Now, I’m a big fan of Whole Foods, and do much of my family’s grocery shopping at the chain. We eat organic and try to support businesses that have the same feelings toward organics, GMOs, local foods, etc. While there are certainly better markets (we have some great, small, local stores in our area), it’s good to have a supermarket that has much of what we choose to buy in a single location so I’m not hitting four or five little places to cover all of our needs (oddly enough, I often have to go to more than one Whole Foods to meet our needs, but I have four of them within 15 minutes of my home).
As a vegan, I also appreciate the chain as there is a lot of choice for me. Obviously the produce section has me well-covered, but they have tons of other vegan-friendly products in stock (sauces, tortillas, Clif Bar products, meat-alternatives and vegan burritos or pizzas, etc).
Putting together my dietary choice with WFM’s decision to label their meats to help consumers be more aware of how the animals they choose to eat have lived, I came across something really perplexing – veal. There are basically two meats that are about as cruel as you can get, and veal is one of them (the other is foie gras, which is goose liver that is made by force-feeding the goose so its liver becomes exceptionally fatty). If you don’t know how veal is ‘made’, I’ll share how with you, but a word of warning as it can be extremely upsetting, so please skip the rest of this paragraph if you want. This description comes from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the state chapter os the ASPCA, which also runs the best veterinary hospital in the state, Angell Memorial):
Calves raised to make veal are severely confined. Veal calves commonly live for 18 to 20 weeks in wooden crates with chains around their neck. The chain is tethered to a crate which measures 6 feet long and 2 feet wide. The size of the crate restricts the movement of the calf to either lie down or stand; the calf can not turn around or stretch his/her limbs.
Calves raised to become veal are also purposely fed an all liquid milk substitute which is deficient in iron and fiber in order to produce anemia which results in the pale colored flesh typical of veal.
Veal calves are slaughtered at 16-20 weeks of age unable to walk to slaughter as their muscles are severely underdeveloped. Some veal calves are killed at just a few days old to be sold as low-grade ‘bob’ veal for products like frozen TV dinners.
While beef cattle may not have what the vegan in me feels is a great existence, clearly the life of a calf being raised for veal is much worse. It’s saddening at best, and maddening at worst. I chose long ago – long before choosing to be vegan – never to eat veal again. And many other meat-eaters have made the same conclusion after learning of how veal calves are raised.
At a very basic level, veal is – by definition – raised in a caged/crated environment. It’s a big one, but it’s still a confining structure, like a cage or crate. And it’s even referred to as a ‘box’. So, technically by its own standards, Whole Foods shouldn’t be selling veal. But they do.
With that as background, perhaps you see where I got perplexed. How is that a company that is making an effort to educate people on the conditions in which meat animals live would sell meat from an animal that is tortured? I’m not saying ‘torture’ in the way an animal activist would say factory farming is torture. I’m saying it in the literal sense of the word. No interpretation needed.
You could argue that there’s no conflict here. WFM isn’t taking a stand, they’re merely labeling. This fits with their push for broader labeling across the board, and specifically in the whole GMO labeling debate. On GMOs, they’re actually mandating that all products they sell be GMO-free (I believe by 2018), so maybe that shows a bit of the conflict. They don’t just like labeling and transparency, but do choose in some cases to come down on the side of a cause, belief or position. So why is it different with animal welfare? They care enough to tell people about the conditions the animals experience, and make a pretty big deal about it, especially when they have meat from a more human source (e.g. a free-range ranch).
While you could argue there may not be a conflict if WFM is just thinking of labeling as the end-game, I think there is a conflict. By labeling (and doing in-store promotion of those with better scores to reinforce the importance of the issue), they’re inherently drawing attention to more humane practices and almost ostracizing less humane sources of meat. It’s almost hypocritical to draw attention to the animal welfare issue while also selling veal (or foie gras).
Because of this conflict, I would like to publicly ask Whole Foods Market to stop selling veal.
Think I’m crazy? Think it’s too extreme and all meat animals suffer, so why is this worse? It is worse simply due to the torture issue. The ends being the same doesn’t justify the means before the animal meets its end. And this isn’t such a crazy request. Outside of locations in Maine, WFM does not sell live lobster kept in a crowded tank. Why? Simple – they care about the animal’s welfare and feel that the tank life isn’t humane enough for their standards. They said it themselves in 2006 when they made the decision:
…we are not yet sufficiently satisfied that the process of selling live lobsters is in line with our commitment to humane treatment and quality of life for animals…
Hmm…so lobsters live in a crowded tank, and a tank is a large box. Yes, a box. That is, the same word that’s also used to describe the pen a veal calf lives in. Only here, the lobsters aren’t bumping up against the wall of the tank, keeping them from being able to move. I’m not saying they have it good, but they certainly don’t have it worse. And don’t forget that the lobsters lived freely before they were caught and put in a tank. That veal calf was penned from birth and taken from its mother. So if the lobster tank is a bridge too far for Whole Foods, I would suggest the process of raising veal is, too.[tweet_box url=”http://newbodi.es/veal” design=”default”]Sign the #Petition! Tell @WholeFoods not to sell #veal. #DontEatVeal[/tweet_box]
If you’ve felt the same way about veal, or do now that you’ve read this, I’d like to ask you to join me. I’ve setup an online petition, and would ask you to add your voice to help effect change. I don’t call out Whole Foods Market because I don’t like them. I call them out for the opposite reason – I think they mean well and try to do what’s right. I think this is a chance to help them see that their current choices may not fall into that category, so a change is in order.
As John Mackey, co-CEO and founder of WFM says, people vote with their wallets, and they listen. Don’t choose to buy the things you don’t support. Don’t buy veal from Whole Foods (or elsewhere, for that matter), and that will help send the message. But let’s go a step further and actively vote by speaking up and seeing if we get heard.
You can sign the online petition here.