Avoiding Vegan Advocacy While Making Vegan Arguments

Expressions of compassion towards animals by the non-vegan media are rare. Bold vegan advocacy simply does not exist.

So imagine my astonishment when I came across a mousy-looking column on the last page of Schrot & Korn, a free, lightweight magazine you can pick up at most German organic grocery stores. I usually read it in the bathtub, where I take those papers I don‘t mind getting wet.

Fred Grimm, apparently the author of one of those „how to be a conscious consumer“ books that have flooded bookstores in recent years, used this particular column to tell us about a recent uncomfortable encounter he had. Grimm was on a car ferry with many other vacationers and, awkwardly, a truck full of slaughter-bound pigs crying and squealing in their mobile prison. What is supposed to happen away from the public eye, suddenly loomed unignorable amidst merry families making holiday memories.

Grimm describes this „surreal“ encounter emphatically and with refreshing bluntness. Children run to the truck waving to the pigs through the bars. Their parents lie to them: „The pigs are going home, just like us,“ and to themselves: „We rarely eat pork anyway.“ Grimm goes so far as to call this situation „an encounter with the moral dilemma of our time.“ Wow!

I was speechless. It has become „in,“ at least in Germany, to condemn factory farming and overfishing. But no one ever turns the camera away from heinous industries and businesses onto us, the hypocritical consumers, who lie to our children because we implicate them in a system so violent we think it is inappropriate for their soft hearts and who lie to ourselves because it makes it easier to live every day. I was impressed by Grimm‘s audacity, his willingness to ruin the appetite of readers who had been shown a sausage ad a few pages earlier. (An ad for organic sausage, mind you, entitled „Saving the world now and then!“ and showing a child casually biting into the „super-sausage.“)

The letdown came in the last two sentences. Abruptly, after paragraphs of empathy and self-criticism, Grimm concludes: „I won‘t claim that this encounter turned me into a radical vegetarian. But I do think now: If you want to eat meat every day, you should know what the animals‘ death cries sound like.“

Imagine Grimm‘s conclusion in any other context. Before you enjoy the fruits of someone‘s torturing, at least make sure you know what his death screams sounded like. It‘s downright vile. Did Grimm really continue to eat meat? Or―which I find more likely―did Schrot & Korn censor his original conclusion because it did not fit with the organic meat ads throughout the magazine or with organic grocery stores‘ best-selling commodity, the good feeling?

German organic grocery stores attract customers that are somewhat better-earning, somewhat more health-conscious, and somewhat more likely to be vegan than the average German. But overall these shoppers are no different than most consumers: They want to be assured that how they are living is right, that what they are doing is enough. They buy organic milk to gain access to the myth of happy cows and organic chicken so that next time there‘s a factory farming scandal they can watch the clip as imperviously as if the news were from Greenland.

The last thing these shoppers want is to be called out on their complacency and to have their good conscience ruffled by one challenging sentence. Too bad, Mr. Grimm, you were so close.