The year was 1975. Actress Sally Struthers had charmed her way into America’s living rooms as Glorida Stivic Archie Bunker’s daughter on the hit sitcom All In the Family, married to “meathead.” But Struthers was known for something else. More prevalent than her appearances on All in the Family were her cloying pitches for the Christian Children’s Fund for which she was trying to use her “Family” fame.
Finally a glib SNL-writer wannabe came out and said what many were thinking when they saw her entreating, eternally earnest face: people were more interested in paying money for Struthers to shut up than helping the hungry children. Ouch.
The same phenomenon happened a few years ago with another charity: people began to dislike Jerry Lewis more than muscular dystrophy.
Struthers’ and Lewis’ charities are not the only ones in which compassion turned against itself and people began to dislike the messenger. Food exposes can also produce compassion backlash:
Yeah, yeah—we know veal calves are taken from their mothers at birth and allowed to freeze to death. We know chickens miss the knife and get boiled alive. We know newborn male chicks are ground up alive at hatcheries. What else is new? The problem is they still taste good and the cruelty videos ruin your appetite!
No one wants to be called bad for eating what they eat—especially at mealtime and as long as there is more than one channel on peoples’ devices, they will tune horrifying animal images out and keep eating what they are eating.
And there’s another sticking point: If farm practices are so cruel, many people think, why do restaurants, grocers and the government allow them? Aren’t there laws?
The same question can be asked about drugs like Vioxx or Xarelto, linked to many deaths. If Vioxx or Xarelto are so unsafe, many doctors thought, why would the FDA approve them? Patients, for their part, ask why would doctors prescribe them?
Of course the answer is that the “law” puts profits before pain whether 50,000 preventable Vioxx-related heart attacks or animals dying in preventable agony.
The New York Times’ Nick Kristof is no wild-eyed vegan but this is what he wrote this week after video of chickens legally boiled alive was released.
“Workers grab the birds and shove their legs upside down into metal shackles on a conveyor belt. The chickens are then carried upside down to an electrified bath that is meant to knock them unconscious. The conveyor belt then carries them — at a pace of more than two chickens per second — to a circular saw that cuts open their necks so that they bleed to death before they are scalded in hot water and their feathers plucked. Even when the system works as intended, the birds sometimes have legs or wings broken as they are shackled, the investigator said. And when it doesn’t work correctly, the birds’ end can be horrifying.”
What Krisof is referring to is 700,000 chickens boiled alive a year.
This preventable cruelty happens for two reasons. Birds are not covered by USDA humane slaughter laws and the government lets industry speed up its assembly line as fast as it wants in the interests of profit. Both laws would be changed if people told their grocers, restaurants, workplaces and lawmakers this type of videotaped agony of chickens is not acceptable under any circumstances.
“Most American consumers are, like me, conflicted,” writes Kristof. “We eat meat, but we don’t want animals to suffer needlessly.”