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Bars and Bricks

Bars and Bricks

By Assaf Pashut


As I stood holding a sign in front of Whole Foods Blossom Hill last Sunday, I couldn't help but recall my initial resistance to this campaign when it was pitched almost two years ago. “The target is Whole Foods?” I questioned emphatically. “Not a good idea! I can see the headlines now: 'Vegans protest most vegan-friendly food chain on the planet.'”

Like Assaf-version-2013, many vegans criticize DxE's focus on seemingly progressive corporations like Whole Foods and Chipotle. It feels counterintuitive to confront the same entities that bring us tofu burritos and vegan cookies. This concern is so pervasive that it warrants addressing thoroughly. 

DxE's latest exposé exemplifies that “humane” labels—and corporations proudly sponsoring them— speak empty words; however, let's assume that Chipotle and Whole Foods actually source their animal products from saint-like farms where animals live on green pastures prior to being killed and eaten. Would this justify the violence? As animal activists, we strive not to replace factory farms with greener pastures, but to liberate animals from exploitation altogether.

So how do we change an industry that is innately enmeshed in violence against nonhuman animals? If DxE tries to tackle every single mom-and-pop shop selling animal products, we'll burn out before lunch. If we protest fast food chains, it'd be like trying to convince a boxer to use pillows instead of fists – their audience isn't there for gentle kindness, and neither are they. To manifest visible change, we must target the bar-setters: the leaders of the industry who capitalize most from a false image of nonviolence, a.k.a. “humane meat.” They are the ones in the ring using pillows, but covertly packing them with nails.

But, DxE, why are you punishing vegan-friendly Whole Foods?

'Vegan-friendly' and 'vegan' are not the same. Falafel is vegan. A place that includes falafel on its menu is vegan-friendly. Companies are vegan-friendly because it's profitable long-term (a good sign for our movement), not because it's ethically sound. In fact, publicly traded corporations are bound by law to make choices that are most profitable for their stock-owning constituents.

Applying pressure on companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods yields results--like this.

Applying pressure on companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods yields results--like this.

More importantly, this campaign is not meant to punish anyone, but rather to effectively bring the animal rights debate to every home in the world. When DxE rallies hundreds or thousands of activists around the country to voice their opposition to the humane hoax, we are putting pressure on companies to raise the bar. This pressure is good pressure, and encourages decisions like this. If we targeted places like McDonald's, this would maybe mean slightly wider cages. For establishments like Whole Foods, in contrast, this means eliminating the pretense that killing is kindness.

Wait, DxE, what if they punish vegans and remove vegan items from their stores? Where will I get my Newman-O's?

Don't worry; your vegan treats are safe and sound. If they're not, then our model corporations aren't so progressive after all and more activists will realize this. Society has raised the bar, and Whole Foods and Chipotle rode the wave and capitalized on it. Now it's time to remove the bars completely and set free the animals we so love.

How Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

How Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

By Glenn Alexander

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Following Chipotle’s recent announcement that it will be offering free burritos to customers who try their vegan option, the restaurant chain has also announced that it is, until further notice, discontinuing its sale of “pork” due to its suppliers’ failures to meet Chipotle’s standards of animal welfare.  This has been met by cheers of praise from some animal-lovers, who thank the company for its apparent willingness to sacrifice profit for the sake of ethical values. 

Are Chipotle’s motives really that straightforward?  Unfortunately, it is rarely that simple— and this is no exception.  Chipotle’s “pork” boycott and free burritos are nothing but clever and deceptive PR stunts by a profit-hungry corporation.

First, let’s look at short-term profit.  It’s unlikely that the company will lose much money from taking a single item off of its menu, especially if the removal is temporary.  Any consumer coming to the chain hoping for “pork” will, in all likelihood, choose to buy another menu item instead— which will probably be animal-based. Moreover, the increased attention brought on by these two recent press hits will result in more people patronizing the company in the immediate future. Chipotle’s profit margin remains intact.

The real insidiousness behind Chipotle’s stunt is in the company’s pursuit of long-term profit.  It is no coincidence that Chipotle’s announcements took place very soon after it stopped being the main target of Direct Action Everywhere’s national “It’s Not Food; It’s Violence” campaign.  After all, one of the company’s main profit sources is its ethical, wholesome image, and DxE’s campaign was based around challenging that very image.  It only makes sense, then, that after such a campaign has ended, the company would do what it could to quell any and all consumer doubts about its commitment to treating animals with care. 

Chipotle has convinced the public that it has found and ethical and responsible way to exploit and kill animals.  It has found a consumer base that wants to make a positive difference in the world, and provided it with the comforting lie that all consumers need to do to make good on their moral duties is buy the dead bodies and stolen products of animals who have been, in Chipotle’s words, responsibly raised.”  Cornering that consumer base, especially given increased public concern for the treatment of animals on farms, stands to gain the company an incalculable amount of money.

Crucially, the success of Chipotle’s strategy does not depend on its actually treating animals with respect, but rather on convincing the public that it treats animals with respect.  As an open investigation of a "certified humane" reveals, even the so called best farms involve unconscionable animal suffering.  And, as many consumers know deep down, but willfully ignore, all “food animals” are slaughtered and slaughter is inherently violent.

In this illusory win-win relationship, the animals lose – even the pigs Chipotle refuses to sell.  The unchallenged spread of this humane lie gives ethically minded consumers a comforting retreat when the exploitation of animals is discussed.

“It’s not that we use animals that’s the problem; it’s how we use them.”

These lies guarantee that when Chipotle inevitably does bring pigs back onto the menu, people will buy them with clear consciences.  They guarantee long-term profit for whatever “pork” producers Chipotle chooses to buy from, thus ensuring the continued suffering and violent deaths of the pigs on those farms.  Most problematically, the myth of humane animal exploitation implicitly justifies the continued existence of all animal exploitation, and all of the suffering that comes with it, under the fraudulent guise that it can be reformed.

It cannot. There is nothing humane about slaughter. There is nothing compassionate about captivity. There is nothing ethical about animal agriculture. If you care about animals, don't look for the right way to do the wrong thing. Instead, join the ever-growing global movement for animal liberation: the right of every animal to be safe, happy, and free from human exploitation and violence.

Making real change for animals starts with you.