Food Politics

So Let’s Talk About Raising Animals for Food

Foie gras for sale!
Foie gras for sale! Photo: REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, the Humane Society released a video and report that it says are the results of an undercover investigation into a Virginia breeding facility operated by a subsidiary of Smithfield foods. As you would expect, the evidence they present is pretty grim: Piglets tossed into dumpsters, employees jabbing at a lame sow to get her to move, and pigs developing open pressure sores as a result of being “crammed” (as the report says) into gestation crates, tiny holding pens that restrict the pregnant pigs’ movement to almost nothing. Obviously, if the allegations are true, they fly in the face of Smithfield’s corporate image: The company’s slogan is “Good Food. Responsibly,” and they tout an “industry-leading animal welfare management program” on their website. (They also say they’ve begun the process of phasing out the gestation crates.)

Complaints against the company are nothing new, but the report does put a renewed focus on them. Mark Bittman, who linked to the video on his site (and who recently told Bon Appétit all about his “vegan until six” diet), called for a boycott on all Smithfield products and reiterated the point that people should just avoid factory-raised meat altogether.

But huge companies aren’t the only food producers under fire. What about those lightning rods for controversy, small-scale foie gras producers?

Funny you should ask! Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt recently took a trip up to La Belle Farms, a foie gras operation in the Hudson Valley, and he came away with the same impression of foie production that others have: It’s not bad! Interestingly, Lopez-Alt digs a little deeper into the science behind why foie production isn’t the horrible practice that opponents say it is. (The physiology necessary for migration plays a big part!) It’s worth a read, of course, but it also raises a larger question, in our minds, anyway: Is any of this going to change anyone’s minds?

These reports all seem very familiar to us, and we’re honestly not sure they do much to sway people’s opinions one way or the other. Do people need to come to terms with the fact that the process of killing animals for food is one that we probably aren’t ever going to be too comfortable with? Should everyone just start buying meat from halal slaughterhouses? (We’ve done that, actually, and are convinced it’s about as humane as it gets when it comes to animal-killing.) Or should we all just become vegetarians? We bet you have some opinions!

HSUS Exposes Inhumane Treatment of Pigs at Smithfield [Humane Society via Mark Bittman]
The Physiology of Foie: Why Foie Gras is Not Unethical [Serious Eats]

So Let’s Talk About Raising Animals for Food