By Bryce Jackson | Vermont
I love animals and I hate subsidies (as well as other taxpayer-funded entitlements). So in this, my debut for the glorious 71 Republic, I am tackling both, as well as the group (or at least the most vocal part of that group) that played on my emotions for a year while I lived among them as one of their own. That group, of course, is vegans!
The un-empathetic in this group would tell you that there is nothing from an animal that you cannot get from plants, which is sort of true… we will get to that in a second. This is, of course, is in the nutritional sense, and doesn’t account for the need for leather goods, though I am man enough to concede that there are better materials than leather at this point in time. They will show you videos of abuses at the largest of America’s mega-farms that I can only describe as horrendous and blood-curdling. They are difficult to watch. And while some are genuinely edited so as to be taken out of context, the evidence is clear that there is a clear lack of accountability and care for the well-being of these creatures.
For the record: most humans only need to consume about 50 grams of protein a day. It doesn’t have to be consumed all in one meal either. Americans (and much of Western culture) consume way more meat than is needed. I am not saying you shouldn’t eat whatever you want. These are just basic facts about human diet and metabolism. Vitamin B12, on the other hand, is best found in animal sources but can still be obtained via other methods. (Generally, this is as a supplement.)
So after detailing all of that, why would I then refer to some vegans as lacking empathy? Well, it’s simple really: they are playing on the emotions of people who very often have little choice but to eat animal products. It harkens back to a day shortly after the suicide of celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain. I was reading his Wikipedia article (no, I didn’t use Wikipedia for research… stay with me) when I came upon a little factoid that I had not previously known.
Mr. Bourdain was an immense critic of vegetarians and vegans. This was common knowledge for his fans apparently, though I don’t watch a lot of television anymore and had missed this. He was quoted as saying that “vegetarianism is an American luxury”. As someone who is currently in the “starving artist” phase of his writing career, I can tell you with utmost certainty – that is a fact!
But why is that? Why is it so difficult for the poor and marginalized to eat healthily? Bad lifelong habits aside, I know many working class people who have tried (and failed) but couldn’t keep up with the added costs of a plant-based diet. The very cost of production in meat versus crops favors crops by a substantial margin, especially when it comes to grains that (once dried) have a remarkably long shelf life.
The answer is simple: subsidies!
Specifically, the agriculture subsidies that make good food more expensive (because the farmers actually have to produce a sell-able crop) as opposed to garbage food from large agribusiness (who often gets a bigger subsidy if they produce diddly squat). Of course, the justification for this is the protection of the workers at these large farms. More employees means more jobs lost if the business goes under. And while I am certainly sympathetic towards anyone who struggles to maintain market viability, we should probably look at the numbers of those affected before we even begin to consider protectionism (because that’s what this is) as the solution.
Leading up to the industrial revolution, most households (outside of major cities) had some tie to local agriculture. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2008 only 2% of the United States population was directly employed by agriculture. That percentage is less than the percentage of voters who voted for Gary Johnson in 2016! Does that seem like something we should subsidize if we aren’t even guaranteed a product in return? I certainly don’t think so! And if I was a vegan, I would oppose this more, given that much of our agriculture subsidies go towards crops that feed the very slaughter animals that they themselves will never eat.
So why aren’t more vegans libertarian? Is it the preconditioning of our protest-oriented society; taught that you need to “fight for your rights” like a heroic revolutionary? Perhaps (I suppose), but I think it is something else… and it is just as bad as the authoritarian laws vegans ask for to protect the animals that live in these often unprofitable establishments.
As soon as vegans began infiltrating these larger facilities to capture their cruelty and indifference, conservative lawmakers jumped into the fray, initiating something that should scare every liberty lover on this planet – laws that punish whistle-blowers with jail time (among other slightly less harsh penalties) for giving proof of the misdeeds by these agriculturists. Now I would never argue that a business owner doesn’t have a right to bring a lawsuit against someone who lied on an application specifically to hurt his/her business. But to say this industry (and only this industry, apparently) should be protected against bad press with the threat of taking someone’s freedom is so monumentally wrong that I am left stymied as to why more libertarians and constitutional conservatives haven’t spoken out against it.
But it is what has convinced me that big government involvement in how we produce food in this country is why we now have a large minority of our populace (both vegan/vegetarian and those of a more commonplace diet) demanding equal amounts of government intervention in trying to prevent animal cruelty. And while I can admit that is a laudable cause, it is ultimately pointless. Most states have some sort of regulation in place where the state-sponsored authority in question has to notify the farm ahead of time of the impending inspection, making anything other than whistle-blowing an act of total futility.
So they infiltrate, risk prison in many cases, and the business suffers and possibly even goes belly-up. Who wins in that scenario? The state of course! We seasoned libertarians have long since known that more regulations produce more victims. And in this case, even the animals that are being treated like the tightly coiled mass my dogs leave in my yard every morning are included in the victimization!
In order to gain the evidence, the infiltrators have to stand by helplessly and watch as baby pigs deemed “useless”, are swung by their hindquarters and smashed head first on the nearest hard surface. Dead animals that didn’t ask for this life, good-hearted/ill-advised souls trying to save sentient creatures from undue pain, and workers who often have little choice but to work at these places (lack of competition due to the subsidies) – now all suffering terrible fates while the state brings in more tax dollars to bail out the farm owner and keep the infiltrator in a cell.
President Calvin Coolidge opposed agriculture subsidies because he knew that farmers were never going to be rich (at least not without government protection). If I started driving right now I could be at the farm where Silent Cal grew up in less than an hour. I sometimes wonder what he would think. About the recent farm bill that just passed – loaded with pork spending and bailouts. About a country that used to be self-sufficient but now has to buy crops from other countries. And about the misfortunes of vegans, forced to pay in towards food they will never eat, while not having the same favor returned to them.
Maybe the reason more vegans aren’t libertarian is that we haven’t been vocal enough in opposing everything I just described. It’s certainly not a hot-button topic. Appearing to oppose poor farmers is certainly not the way to gain votes. This is not common discussion in any libertarian social media group… but perhaps it should be!
These subsidies not only force people that don’t consume the end product to fund it, they also, more importantly, squash the small family farms that the writers of the original agriculture subsidies of the 1920’s were trying to help. So forget animal cruelty. Forget freedom of speech (the aforementioned “Ag-gag” laws). This is crony capitalism at its worst and given the leftist nature of many vegans, I guess I can see why they are distrustful of those that call for smaller government (who then often support big government for the rust belt vote). Though the latter distinction wouldn’t apply to we libertarians, the former certainly does.
In a day when the party that bears the name of our shared ideology is being infiltrated by pseudo-communists, consistency on small government and free-market capitalist principles matters now more than ever… for everyone from the small family farmer just trying to put his little girl through school, to that very little girl who has decided she wants to help animals rather than eat them.
As libertarians, we owe them both a more consistent message.
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