A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Hoofin’ It Up with the Humane Society


As some 90 diners trekked around four restaurants in Denver this week, Angela Huffman of the Humane Society of the United States, which is sponsoring the four-night gourmet event, proudly explained that the HSUS supports the slaughtering of animals “in conditions that do not abuse them.”

So we’re being told that taking a baby lamb from her mother and killing her for a gourmet festival is not abuse. That’s the premise of an event that’s billed as a “farm-to-table guided culinary tour through four Denver neighborhoods.”

hoofin-it-082114Dubbed “Hoofin’ It”, the tour features “a different hoofed animal each evening” – bison, sheep, pig and cow. Their meat is provided by local Colorado farmers who are guests of honor at the various parties.

The diners get to “hoof it”, too, as they walk from each restaurant to the next “as part of the event’s active and exploratory nature.”

Animal welfarist organizations like the HSUS offer certification for farmed animals who are raised and killed “humanely”. Well, OK, if I were a cow or a chicken, I’d certainly prefer to be raised and killed more “humanely”. But why does the HSUS feel the need to lavish praise on businesses that raise and kill animals, and even to treat them as guests of honor for doing little more than letting the animals walk on grass before they die?

Since when is ‘respect for animals’ defined as strolling around restaurants snacking on tasty young creatures who have been taken from their mothers and killed? How come the nation’s largest and wealthiest animal protection organization is turning the death of these animals into a “celebration” whose official theme is “Respect Your Dinner”?

Since when is respect for animals defined as strolling around restaurants on a summer evening snacking on tasty young creatures who have been taken from their mothers and freshly killed for the occasion?

It gets even worse: The event is being promoted as a culinary experience that “brings our social ideals together in a unique style of culinary engagement.”

Oh please! If you want to hoof around restaurants and munch on bison and sheep and pigs and cows, go ahead and just get on with it. But let’s not try to kid ourselves that you can dress this up into something that’s about upholding social ideals! As blogger James McWilliams puts it:

There’s a fundamental difference between encouraging more humane methods of animal agriculture and throwing a party to celebrate animal slaughter. There’s simply no hoofin’ it around HSUS’s craven capitulation to compromise on this event.

There are two basic approaches to animal protection. Animal welfarist groups like the HSUS offer compromises that will result in slightly better conditions for animals in captivity. Abolitionists want the animals OUT of captivity altogether and say that welfarist compromises simply give the abusers cover to keep going.

The debate between these two philosophies has been going on for decades, but this week has provided an unusual example of each side of the argument. On the welfarist side, a celebration of animal slaughter; and on the abolitionist side, what’s been happening at SeaWorld and its marine circuses.

Last week, SeaWorld’s stock took a major dive on Wall Street. The company has been in trouble for some time now, with investors increasingly unhappy about the ongoing negative publicity that’s leading more and more people to stay away from the killer whale shows.

The campaign against SeaWorld has been largely driven by the grassroots, particularly in the form of ex-employees, scientists and small marine mammal groups, and with an unexpected boost from the independent movie Blackfish. PETA has also got in on the act, but the big animal welfare organizations like HSUS have been conspicuous by their absence. This grassroots campaign is abolitionist all the way – pressing SeaWorld to shut down its “Shamu” shows altogether.

SeaWorld has been feeling the heat and is now scrambling to announce a bunch of animal welfare-style reforms and compromises like larger pools and new exercise machines for the whales. These reforms won’t satisfy the abolitionists, who say that orcas don’t belong in captivity doing circus tricks – period. But the reforms are aimed at satisfying the animal welfarists, who typically approve of compromises like this. We don’t need to be making deals with the devil. Leave the devil to make deals with himself.

What’s happening at SeaWorld makes the simple point that the animal exploiters are a lot more afraid of the abolitionists than they are of the welfarists. In these days of social media and instant viral campaigns, public opinion can turn on you quite fast, and old style political-type deals and compromises are largely irrelevant.

Rather than continuing to get into bed with exploitation industries, animal welfare groups need to join the abolitionist movement and focus on letting the general public see more of what goes on in the factory farms, laboratories, zoos, circuses and other entertainment shows. (To its credit, the HSUS has conducted some major undercover investigations on factory farms, and is also fighting the good fight against the ag-gag bills that are trying to outlaw these investigations.)

There’s simply no need to wheel and deal with these businesses. Keep the pressure up, and if the industries want to scramble on their own to institute reforms or promote their own “dining experiences” or whatever, that’s their business, not ours.

We don’t need to be making deals with the devil. Leave the devil to make deals with himself.