Published on:

February 10, 2015

Would Whole Foods Kill My Family?

By Lisa Zorn

This is Frost. 

I met Frost in 2003.  We had just adopted our first rabbit, Fury, and we thought he needed a friend. We naively assumed that we could just find one for him, so we stopped at a fair and encountered a man with stacks of cages—multiple sections to a cage, each section the size of a rabbit. The rabbits inside the cages couldn’t move. It was upsetting; but we asked him what he was doing with them and if we could have one. He said he was selling them to someone there and sure, we could have one for $5.  (Note: Please adopt from shelters or rescues like SaveABunny.  I was ignorant in 2003.)  He took out a few and we looked at their teeth, then went home with Frost: a little tortoiseshell Netherland Dwarf with the letters ‘A39’ tattooed in her ear.

I don’t know what happened to the others, but it was probably something terrible. Frost came from a bad place.

On the car ride home, I held Frost in a towel, and she didn’t move much.  She must have been terrified.  When we got home, we introduced her to Fury, and he loved her at first sight (or sniff).  (Side note: rabbits can be very picky about other rabbits, so this is no little thing.)  Once Frost realized she was safe, everything changed.

   Frost loved to gaze out of windows at the outside world.
Frost loved to gaze out of windows at the outside world.

Frost was an adventurous rabbit.  She was the opposite of Fury—she liked to leap before considering, to hurl her body through time and space and worry about the consequences afterwards.  She was the kind of rabbit who would bump into walls in her enthusiasm; who would chew a hole through the screen door to the balcony and go exploring; who would climb the shelves I put up for her so she could gaze out the window at the world.

Frost told us, in no uncertain terms, that being caged at night was completely unacceptable.  She would rattle the cage bars all night long; so we got rid of the cage. Frost loved all greens, especially broccoli.  Frost loved Fury (and Fury loved her).  Eventually, Frost grew to love me too, sitting next to me in bed at the crack of dawn and demanding that I pet her by pushing her head underneath my hand whenever I started to fall asleep.

Frost was a Netherland Dwarf, which is a tiny breed of rabbit with a blunt nose and little ears; they are typically bred for show and for the pet trade (and sometimes used as food for snakes).  The blunt nose of the Netherland Dwarf means they often have teeth problems (rabbit’s teeth constantly grow, and need to be worn down by chewing on hay), and Frost eventually developed a tooth infection.  We had several of her teeth pulled; but the infection kept spreading, and none of the antibiotics we tried worked.  Eventually we decided to euthanize Frost because she was in so much pain, and she couldn’t eat anything on her own.  My heart broke that day, and I will always miss her and always love her.

We gave her the best life we could, and she was happy.  In return, she and Fury transformed me. They taught me the meaning of unconditional love.  They woke me up; I realized that everyone is Frost—that every cow, every chicken, every turkey, every pig, every fish…They are Frost in the ways that matter: in their desire for bodily autonomy; in their feelings of joy and fear and love.

That’s why when Whole Foods started selling the flesh of rabbits last year, it felt to me like a punch in the gut. Not because rabbits deserve to live more than any of the other animals slaughtered by Whole Foods, but because rabbit meat is a fairly small market in the U.S, and Whole Foods is a large grocery chain with a lot of influence. This step just made the world a lot worse for rabbits. Already, rabbits tread a sort of middle ground; though many of us love them as family members, they are also exploited by almost every industry: fur, meat, medical and cosmetic testing.  The battle for personhood is often in the foreground for rabbits, and those of us who have rabbit companions are often at the receiving end of “jokes” about violence against our loved ones.

When rabbit advocates contacted Whole Foods expressing our dismay about the decision to start selling rabbit meat, Whole Foods routinely responded by saying:

   Whole Foods being
Whole Foods being

“Whole Foods Market is sensitive to the companion animal issue and we understand this product won’t appeal to everyone. However, for those customers who have been asking us to carry rabbit, it’s our job to make sure we offer the highest-quality product from responsible sources. A number of shoppers have been asking Whole Foods Market to carry rabbit for years but conventional raising practices do not meet our rigorous animal welfare standards. To meet our customers’ requests for rabbit we needed our own set of animal welfare standards, and these rabbit welfare standards are a direct result of a rigorous four-year process to address the welfare issues in rabbit production. As we have done in the past, our hope is that our high standards will be a model for industry change.”

    Rama , a well-loved New Zealand White rabbit at SaveABunny.
Rama , a well-loved New Zealand White rabbit at SaveABunny.

Whole Foods is breeding and killing New Zealand White rabbits, a domestic breed of rabbit that many of us know and love as companions.  Whole Foods suppliers take rabbits from their families and kill them at eight weeks of age, when they are barely weaned babies.  Spayed and neutered house rabbits typically live for 8-12 years.  Digging further into the “rigorous animal welfare standards” provided by Whole Foods, one finds: “Stocking density must not exceed 2lbs/square foot.”  This means that an eight-pound adult New Zealand rabbit could be housed his whole life in a 2-foot by 2-foot space. A mother and her eight babies could be housed in a 2 1/8-foot square space. These “rigorous animal welfare standards” are actually just routine.  Further, the standards make points about keeping the rabbits in groups but doesn’t require it for males or females.  Whole Foods sources their rabbits from Iowa and Missouri, both of which have passed ag-gag laws.

None of this really matters, though, because even if Whole Foods kept rabbit families intact, even if Whole Foods gave them lots of room to run and jump and play and binky (that’s the rabbit happy dance), even if Whole Foods gave them strawberry treats every night and workers gave them good morning kisses, it would not be ok. At the end of the day, a young rabbit is taken from her family and her throat is cut. She will never love or be loved again, just so Whole Foods can make a buck.

That is why I will speak up against the violence that Whole Foods perpetrates, that Whole Foods expands, that Whole Food promotes beneath a veneer of feel-good marketing.  I will fight for Frost, and all of her sisters and brothers, and all of beautiful beings exploited and killed by Whole Foods Market.  Until every animal is free.