Any patient who sees me in my clinic knows that I am an advocate for plant-based eating. I’m not a fanatical meat shamer, nor do I require everyone to sign a vegan consent form made on recycled paper. However, I frequently share my opinions about plant-based diets.
Many people ask me about my motivations for shifting closer to a plant-based diet. I typically share a variety of reasons—research studies, personal experiences, environmental concerns, etc. But, I rarely delve into animal abuse and welfare.
I care about animals and wholeheartedly endorse their humane treatment. However, animal well-being is not the first thing I mention when I’m talking to someone about dietary strategies for managing high blood pressure. My perspective abruptly changed after watching an undercover video documenting unethical treatment of cows at Fair Oaks Farm, a supplier for Fairlife Milk.
Watching that video is painful.
It tapped into emotions I felt when watching Eyes on the Prize or seeing news clips of immigrants locked up in cages on the Southern Border.
Of course, injustice towards people is not the same as injustice towards animals. I’m not advocating that we all take PETA’s tone-deaf, speciesism approach:
Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations. pic.twitter.com/o67EbBA7H4— PETA (@peta) December 4, 2018
Nonetheless, the actions depicted in the video are unnecessary and undeniably evil. Plus, the video clearly depicts suffering. Failing to recognize the absurdity of the abuse at Fair Oaks Farm reminds of MLK’s classic quote regarding injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Hence, I paused when a patient asked me about Fairlife Milk.
Before seeing this video, I routinely recommended Fairlife Milk to lactose intolerant patients who were not interested in trying non-dairy milk.
What’s not to love about Fairlife? It’s lactose-free, high in protein, and its headquarters is in Chicago. Despite these positive aspects, I can no longer reflexively recommend Fairlife Milk after seeing this video. It seems like supermarkets are coming to a similar conclusion.
Stores like Jewel-Osco and Tony’s Fresh Market are taking Fairlife off their shelves.
Since the video has gone public, Fairlife issued this statement.
It’s somewhat reassuring that Fair Oaks Farm was only one of Fairlife’s suppliers. However, Fairlife clearly wasn’t evaluating their suppliers thoroughly. I wonder about what’s happening on the farms of their other suppliers? I also wonder if people care about animal welfare in the food supply in general.
A recent study suggests that 46% of people are at least somewhat concerned about the welfare of the animals we eat.
In 2014, researchers published an article in the Journal of Animal Science that highlighted the opinions of 798 people regarding animal welfare and food. The researchers also sought to understand the effects of demographics on these opinions.
In the study, 46% of people were concerned about animal welfare as it relates to food. Women and Democrats were significantly more concerned than men and Republicans, respectively. Interestingly, dog and cat owners were also more concerned about animal welfare than non-owners.
The findings of the research study do not suggest anything about perspectives on human welfare. However, it makes me wonder about the effects of demographics and life experiences on how we view injustice towards people other than ourselves.
What’s the bottom line?
- Fair Oaks Farm has an issue with animal abuse. I don’t think we should ignore it.
- Fair Life Milk bears some accountability for the abuse on Fair Oaks Farm.
- Be aware of what happens to our food before we eat it.
- Check out the Animal Welfare Institute’s guide to food labels and animal welfare.
- Take time to reflect on MLK’s quote regarding injustice.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.