What are the odds that New York will ban meat consumption
in restaurants, bars and workplaces within the next 25 years? None,
Maybe not. Twenty-five years ago the idea that New York would ban smoking
in restaurants, bars and workplaces was laughable. (In fact, one legislator’s
response to the legislator who proposed the statewide ban back then,
well, was to blow smoke in his face.) Yet, earlier this year New York
passed a strict ban on smoking in nearly every restaurant, bar and workplace
in the state. With this legislation, New York becomes the third state
in the nation—after California and Delaware—to pass legislation
banning smoking in such venues.
Governor George Pataki signed the bill because “he believes a
statewide ban on smoking in the workplace will lead to a healthier New
York and reduce the cost of healthcare,” says Lisa Dewald Stoll,
his press secretary. Would a statewide ban on meat consumption in the
workplace also improve the health of New Yorkers and reduce health costs?
Of course, one of the chief reasons New York enacted the statewide ban
is due to the health dangers of secondhand smoke. Meat consumption is
different in this respect, but it has significant environmental dangers
that cigarettes don’t, such as large-scale pollution of air and
water, greater use of energy, water and other natural resources, and
so on. As eating meat is increasingly recognized as an environmentally
devastating act, its appeal will continue to erode.
Meanwhile, it’s up to vegetarians like you and me to, as animal
activist Henry Spira liked to say, push the peanut forward. We need
to educate family, friends, and enemies about the health disadvantages
of carnivorism (Did somebody say heart disease? Cancer? Obesity?) and
the advantages of vegetarianism. Today, a statewide ban on meat consumption
seems like an impossible dream, but what we are trying to achieve is
something that could happen in a distant tomorrow.
If you believe in great dreams, if you believe your life has a noble
purpose, pick up a copy of Peter Singer’s biography of Henry Spira,
Ethics Into Action (Rowman & Littlefield), and revel in what Henry
accomplished for the animals during his lifetime. With a lot of hard
work and a little luck, you can do the same.
The Blame-a-Carnivore Game
When I’m in a silly mood, which is often, I like to blame carnivores
for, well, almost everything. That said, I am continually amazed (translation:
slow learner) by carnivores’ intellectual myopia. Case in point
is the recent spate of news articles on how the Ebola virus and hunting
is devastating the wild ape populations in western Africa. A report
by Peter D. Walsh of Princeton University, published by the journal
Nature, estimates that ape populations in Gabon and the Democratic Republic
of Congo, which is home to 80 percent of the world’s wild gorillas
and most of the common chimpanzees, declined by more than half from
1983 to 2000. The main cause of the apes’ decline was meat consumption.
Surprisingly, however, the Ebola virus now rivals bushmeat as a major
killer of apes, having wiped out 90 percent of a rural population that
had previously had no contact with hunters. Walsh believes that if “something
isn’t done now, gorillas and chimpanzees will be effectively extinct
from western equatorial Africa within the next 10 years.”
If I told Zoe, my seven-year-old daughter, during dinner tonight that
gorillas and chimpanzees, some of our closest nonhuman relatives, seem
doomed for extinction because humans like to eat them, an expression
of amazement mixed with doubt would appear on her face. Then she’d
say, “Dad, you’re joking, right?”
Poachers kill the animals for their flesh, which is sold in food markets
in villages and towns, and to the employees of logging companies that
are rapidly deforesting the apes’ homelands. Of course, hunting,
particularly for meat consumption, has been one of the chief reasons
why animal species go extinct, but this is rarely discussed by carnivores.
Commercial poachers who hunt apes and chimpanzees to sell as bushmeat
in urban areas may also create a potential health threat, says Richard
Ruggiero, African program officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s a very dangerous situation in terms of global health,”
he says. “I don’t think there’s a city in the world
with a West African immigrant population that doesn’t receive
Since bushmeat hunting is illegal in the Democratic Republic of Congo
and Gabon, the most effective solution to the poaching of apes is increased
law enforcement. You can get involved by contacting the Bushmeat Crisis
Task Force, which works to eliminate commercial trade in ape meat: www.bushmeat.org.
You can read Peter Walsh’s report on his website: www.ApeEbolaCrisis.org,
which has links to lots of active groups. Finally, if you can stomach
it, the new book Eating Apes by Dale Peterson (University of
California Press) examines this horrid issue in depth.