“Truth, Love and Liberty”

Dear Colleagues:

Let me preface the following remarks with the observation that I am no way questioning the sincerity of the individuals involved in the event that I am about to discuss. The purpose of this essay is to focus on what I regard as the very confused and morally problematic message that such an event involves.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2009, The Humane Society of the United States held an event to encourage prominent chefs and restaurants to support the HSUS boycott of Canadian seafood as a means to pressure the Canadian government to end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada.

Some details:

  • The event was held at (according to HSUS) “the hot new glam spot Policy.” Take a look at the menu of Policy. Is there any sort of animal product that they do not serve? Ironically, the Policy menu includes mussels from Prince Edward Island, which I would have thought counted as “Canadian seafood.”

    Why could HSUS not have held this event at a vegan restaurant to reinforce the message that, although the particular focus of that event was the seal slaughter, we should never miss an opportunity to educate the public about ethical veganism? This was a missed opportunity.

    I should note that according to HSUS:

    Policy’s theme, “truth, love and liberty,” is scribbled elegantly on their walls and screams of the cause.

    I wonder whether the cows, calves, lambs, duck, chicken, fish, etc. are comforted by having their corpses served in a place that has “truth, love and liberty” written on the wall.

  • There is some confusion as to whether food was served at this event and whether that food was vegan. According to HSUS on Twitter, “there was no food, and it was free to get in.” But according to Pamela’s Punch:

    The food was amazing and featured little bites such as fried green tomatoes with corn salsa and rosemary crème fraiche with tapioca.

    I called HSUS and spoke with the person who was listed as the Media Contact for the event and asked whether there was food and whether it was vegan. I was told that food was served but the Media Contact did not know if it was vegan. I was also told that the food was determined by the chefs who participated and not by HSUS.

  • The event was co-sponsored with several chefs who, although they serve meat, fish, and virtually every other animal product, are:

    long among the area’s most vital leading proponents of local farms, humanely treated animals and the community.

    In fact, one of the co-sponsors advertises on the menu:

    Items marked with an asterisk use certified humane animal products. They meet the Humane Farm Animal Care Program standards, which include nutritious diet without antibiotics, or hormones; animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.

    For more on the Humane Farm Animal Care Program stamp-of-approval, which is co-sponsored by HSUS and other groups, see my essay on “humane” labels.

  • At the event, leggy models worked a velvet rope in the blazing sunlight.
  • But the most disturbing aspect of this event involves the very concept of a boycott where one sentient nonhuman is used instrumentally as a bargaining chip to save another. It should be noted that the HSUS boycott is not a simple matter:

    Note: The ban contains an exemption for products of traditional hunts by Inuit and other indigenous peoples. There are three separate levels of the boycott. Restaurants have pledged at different levels: All Canadian Seafood; Seafood from Sealing Provinces (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Quebec); or Snow Crabs from Canada. Since the ProtectSeals seafood boycott was launched, more than 600,000 individuals and more than 5,000 grocery stores and restaurants have pledged to avoid some or all Canadian seafood until the commercial seal hunt is ended for good.

    (Given that the mussels served at Policy, where the event took place, were from Prince Edward Island, I assume that, given the Inuit exception does not apply, Policy subscribes to the third-tier “Snow Crabs” boycott.)

    Putting aside the multi-levels, exemption, etc., I am deeply disappointed that animal advocates regard it as legitimate to use one animal as a political chip to save another. The HSUS boycott implies that: (1) fish and other aquatic nonhumans have no inherent value and are just something that can be used instrumentally to help some animal that we do value; (2) it is permissible to continue to eat non-Canadian sea animals; (3) it would be permissible to eat Canadian sea animals but for the seal slaughter; and (4) once non-Inuit seal slaughter is stopped (or regulated in a way that allows animal advocates to declare victory), the boycott will be called off and it will once again be morally permissible to eat Canadian sea animals. Fish may not be as “cute” as seals but they value their lives just as much as the seals do theirs.

    Moreover, the chefs who co-organized this event with HSUS serve meat and other animal products at their restaurants. What is the difference between the cow or the lamb or the chicken served in their restaurants and the seals whose slaughter they oppose? There is, of course, no difference. None whatsoever.

    HSUS has released a video of the event and it is a true masterpiece of moral confusion. Several chefs are interviewed who condemn the “barbaric slaughter of a defenseless animal” and the “inhumane killing of any animals.” This, of course, applies to the seals, not to the animals cooked by these chefs and served at their restaurants. If it were not so very tragic, the degree of moral disconnect would be funny. It is my sincere hope that those chefs who are so concerned about the seals in Canada come to see the equal moral significance of the animals whose bodies and products they are serving in their D.C. restaurants.

    I find this way of approaching animal ethics to be most disturbing. In addition to what I regard as the obvious moral issues, I think the message that it sends is, as a purely practical matter, very confused and confusing. We should boycott the eating of certain fish to stop the non-Inuit slaughter of seals while, at the same time, we all continue to participate in the slaughter of other animals who are no different from the seals we seek to save–except that our exploitation of them is economically beneficial to us whereas the seal slaughter is economically beneficial to people who are not involved with American animal welfare groups.

    Gary L. Francione
    © 2009 Gary L. Francione