So Where Does This Guy Stand on Animal Rights Anyway?

I'm confused. I read a commentary in the NY Times Op-Ed section tonight and I really don't get what side the author is supposedly arguing. Nicholas Kristof starts off by saying:

In a world in which animal rights are gaining ground, barbecue season should make me feel guilty. My hunch is that in a century or two, our descendants will look back on our factory farms with uncomprehending revulsion. But in the meantime, I love a good burger.

Then Kirstof briefly mentions the animal rights referendum on the slate this November here in California, Proposition 2 (which would prohibit confining farm animals in such a manner that they are unable to turn around or extend their limbs). After which he waxes poetic about the geese his family raised when he was a child.

Perhaps it seems like soggy sentimentality as well as hypocrisy to stand up for animal rights, particularly when I enjoy dining on these same animals. But my view was shaped by those days in the barn as a kid, scrambling after geese I gradually came to admire.

So I’ll enjoy the barbecues this summer, but I’ll also know that every hamburger patty has a back story, and that every tin of goose liver pâté could tell its own rich tale of love and loyalty.

I'm sorry, is he claiming to argue for animal rights? Apparently his geese didn't have that much of an effect if he's eating goose liver pate. (Foie Gras is considered to be one of the most inhumanely processed foods.)

At least he acknowledges his hypocrisy. But I don't understand where in the article Kristoff actually stands up for animal rights. He doesn't go into any detail on Proposition 2 -- the closest he comes is this:

So, yes, I eat meat (even, hesitantly, goose). But I draw the line at animals being raised in cruel conditions. The law punishes teenage boys who tie up and abuse a stray cat. So why allow industrialists to run factory farms that keep pigs almost all their lives in tiny pens that are barely bigger than they are?

Defining what is cruel is, of course, extraordinarily difficult. But penning pigs or veal calves so tightly that they cannot turn around seems to cross that line.

So where, exactly, does Kristof think his meat is coming from? When he goes out, does he dine exclusively on grass-fed beef that is humanely slaughtered by the farmer, and not shipped off to a slaughterhouse? Or does he think that because "Burger King announced last year that it would give preference to suppliers that treat animals better," that means that all hamburgers are produced in a humane manner?

As for defining cruelty, I don't think it's too difficult to define the production of foie gras as cruel. I'm not alone either. According to Wikipedia:

The force feeding of animals for non-medical purposes, essential to current foie gras production practices, is explicitly prohibited by specific laws in six of nine Austrian provinces, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, or following interpretation of general animal protection laws in Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But I did learn one interesting tidbit. Apparently Harvard Law is offering a course on animal rights. That bodes well for the future of animal rights.


  1. It also sounds like he’s conflating “rights” with “welfare” (with an unhealthy dose of “burying your head in the sand” for extra-poor measure).

  2. Hi Kate,
    Unfortunately, I think he has decided… I think he’s a meat eater. I think, in this society anyway, it’s very easy to be a meat eating animal lover, because we are so sheltered from the process of how our meat gets to our plates.

    Hi Kelly,
    Agreed. But then again, I’ve been known to bury my head in the sand on occasion. 😉

  3. Ack, it always frustrates me to read things like that. It’s unfortunate when people SEE that animals really do have their own stories and feelings and ‘rich tales of love and loyalty’… but refuse to simply go vegan. I doubt he actually makes a huge effort to only eat ‘happy meat’.

  4. When I read that article I was really annoyed for a few days but then I decided that maybe people would notice how illogical and ridiculous that guy is and then they would stop being illogical and ridiculous…

  5. I’m glad you blogged on this topic as I had similar thoughts about the inconsistency of Kirstof’s article. This is an example of what Gary Francione ( calls ‘the schizophrenic ‘ relationship most people have with animals. It’s sad really, and made worse in this case by the fact that he has personally experienced the intelligence and emotional lives of animals but gladly continues to eat them. It’s mad.

  6. I see Kristoff’s inconsistencies not so much as “schizophrenia,” which is a mental defect, but:

    – Denial, to avoid cognitive dissonance

    – Defense of a deeply vested habit

    – The fact that consuming the flesh and secretions of easily domesticated, generally non-companion animals is so accepted in society

    – An evolving concern about animals’ interests, and a welcome but still fairly shallow willingness to question his attitudes and behaviors re: consuming animal products.

  7. Hi Peggy,
    Yes, I find it frustrating too, that there could be such a disconnect. But I think it takes a while to actually “see” the barbarism we’re perpetuating.
    As for eating “happy meat,” regardless of his efforts, it’s not really all that practical. If the animals truly made an impression, eating vegan is the way to go. (But I’m preaching to the choir, eh?)

    Interesting point. And I wish it were the case, but do you really think people will see him as being illogical and ridiculous if they’re engaging in the same behavior? Because most of us have experience with pets…

    Hi Antonio,
    Thanks for sharing, I haven’t read anything by Francione yet. Kristof appears very inconsistent to me. His defense of meat eating makes no sense in the context of his article. On the other hand, I have seen people compartmentalize things which then allows them to behave inconsistently.

    Hi Gary,
    It is certainly easy to be blind to the inconsistencies of things you like that conflict with your belief system (my thoughts of eating pizza again). I agree with all four of your comments. I think defense of a deeply vested habit may be the thing that is hardest for most people to overcome. Although justifying “want” is also up there… 😉

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