Lecturing to a mostly sympathetic audience, Paul Shapiro
delivered a controversial and heated message yesterday: conscious
consumers should reject meat and egg products, which are created in
an atmosphere of suffering and economic waste.
“From our very childhood we create these myths to help us
feel better about eating these products,” Shapiro, campaigns
manager for the animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing said,
in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union last night.
He mentioned the “Old MacDonald” stereotype of happy
farm animals and a caring farmer. “We conjure up these images
of happy hens laying eggs for us.”
But Shapiro said the egg industry is the most inhumane of the
agribusiness industry. “These birds have every natural
instinct frustrated. They can’t flap their wings, they
can’t dust bathe or forage,” he said, adding that
egg-laying hens are kept in tiny cages and suffer intense
“If it was strictly about humane considerations, I would
eat a steak over an omelet any day,” he added.
However, United Egg says in their online Egg Nutrition Center
that eggs provide nutritional contributions to the diet and are
affordable and convenient sources of food for many Americans.
Shapiro also condemned the dairy cow industry. “We are the
only species that not only never weans itself but drinks milk from
another species,” he said. “It’s hard to think of
anything more unnatural than drinking mother’s milk from
another species,” he said.
Milk is considered by many, including the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, to be “nutritionally irreplaceable” in
terms of calcium and fat, especially for development in
For people who think choosing fish for dinner is more humane,
Shapiro emphasized that aquatic creatures are able to feel pain.
“By choosing fish we’re not choosing any more ethical
of an option than chicken or pigs or cows,” he said.
Shapiro also addressed the issue of economic waste caused by the
meat and egg industry, saying that a cow must be given 16 pounds of
grain to produce one pound of beef. “None of us would leave
the water on when we brush our teeth or throw away 20 plates of
pasta,” he said, “But when we eat meat that’s the
Roughly 70 percent of grain and 50 percent of water consumed in
the United States are used by the meat industry, according to the
Audubon Society, a conservation organization.
Shapiro’s lecture was titled “Ethical Food Choices
in an Age of Agribusiness” and sponsored by the Michigan
Animal Rights Society. The society is a University student group
that provides information about vegetarianism and veganism,
volunteers at the humane society and farm animal sanctuary and
holds campaigns to raise awareness for animal-related issues.
In contrast to Shapiro’s opinions, the Center for Consumer
Freedom says the animal liberation movement does not seek to
improve animals’ lives and wants to place unnecessary
restrictions on ordinary people.
The event included a graphic video of slaughterhouse procedures
titled “Meet Your Meat” and narrated by Alec Baldwin.
Shapiro said these images are repellent to us but represent the
daily suffering of animals in so-called “factory
LSA senior and MARS member Zahrah Kahn said the event brings
realism to day-to-day food choices. “I think in a lot of
situations people are not aware of what goes on behind the walls of
the slaughterhouse,” she said.
Kahn said she decided to become a vegetarian in her freshman
year of high school, when her class visited a slaughterhouse. After
the experience, she was unable to eat meat. “It didn’t
take a lot to change me,” she admitted.
After exploring the realities of animal agriculture, Shapiro
addressed the topic of how individuals could make a change. He
admits to being “the anti-Christ” to vegetarians in his
teen years, enjoying foods like pork chops and Popeye’s
chicken. When he saw a video of a pig being killed in a
slaughterhouse, Shapiro’s attitudes changed.
“I had this little awakening and realized animals care
about their lives,” Shapiro recalls. “I thought to
myself, ‘What type of person do I want to be?’
“Being a vegetarian or vegan is a way to make the world a
better, kinder, gentler place for both humans and
non-humans,” Shapiro concluded.
MARS member Bernie Fischlowitz-Roberts, a student at the Gerald
R. Ford School of Public Policy, discounted the stereotype of
vegans as unhealthy eaters. “A lot of people think if they
eat a vegan diet they will be somehow deficient,” he said.
“But in America diseases of excess are the
He also said vegans, who base their diet upon whole grains,
legumes, fruits and vegetables, have a significantly lower
incidence of heart disease than non-vegans. “I like my
chances as a vegan.”
LSA sophomore Alex Dimitrov said he attended the event to learn
more about food choices and the reality of the animal industry.
“I want to know how I could be eating more progressively, he
said. “I think (vegetarian eating) is better for the global
community as a whole.”