Be A Humanimal: Interview with CTP 205 Students Maggie Callahan and Nate Marcus
Two Natural Gourmet students Maggie Callahan and Nate Marcus have coined the term “Humanimal” and are watching it take off. With other members of their class they formed HumaneWeek.org which sponsors the 0% To Factory Farms Pledge, asking consumers to choose humanely raised animal products for a whole week. Their first campaign is Humane Week NYC which runs from January 16 – 22.
What is Humane Week?
Humane Week is a call to action for consumers to stop supporting factory farms. Animals living on factory farms suffer from severe mistreatment.
We started Humane Week to encourage people to think about their choices. Our goal is help participants navigate the market aisles and understand the tricky labels so that they can make an impact by supporting family farms for a whole week.
What is a Humanimal?
We love the definition of “humane” which is characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed. A “Humanimal” is one who always makes the most humane choice.
What are the goals of Humane Week?
Humane Week is a way to spread awareness about the cruelty of factory farming, and to make humanely raised meat, dairy and eggs the rule, not the exception.
When we created the organization, we wanted to educate everyone about how terrible factory farming is, but focus more on how bright the future could be when it’s a thing of the past. We wanted our message to be positive and optimistic – one where no one feels alienated. There were no examples of campaigns that brought everyone under the same umbrella – vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores – to fight for smaller farms and the better treatment of animals. There is more strength in numbers. So we decided to create the campaign we wanted to be a part of.
Right now a lot of people don’t think about where meat comes from, and that’s because they wouldn’t want to. Factory farms are secretive for a reason. Factory farming is “institutionalized animal cruelty,” according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. These animals don’t have enough space to move or turn around, see the light of day, breathe fresh air, and can’t experience natural behaviors, like socialization. It’s all about the bottom line. High output, lower costs. And these conditions are the norm. In the U.S., factory farming accounts for more than 99 percent of all animals raised for slaughter. Factory farms have the ability to close down family farms, influence law makers and policy, all because they are so wealthy – because we buy their products.
At the same time, family farms find it hard to compete. Their products are humane and much higher quality, but more expensive. This pledge isn’t without an impact on your wallet. It costs more to raise an animal humanely. But we believe that is the responsibility that comes with eating animal products.
So Humane Week is about addressing all of it – the demand, the infrastructure – asking people to redirect money normally going to factory farming and to support instead a small but growing network of family farms.
Did the idea come about while at the Natural Gourmet Institute?
Yes! The Natural Gourmet has been a real inspiration to us. Chef Jay Weinstein, author of The Ethical Gourmet, taught our animal protein classes and endorsed humanely treated animal products. To think that the Natural Gourmet has been doing this for years— the school is a real pioneer. So it got the conversation started and from there, we created Humane Week.
Are you planning on expanding beyond NYC?
Definitely! At first, we thought to launch a national campaign. But we realized we would have greater results by going more grassroots. We want to empower other people – vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores – to bring Humane Week to their cities. We are making it easy to get started. Someone picks a week and forms a committee, and then everyone works to get the word out. They can provide their own newsletters and local information. Grassroots is the way to go.
Our goal is by the end of 2012 to see 52 Humane Weeks up and running – one for every week of the year.
What about eating in restaurants?
Yes, the pledge definitely includes eating in restaurants. We have volunteers who are calling restaurants in NYC to find out where they source their animal products. Even if a restaurant doesn’t carry humane food products, the inquiries are a great wake-up call. Many restaurants may never have gotten a call bringing this issue to their attention.
We are compiling all of our findings on our website in the link “What To Buy & Eat.” The recommendations are separated by omnivore, vegetarian and vegan titles. The idea is to feel great about eating at any of these establishments. Not only are people withdrawing support from factory farms this week, but they get to support forward-thinking farms and businesses.
How do you differentiate between humane and inhumane practices?
Great question. Actually, that one doesn’t have a definitive answer. Ask different people and you’ll get a different opinion. Ask the factory farming industry and you’ll get a shockingly narrower definition. There isn’t one definition, and as far as we can tell, we’re breaking real ground with our campaign by introducing “Humane” as a criteria for restaurants.
Unfortunately, a lot of labels are misleading. Is it enough that a product is labeled “organic”? Organic means the animal eats organic food and is not injected with antibiotics and hormones. However it might not ensure outdoor space or the ability to engage in natural behaviors. “Free-range” is another misguiding label. It only means animals have access to outdoor space, which in practice might mean a very small patch for a huge amount of chickens, which in reality is no outdoor space at all. “Cage free” is another one. These chickens usually have had their beaks and claws removed to live out of a cage and in close proximity to other birds.
Then there are different “humane” labels. There is a very real difference between them. This is what we are researching and trying to make available to the consumer.
Humane is something consumers have to decide for themselves, but we all have intuitive gauges when it comes to what is humane and what isn’t. Our goal is to give out information so consumers can vote with their dollars for the practices that they believe are humane.
We hope to see 5,000 people take the pledge. We definitely think we’ll be even more inspired by all the Humanimals that are out there.
What are your next steps?
There are many pieces that we have to put together, and we are so grateful for all of the support that we’ve already gotten. We are looking for donations so we can create promotional materials for restaurants. Advertisements, commercials, celebrities, the morning shows – anything is possible.
By signing up for the pledge, you will get a newsletter detailing where to go to get humanely treated animal products in the city.
To take the NYC pledge: visit http://www.HumaneWeek.org and click on “Take The Pledge!!” on the links at the top.