Commentary: One helluva handbook from PETA

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I’m a Kindle junkie. I admit it.

It’s so easy to click-and-buy, not to mention “borrow” ebooks, that I probably have a couple hundred stored on mine.

Ease of acquisition is really the only explanation I have for why I found myself reading “The Animal Activist Handbook” the other day. The book is less of an actual how-to handbook, and more of a tear-jerking, guilt-ridden appeal to people already predisposed to fall for PETA’s “animals have the same rights and feelings, in fact, the same lifestyle as you do” messaging.

To be honest, I didn’t really get too far into the handbook, especially after wading through an introduction by PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk.

“When I wrote the foreword,” she announced,“I had just finished putting together ‘One Can Make a Difference,’ a book of essays about people who have done exciting and positive things with their lives.”

With that line, you just know she’s going to drop a few names, like, oh, Paul McCartney, Russell Simmons, the Dalai Lama—you know, guys like that.

We get it: You’re Ingrid Newkirk; we’re not.

She goes on to lionize the handbook’s authors— a pair of PETA staffers, ’case you didn’t assume that from the get-go—as “real movers and shakers,” guys who “seize every waking moment and claim it as their own.” They certainly don’t “blindly buy whatever advertisers suggest you buy,” unlike losers such as you and me. Instead, according to Ms. Newkirk, they “pretty much started a 21st Century revolution by reviving the art of pamphleteering, something that was used by suffragettes to secure the vote [and] by abolitionists to overthrow human slavery.”

Get it? Livestock are today’s “slaves,” deprived of a vote on their fate, who need to be “liberated” by PETA movers and shakers.

Gag me with a protest placard.

The basic message of the book is a familiar one: Animal food production is “vastly inefficient,” such that “anyone who claims to be an environmentalist cannot eat animal products.”

I love the way veggie proselytizers simply assume, prima facie, that animal husbandry is abusive, inefficient and every other negative adjective that can be dredged up.

No mention is made of the fact that humans have subsisted—indeed, been dependent upon—animal foods for countless millennia. Nor that without animal agriculture, nearly half of the land mass in the world’s temperate zones would be unable to produce food crops of any quantity. Nor that billions of people alive on Earth at this very moment in history are wholly dependent on livestock for their survival. Nor that the conversion of inedible cellulosic material to edible flesh and milk by the world’s ruminants is one of the true miracles of Nature, the direct conversion of solar energy into sustenance for humanity.

They left that chapter out of the book.

So last century

Look, I don’t doubt the sincerity of many of the followers of PETA and other born-again veggie advocacy groups. They’re motivated by noble impulses of saving the planet, reversing hunger and improving the nutritional status of the world’s neediest populations—not to mention the belief that the animal kingdom would be oh-so much better off if humans just walked away from any and all engagement with its membership (save for rescuingas many stray dogs and feral cats as one’s budget and household space allow).

Most of the primarily young, upper middle class women who internalize PETA’s dogma about “leaving the animals alone!” and champion its mission of destroying the livestock industry actually mean well. I’ve spoken with dozens of them over the years—and been on the receiving end of many a diatribe about the “horrors” of raising cattle and pigs and chickens. They truly believe we don’t need to eat meat or dairy products, that those foods are so last century that they’re just not needed anymore.

That perspective is thrashed with serious energy in The Animal Activist Handbook. Not only is meat production environmentally contraindicated, it’s nutritionally negative, as well.

To justify holding such an opinion requires tossing out about 30,000 years of human history, across every continent, in every era and among virtually every known population of indigenous people.

Which, if you extend that thought logically, means that not only are modern humans officially cut off from their historical and biological heritage (an impossibility), but those who argue that the vegan lifestyle is right and proper—and like most religions, the only right and proper one—must necessarily embrace all of modern science and technology’s impact on people and the planet.

Including its so-called “vast inefficiency.”

Vegetarianism as a mode of sustaining even a fraction of the world’s population would be as unsuccessful as pretending that even a fraction of that population would want to subsist solely on rice and beans and cornmeal mush.

In fact, if there’s one certainty we can take to the bank, it’s that given access, every single society we know about will choose—indeed, prefer—animal foods as a dietary constant, rather than the vegan diet that Newkirk and her comrades insist is “self-evident. . . [one that] people of integrity should choose to eat.”

Here’s a newsflash: The world has chosen, and it’s pretty much unanimous. Animal foods are preferred over vegetarianism—even in highly developed western countries with access to all sorts of meat-free processed goodies.

It’s not unanimous, but it’s pretty close.

Not because meat-eaters are insensitive, less evolved or morally handicapped, but because the domestication of farm animals and the consumption of the meat and milk they provide is a normal, natural and eco-friendly way of extending humanity’s habitat, utilizing otherwise inaccessible food production resources and providing high-quality nutrition to sustain the very civilized segmentation of society that PETA pretends is indicative of their followers’ ultimate enlightenment.

The bottom line is that those who earn an honest living from animal agriculture have a lot of work to do in reaching the clueless millions of citizens across the developed world—not born-again veggies but ordinary consumers whoenjoy of level of food abundance and availability never before experienced.

Unfortunately, that means they never have to connect with what is required to provide such abundance. Instead, they fall prey to the blandishments of manipulators like Newkirk, who’ve fashioned a package of do-gooder activism that fits perfectly with the reality that we can float through life without much worry about how—or where—our meals come from.

To re-connect people with the reality that animal agriculture is a positive contributor to global effort to nourish the seven billion souls now alive on the Earth will require that industry advocates, like the authors of the Animal Activist Handbook, “seize every waking moment as their own.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Colo  |  February, 27, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Wow Dan, you must have been REALLY BORED to sit down and read the PETA drivel. Conning young ladies to run around half naked in order to get attention at anti-meat protests suggests that this organization has been morphing into a cult over the last few years, complete with their own Rev Jones. Koolaid, anyone?

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  February, 27, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Last few years? How about the last few decades? And I'm not bored but maybe I'm a sucker, because I keep hoping that one day I'll find an activist who makes sense.


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