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May 2003
Vegetarian Advocate: A New York Ban on Meat Consumption in the Workplace

By Jack Rosenberger



What are the odds that New York will ban meat consumption in restaurants, bars and workplaces within the next 25 years? None, right?

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 ape meat.”

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: You can read Peter Walsh’s report on his website:, 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.


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