It was good to read Gary Steiner's editorial in the New York Times yesterday, but I think he ought to be more patient with the human race. It's not that people can't see the problem with killing animals to satisfy human needs and desires. Many do see it, but meat, leather, eggs, milk, etc are all deeply entrenched in our way of life. There's no denying that meat tastes good, leather looks good, and egg whites make a cake nice and fluffy....and on and on. It's no wonder many people are attracted to "humane" animal products as a compromise. Why not spend more for a happy turkey on Thanksgiving, and still eat turkey?
Steiner is none too pleased with the "humane" alternative, and lately I've been encountering a lot of people like him. They have the sort of ferocious dislike of humane meat and its advocates (like Michael Pollan) that "the new atheists" have for accommodationism (to draw a parallel between two universes I pay attention to.
Why the ferocious dislike? Partly, it's because these people think there's not that much of a difference between factory farmed meat and humane meat. Well, it's true things aren't as rosy and idyllic for "humanely" raised animals as the advertising would you have you think, but it varies. I think Peter Singer is exactly right when he says, in Animal Liberation, that the critical question is not "Is it ever right to eat meat? but: Is it right to eat this meat?" There are important differences between this meat and that, and even between this humane meat and that.
As Singer makes clear in The Ethics of What We Eat, and Michael Pollan also shows in The Omnivore's Dilemma, there's a difference between the sort of big humane operation that supplies most of what is sold at a Whole Foods, and a small humane operation. Both are significantly better than a Butterball barn the likes of which you can see at this PETA site, but turkeys aren't living a happy, natural life in the large-scale operation. They're still crammed by the thousands into giant barns.
Still, they are living a better life than the ordinary turkeys. That's got to be taken seriously. It's not just negligibly better to buy a turkey from Whole Foods. It's significantly better. And if you can get a turkey raised in a truly natural outdoor setting, it's better still. Yes, I think no turkey is best, but better is... better. Of course!