Under what circumstances should a humane organization unnecessarily cause pain or death to an animal?
When it’s dinnertime?
When we feel that not to cause pain and death would be seen as radical?
When we are willing to ignore our mission in order to serve?
…. or never?
~ Montreal SPCA Executive Director Nicholas Gilman
Written by: Heather Clemenceau
The dynamic of personal autonomy, office culture, serving an audience and serving the greater good is complicated. Twenty years ago it would seldom have been a consideration that perhaps serving meat at humane or fundraising events was ethically inconsistent with the goals of the animal protection community. But shelters, rescues and humane animal groups are now re-evaluating the food they serve at fundraisers, adoption events or even volunteer recognition luncheons.
Organizations that want to create or change a food policy are getting help from Animal Place, a California-based farmed animal sanctuary. Through its “Food For Thought” program, Animal Place is awarding $25,000 in grants to animal organizations that implement a vegan policy. The campaign currently has broad support – 200+ endorsers including HSUS, Animal Justice, Piebird Farm Sanctuary, Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and the Vancouver Humane Society.
Per Animal Place’s research, “29% of the humane societies and SPCAs (Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) had a vegetarian-only policy for their sponsored events.” Animal Place also found that when they also considered animal control and similar entities that “the percentage of vegan and vegetarian policy-holding organizations was 18% of the total surveyed.”
The Montreal SPCA’s “Best Practices” for holding successful all-vegan events means that they don’t lend their name to any
humane effort that serves meat. They don’t allow meals to become the focus of any event – no sit-down dinners. Instead they offer the best vegan food prepared by vegan chefs, served buffet-style, tapas, as hors d’euvres and amuse bouche. Free booze helps too, says Executive Director Nicholas Gilman, who has overseen hundreds of SPCA events that did not serve any meat.
Not only humane societies are adopting food policies. As reported in The Washington Post, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit office, decided to implement a new office policy stating that “only vegan food may be eaten in its office,” in an attempt to “practice what they preach.”
What are the advantages of a meatless food policy?
- Align your menu with your mission
- Be truly humane
- Be an example for others
- Operate sustainably
- Offer healthier foods
- Make all supporters feel welcome
- Value animal sentience and intelligence
- Increase awareness
- Stand with other nonprofits
- Reflects your values
- No disconnect between the mission of protecting animals and eating lunch
- No explaining to people why we’re eating one animal in order to raise money to save another
- No one has to be vegan to eat a vegan meal
- Even omnivores are beginning to expect their meals to be both healthy and humane
Implementing vegan or vegetarian food policies are not without risk or controversy either, and it can be difficult to answer tough questions about the meaning of humane and compassionate food choices. There are still disconnects between food to fork across the board, and animal rescue workers aren’t immune; they are consumers, too. How many people laughed at the Jack in the Box’s #Bork (beef and pork) and #Moink (moo and oink) SuperBowl commercial?
Commercials like the above demonstrate how challenging it can be to promote new animal-friendly consumer behaviours. Perhaps that’s why only about 40% of SPCA’s have meat-free policies in place. Groups also feel challenged to:
- Address concerns about public perceptions of vegetarianism and veganism as being “extreme” and that your organization has become “radical”
- Distinguish between institutional change and personal politics
- Facilitate ideological confrontations between certified humane proponents and meat reduction proponents
- Deal with the perception that non-meat based meals means a bowl of carrots and a few sticks of celery
The British Columbia SPCA (who acknowledge that their leadership team are not even vegetarian) has not implemented a vegan food policy. They have surveyed their community to determine what their current dietary choices are and have decided instead to instead encourage increased uptake of “humanely” raised farm animal products by British Columbian consumers through leadership in the BC SPCA’s own purchasing practices, which includes SPCA certified foods, certified organic, free-range meat, cage-free eggs, and pasture raised dairy products.
Whether “humane” or not, livestock production is a major contributor to land/soil degeneration, climate change, water consumption and other environmentally destructive activities. This is why in 2010, a report released by the United Nations Environment Program encouraged a global shift to a more plant-based diet in order to combat the environmental effects of consuming animal products. Animal rescue and humane organizations often play a pivotal role, and it’s time for every humane, health-oriented, and climate change advocacy group to adopt a food policy that fits their values and mission. We shouldn’t be lagging messengers for this.
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