DENVER, WASHINGTON D.C.––Co-sponsored by the Humane Society of the U.S., The Hoofin’ It culinary tour in Denver attracted fewer than 400 participants during four days in August 2014.
The controversy it stirred had by mid-September 2014 raged for more than four weeks, attracting in excess of 1,000 blog posts.
Explained Denver Eater blogger Andra Zeppelin, “Hoofin’ It, brainchild of chef Jensen Cummings, brought together diners, chefs, and ranchers, focused on one hoofed animal each evening: bison, sheep, cow, and pig. Four restaurants in each of four neighborhoods prepared one course each and hosted the touring group for a taste and discussion. Guests walked from place to place, a rancher was the guest of honor, and the sponsors of the events included Imbibe Denver, Heroes Like Us, the Mile High Business Alliance, and HSUS.”
Said Cummings, “As restaurant owners we are committed to serving food that’s responsibly sourced from humane ranchers.”
Observed Zeppelin, “The organizers of Hoofin’ It happily hitched their wagons to the meat industry’s newest marketing buzzwords: ‘humane meat.’ But as PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk explains, ‘There is nothing humane about the flesh of animals who have had one or two or perhaps three improvements made in their absolutely singularly rotten lives.”
Go Vegan Radio
Hoofin’ It emerged into national view on August 13 through an extensive denunciation by Go Vegan Radio host Bob Linden. Linden seized the opportunity to amplify allegations made earlier when he circulated a petition demanding that the Farm Animal Rights Movement exclude HSUS from participation in the AR 2012 animal rights conference, part of a series hosted by FARM since 1981.
Charged Linden on both occasions, with minor variation in phrasing, “The Humane Society of the United States is a subsidiary of the meat industry, partnering with the United Egg Producers, the Nebraska Farmers Union, and Wolfgang Puck to sell animal flesh and animal products, and even has a pig farmer [Joe Maxwell] as its director of rural outreach and development. HSUS is anti-vegan and pro-slaughter.”
HSUS food policy
In truth, HSUS has since January 1, 2005 had a written policy requiring that “At HSUS internal events where food is served and to which staff and/or guests have been invited to participate, HSUS will purchase vegan fare and we will strive to have organic products. External events under the control of HSUS should also provide for the purchase of all non-animal products. If this is not possible,” the HSUS food policy allows, “events should be vegetarian––no meat (including fish and shellfish). For events sponsored by HSUS with other organizations, strong efforts should be made to serve all vegan or vegetarian food. Partnering organizations are to be informed that vegan options should be available and that they are preferred.”
Affirmed HSUS president Wayne Pacelle in August 2012, “All of our events are vegan. There are outside events of which we may be part where we don’t dictate the food choices.”
The latter provision allowed HSUS some philosophical wiggle room in co-sponsoring Hoofin’ It, but many animal advocates were unpersuaded by the form letter that HSUS initially distributed in response to e-mails, calls, and letters of complaint.
“Our farm animal efforts are two-pronged: reduce the number of animals being raised and killed, and reduce the suffering of animals who are being raised and killed,” the letter began. “While the meat industry’s leadership reviles HSUS, there are also farmers and ranchers who agree with us on gestation crates and other aspects of industrialized agriculture. They’re a powerful voice in our campaign to end unacceptable and particularly inhumane practices. We need the public’s support to pass these laws, and it’s a potent statement to have farmers assert that they oppose gestation crates (and other factory farming practices). We’ve always believe that politics is about addition and not subtraction, and some of the most powerful allies are people that some may think are unlikely allies. That’s why we do outreach to small farmers on factory farming issues. This event [Hoofin’ It], sponsored in connection with our Colorado Agriculture Council, is part of our growing work with farmers and ranchers to fight inhumane practices such as gestation crates and tail docking.
“We support farmers and ranchers who give proper care to their animals,” the HSUS form letter continued, “and act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion to sentient creatures under their control, and practice and promote humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We also sponsor VegFests along with other vegan and vegetarian events around the country. HSUS takes a big tent approach to combat factory farming and both our employees and our supporters consist of those who choose to eat meat and those who choose to be vegan or vegetarian.”
VINE sanctuary co-director Pattrice Jones at her web site hosted perhaps the most thorough consideration of the issues raised by HSUS participation in Hoofin’ It, beginning with her own “Open Letter to HSUS Staff Members,” posted on August 17, 2014.
“HSUS sponsorship of projects such as the festival of animal-eating in Denver helps to expand the market for so-called ‘humane’ animal products,” Jones wrote. “The purveyors of such products need no such help. We are in the grip of a maddening fad wherein even people who have previously eschewed animal products gladly fork over premium prices for the pleasure of consuming animal products while feeling righteous about doing so.
