broad conclusion that people should come to veganism at their own pace, or just cutting down on animal-related consumption if it suits their own moral convictions. Issues are often more complicated than they seem. [For more if you’re interested on that experience see the bottom.*]

I had an eye-opening experience doing a McDonalds demo on Hollywood Blvd some 5 years ago put on by Peta. Most Los Angelinos will know that the people generally on Hollywood Blvd are (1) tourists or (2) people that don’t want to be on Hollywood Blvd (humor!). It’s a hodgepodge of different socio-economic groups, nationalities, and cultures, as are many tourist hot-spots. All in all, it was successful, I would say. However, at one point, this man came up to us and yelled at us for being inconsiderate. He told us that many of the people working on Hollywood and Highland make minimum wage or less, and as such could not afford an option other than McDonalds. We were being disrespectful and condescending in telling him to boycott when he didn’t have a choice. He was right.

There has been movement in the animal rights world to acknowledge wealth injustice and the intersectionality with eating vegan in the past few years. But it’s always important to acknowledge that some people are privileged in their ability to take action – be it conservation or animal welfare/rights – when others have much more to lose. This is something I feel gets lost in the global scale of both of these issues. It’s fair to say that the global North has privilege in the conservation realm that the global South lacks. And, although action is taken, we often push the responsibility to developing countries, push the problems to developing countries while we fail to acknowledge our constant lack of action or continuous problems at home.

A few years ago, as well, a petition and global online protests to end the animal sacrifice tradition in the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (which was successful). Discursively, it’s important to separate hindu and buddhist objections, as well as trade-related objections from India and leaders in India and Nepal and local animal rights groups’ objections, from those of people like Bridgette Bardot or the animal rights organizations of the West. I was increasingly aggravated following the development of this story, just as I was when the Cecil the lion story broke out.

Of course, like anyone who cares about other animals, I was happy people wanted justice for them. However, the fact that oh so many people who fail to see the hypocrisy of simultaneously not dealing with the factory farm industry at home, refusing to cut down their animal consumption, refusing to acknowledge animal sacrifices in their own countries, or hunting that happens at home, hopped on board discomforted me. So much so that I am generally oddly quiet when discussions about people murdering animals in other countries for bushmeat, for money, for ritual, or the unique killings of animals we “love” or consider cute/flagship by Westerners (such as Cecil or any mal-treated pet) even come up with those I know don’t take steps to decrease the carnage they take part in. It’s easier to point out injustice far away or pick and choose which animals are worth saving and dignifying based on being a flagship, “wild”, cute, or whatnot. In the same way, we (as in us westerners) are critical of bushmeat traders, or people who kill animals for the sake of “tradition”/”religion”/”culture” yet we act far worse to the animals we eat and wear – and these we do unnecessarily for the most part (see above). Why are we disgusted with one and not the other? Is it because we idolize nature and wildness, both terms we’ve created? Is it because we are easy to pinpoint other cultures’ abuses as savage while we mechanize our own? Is it not the individual we care about at the hands at the hunter or the slaughter, but the idea of it being wild or an “unnecessary slaughter” instead of domestic or “essential” instead? And is moral superiority of Western culture, from which “wilderness” and secularism derives, still just as prevalent as it has been in its problematic past?


 

* For some background: I was very militant throughout middle school and high school. (Examples for comedic effect: I told my friend she was eating babies in 6th grade when she ate lamb chops. I told another friend her hamburger was death. That wasn’t taken well. I stopped doing that pretty quickly.) The idea in my teenage mind that people were knowingly a part of a torture and killing machine and continued to act in the same way because “cheese is so good” or “but bacon” or “it’s just fashion” disgusted me. And, although there are more genuine and understandable excuses, the vast majority I’ve heard (even when unprompted) followed that line. Frankly, that idea still disgusts me, but I’ve just gotten used to the fact and respected the fact that I can’t be a moral police nor would it be right to. Even more, that doesn’t work. Morality is subjective, and people will move at their own pace if they think it’s right to at all. You have to come to people on their own terms and respect their decisions and experiences, experiences I failed to see in my early years. What we can do, and what we should do, is just show that it’s possible if someone is willing to change their actions.  And if they aren’t, it’s not our responsibility to force them to. One should never antagonize someone for not having the same moral scheme as you. Moreover, acting in a militant way or an antagonizing way pushes people away from the movement and also disregards their subjective experience and views, and potentially health reasons why they may not act in the same way as us. I’d also like to note in case this post has come off as a stereotypical vegan moral rant, that I don’t view myself as better than others — we all have our hypocrisies and we all conform to our own world views.

Moral Dilemmas

For many naturalists, animals and “nature” (however we define it) has been a central interest or connection of theirs for much of their lives. Since I can remember (and arguably before according to home videos!), I loved animals and was fascinated with them. I knew at the age of seven that I wanted to work with them to understand them and protect them against willful harm. Unlike many naturalists, respecting animal rights has been a fundamental principle of my life. In high school, I was an active member of Peta and, although I do not endorse some of their tactics and now rarely take part in demonstrations do to my paranoia that it might not be all too acceptable in academia, I do ethically believe in animal liberation principles:

Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.

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