Vegetarians ready to dialogue on humane meat practices

The “humane” meat movement, which has planted its flag at your local Whole Foods and in so many hipster restaurants, is now making its presence felt in the Jewish community.

At first glance, this might seem like a most welcome development. After all, the movement does present itself as an alternative to the well-documented and videotaped horrors of factory farming.

But if its proponents feel compelled to bend the truth beyond recognition, spew logical fallacies and sloppily propagate outright falsehoods, then you might want to question the entire premise.

A perfect case in point appeared on these pages two weeks ago (“Urban Adamah deserves respectful dialogue, not bullying,” May 9). Author and shochet (ritual slaughterer) Yadidya Greenberg took exception to the efforts of Jewish Vegetarians of North America to save the lives of 15 young, innocent hens, who were to be killed by the nonprofit organization Urban Adamah at a kosher-slaughter workshop in Berkeley on May 4.

Contrary to what Greenberg would have you believe, JVNA sought to open a dialogue with Urban Adamah before a protest was even contemplated. After all, we are in alignment with Urban Adamah on most issues, and we would much prefer to work with the organization, not against it.

Unfortunately, Urban Adamah’s executive director did not return our messages.

Moreover, Urban Adamah flatly rejected a sincere offer to transfer the hens to farm-animal sanctuaries, where the birds could live out their natural lives in peace.

Of course, if you had only read Greenberg’s piece, you wouldn’t know any of this.

Faced with Urban Adamah’s unresponsiveness to our outreach and rejection of the sanctuary proposal, we were left with two unpalatable choices: Either let the hens be killed, or make an appeal to the attendees of the slaughter workshop.

For JVNA, the overriding consideration was the lives of the chickens, who are intelligent and social individuals and who, in Jewish belief, have a covenant with God.

Plans for a protest were laid, centering on having animal-sanctuary officials present outside the workshop with their transport equipment visible. The hope was that workshop attendees would question why the birds were about to be slaughtered when a viable and compassionate alternative was readily available.

This would have created an uncomfortable predicament for Urban Adamah, to be sure. So it wasn’t surprising when the organization opted to cancel the workshop.

The lives of the hens are still hanging in the balance. Urban Adamah has not announced what it intends to do with the birds.

But in an act of good faith, the plans for the protest were quickly canceled, and efforts to find a mutually agreeable solution were renewed.

I am delighted to report that in the aftermath of the workshop cancellation, Urban Adamah has graciously opened a line of communication with JVNA, which we appreciate and respect. We seek to play an intermediary role between our brother Jewish organization and our pro-animal allies.

Yadidya Greenberg and other defenders of the “humane” meat movement have questioned why JVNA would focus on Urban Adamah, an organization that treats its chickens relatively well until it decides it wants to kill them. Why aren’t we directing our ire against the factory-farming industry, which slaughters millions of chickens every day in the U.S. alone?

What seems like a valid question is actually based on a faulty premise.

Critiquing the “humane” meat movement and railing against factory farming are not mutually exclusive propositions. We can — and do — do both.

What Greenberg, Urban Adamah and other practitioners of small-scale animal agriculture conveniently ignore is that their movement is joined at the hip with the factory-farming industry. This is not a matter of opinion.

The reality is, you will never hear spokespeople for the industrial-livestock companies criticize or complain about the “humane” meat movement. And there’s a good reason for that. The “humane” meat movement is perpetuating the idea that it’s perfectly OK to kill young animals if you like the way their flesh tastes. And in so doing, the movement is sustaining the industry.

The real threat to the factory farmers, and the object of their public condemnations, is the vegetarian-and-vegan advocacy movement.

JVNA is fighting for the soul of Judaism and is working to promote the highest ideals of the Torah, in which God instructs us to adopt a plant-based diet (Genesis 1:29), inflicts a plague on meat-eaters (Numbers 11) and connects meat-eating to a curse (Genesis 9) and to human lust (Deuteronomy 12:20).

If Urban Adamah, Greenberg or anyone else would like to debate what the Torah presents as the ideals to which we should all aspire, we welcome that debate.

Jeffrey Cohan is the executive director of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. He lives in Pittsburgh.


For an opposing view on this issue, read “Conscientious meat eating is not an oxymoron.”