A few weeks ago, an undercover investigation was released showing egregious neglect and abuse of pigs by a farm supplying pig meat to the grocery chain Whole Foods. The investigator found regularly overcrowded conditions, workers abusing pigs directly, and filthy living conditions (contrary to popular belief, pigs prefer to stay clean) for the animals on the farm.
As audiovisual technology becomes more accessible to the masses, undercover investigations of factory farms are becoming more and more commonplace by animal rights and animal welfare groups, especially as the demand from consumers to have “humane” and “eco-friendly” products rises. The shocking thing about this particular investigation for many was the fact that the subject, Sweet Stem Farm in Pennsylvania, was identified as a “Step 2” supplier by Whole Foods.
If you’re not familiar with how Whole Foods brands their meat, they have a system they’re very proud of called “5 Step“, which allegedly places certain expectations and demands on farms that wish to supply Whole Foods. The system is multi-tiered but the gist of it is that animals on one of these “Step 2” farms are supposed to have conditions that are spacious, clean, and even (if you can believe it) entertaining for animals. As if this weren’t embarrassing enough for Whole Foods, their only response so far has been denying that any abuse or violations of their Step 2 code was found. They say that because animal rights activists took the footage, it is doctored with the intention of spreading the mission of animal abolition. While I have no doubt that the intention of these investigations is the abolition of animals from factory farms like Sweet Stem, the undercover footage speaks for itself. Whole Foods’ response speaks further. Once again we find an industry refusing to hold it’s accountable to it’s own “standards.”
This whole situation is an excellent example of the fraudulence of green capitalism. Green capitalism generally supposes that nature is a resource for profit that needs to be cared for, or none of this profit-making resource will be left. It puts forth the idea that supporting the reduction of harm to the environment and animals is only possible through the “responsible” taking of those resources. After all, only big industry could possibly have the means necessary to save the planet, right?
Green capitalism on the ground level relies on the emotions and good intentions of consumers to sell. It says “my product is so much safer for the planet than that other guy’s, so buy mine instead.” A great example is the businessperson who buys a brand new car every single year because every new model claims to have greater fuel efficiency and a higher reduction of emissions. Regardless of those factors the result is the same: someone who doesn’t need a new car every year buys a new car every year. More cars get put into the system and the demands for them increase with the industry intention of pulling people away from public transportation. In the supposed “greening” of the meat industry, the same thing occurs. The industry plays on the compassion of consumers who are willing to pay extra bucks for thinking that they’re not supporting cruelty while they shop. Sweet Stem provides an example of why this is often found to be a lie, but even if the investigation turned out to meet Whole Foods’ standards, the result is the same: animals living a life in the interest of a major corporation’s profits who are all killed at the end of the day to satisfy a desire for their bodies to become food. Animals lose their lives, humans are lied to about the process, and the corporation goes home with a cleaner brand image and fatter pockets. It’s clear to see who the winners are. Hint: It’s not people or animals.
How does this relate to paganism? Well, I think the major takeaway is that we’re easy targets for green fraud. A lot of us have an interest in helping the planet (which I say in the most generalized sense) and make it a point to explore actions that support that. Whether those actions are actually effective varies dramatically, but I’m sure you can see my point. We want to care.
This is where personal accountability comes in. The first lesson is learning that industry doesn’t care about you. Farms can’t care about animals when they are seen as property. Developers can’t care about the mountain when they see it as a front yard for condos. Men can’t care about women when they see their bodies as commodities to exploit. True care, I argue, must come from a regard for the internal value of that animal, that mountain, that person. As a witch who is also a polytheist in my religious life, I attempt to care about my gods (whether they’re concerned with that care or not) by treating their individual existence as valuable and worthy of praise. They stand on their own. I hope that my actions, ethics, and devotions can mirror that.
In a conversation many years ago, Druid author and priestess Emma Restall-Orr told me her thoughts on animals:
“My feeling is that it is all too easy to feel empathy with nonhuman animals in a sentimental way, and sentimentality is a very poor basis for ethical decisions … In truth, I don’t particularly like animals, or no more than I like trees, stars, rivers, pebbles: I respect their nature. A sound ethical basis, I think, has to be based upon honour, not sentiment. If Paganism is a nature-reverencing religion (and for the majority in Britain it is), then we need to live in a way which does honour nature.”
Green capitalism is insidious because it presents itself as honorable, although that honor stops where the dollar does. When we walk down a supermarket isle and see packaging that claims something is “eco-friendly”, it is not out of a sense of honor. It is based on playing off the sentimental sway of the consumer. How likely is a product to be honorable when it’s worth is based off it’s ability to fly off the shelf with speed?
I’m not here (today) to ask you to become a vegan like me, or to ask you to sell your car. Instead, I will challenge us all, including myself, to see past the the allure of industries that present themselves as eco, humane, or otherwise planet-friendly. As we say in the 2nd degree work within my coven, anything wrapped in assurances is worth another peak under the hood. Or perhaps more eloquently and classically stated: all that glitters is not gold.
David is a queer vegan witch and student of Feri based in Washington DC. His activism places a strong focus on animal rights (personally) and LGBTQ progress (professionally). He is author of two books: The Deep Heart of Witchcraft and Teen Spirit Wicca.