“HSUS management may believe that the struggle against factory farming must include active support for its alternative,” Jones continued. “That is true, and animal advocates have been remiss in not mounting stronger efforts to promote ethical, ecological, and economically equitable agriculture policies and practices. But the alternative to factory farming is not small-scale meat, dairy, and egg production. The alternative to factory farming is large-scale organic farming of fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and grains for human consumption. Similarly, the alternative to small-scale meat, dairy, and egg production is small-scale organic cropping of fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
“HSUS management seems to be concerned not to seem anti-farmer,” Jones observed. “If that is part of the reason for promoting such obscenities as small-scale pig farming, it’s not working! HSUS continues to be considered an enemy by animal exploiters who claim to be speaking on behalf of farmers. Again, the remedy is active support for the real farmers who are feeding the world by growing fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and grains for human consumption. They—and not pig farmers—are the ones who feed us. Those who do so sustainably and equitably deserve our vociferous support.
“HSUS has come under attack from powerful animal exploiting industries,” Jones acknowledged, “specifically because of the strength of its work in areas like undercover investigations. Pork producers, puppy mill operators, the circus industry––all have run television ads accusing HSUS by name of being an extremist animal rights organization that only pretends to care about dogs and cats. I can understand why staff or board charged with maintaining the organization might fear losing its base of member/donors,” many of whom are neither vegetarians nor vegans. “But there are smarter and more effective ways to respond,” Jones concluded, “than by duplicitously promoting Meatless Mondays with one hand and promoting Monday lamb dinners on the other.”
Forel, Anderson, & Dawn
Agreed New York City activist Elizabeth Forel, seeming to succinctly speak for most respondents, “I know that HSUS is not a vegan organization, but what they should have done––something that would have been respectful to the vegetarians and vegans in their own organization and many of their donors and board members––is to not get involved with this event.”
Offered Will Anderson, author of This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology [see review at http://wp.me/p4pKmM-yp], “Please understand that this is not about Hoofin’ It. It is about a fundamental divide within the movement regarding strategies and beliefs. HSUS, like other aged institutions, were founded in an era of welfarism, a link in the history to where we are today. They and their donors were dog and cat-oriented, [and oriented toward] child welfare before that. HSUS and similar organizations are not abolitionist nor vegan in practice. Those organizations are, however, becoming adept at creating new, more profitable market niches for animal agriculturalists and their offal.”
Conceded DawnWatch blogger Karen Dawn, “Nobody has been more effective in fighting the ag-gag laws than HSUS, and little is more valuable to our movement than the undercover video that the ag-gag laws are trying to prevent. HSUS success at fighting ag-gag laws has come from their partnership with farmers. It was that relationship, their ability to persuade farmers rather than vegans to testify against ag-gags, that has made the difference. Having now thought all that through, I feel less sure about criticizing HSUS for their coziness with the ‘humane meat’ farmers, because I see the need for some activism that employs distasteful means for an important end.”
However, Dawn added, “Sponsorship feels to me like it is going too far. I am not comfortable with it, but I don’t think my comfort is what matters most.
Responded HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, a vegan since 1988, who introduced the HSUS policy six months after his ascent to the presidency, “We respect their views and want to address their concerns. We heard from more than a small number of supporters,” Pacelle acknowledged, “that the event––and our sponsorship––made them queasy. Indeed, I think they are right that the very name Hoofin’ It sounded disrespectful to the animals, and that alone raised alarm bells with caring people.
“We get that not everyone is going to be comfortable with all of our approaches to fighting factory farming,” Pacelle said, “and we’ll be mindful of getting involved with events that drive our end goals of reducing suffering and driving consumers to make more conscious eating choices. But we are asking everybody to stretch––corporations, consumers, lawmakers, farmers, and even our supporters and colleagues within the animal protection movement. The kind of change we are seeking won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen if we all head down the same path. We are investing in and promoting plant-based foods so that people have good vegan and vegetarian choices in the marketplace to reduce or replace their meat consumption, and we also want real options supplied by real farmers for people who eat meat and want products that don’t come from abusive factory farms.”
Nestle agrees to reforms
Ironically the ongoing Hoofin’ It controversy overshadowed Pacelle’s announcement on August 21, 2014 that Nestlé, the world’s largest food production company, had agreed “following dialogue with HSUS, Mercy For Animals and World Animal Protection, to “cleanse its supply chain of calves in veal crates, sows in gestation crates, and egg-laying chickens in cages, the forced rapid growth of chickens used for meat products, and the harsh cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers.
“Bundling all of these reforms together,” Pacelle said, “this announcement marks the most comprehensive and ambitious animal welfare program by a global food retailer to date. Nestlé is also promoting the global Meatless Monday movement,” Pacelle added, “via on-package messaging on Lean Cuisine products.”