The new Lidl advert ‘Lidl Deluxe Scotch Rump Steak’ which was first published on YouTube on July 4th 2016, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=12&v=wsiVI6Vxikk. I recommend watching before you continue reading.
This advert tells the story of Sharna, a mother who is concerned about the quality of the beef that she buys from Lidl supermarkets. Although we know this is a contrived situation and that Sharna probably doesn’t exist, we follow her on her journey to Scotland to meet the farmers behind the production of Lidl’s beef. She is picked up and taken around the farm by a very friendly Scottish farmer and is put to work for the day on the farm. The cows seem very happy here and the Scottish farmer tells Sharna that the cows are “born and bred in Scotland” and that his beef is all “Scotch assured” as he lifts up some grass from the ground and tells Sharna that the cows are raised on “good Scottish grass”. After spending the day with these wonderful and gentle creatures Sharna and the farmer sit down and tuck into some delicious steak. Suddenly the advert becomes very dark. Sharna has just spent the day stroking, feeding and laughing with these cows and now she happily and without question tucks into a “delicious” (her words not mine) rump steak (or as I like to call it ass steak). I want to use this advert as an example of not only dishonest advertising, but also of the compartmentalization of morality that we use to justify the things that we accept as social norms in our everyday lives.
I’ll start by telling another story about the Honest Pig Farmer. You can read the original article by Bob Comis who is ‘The Honest Pig Farmer’ here: https://stonybrookfarm.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/the-grapple-of-ethics/ (unfortunately it has been removed, but I want to leave the link here anyway in case it ever gets re-uploaded) He states that:
“As a pig farmer I live an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance. There is more, even, than simple acceptance. There is actually a celebration of the way I raise pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane. While all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder, I am a murderer.”
I want to compare what Bob says here to the farmer in Scotland. Lidl is being incredibly dishonest in its marketing of its meat products. It’s the selectivity of it that appalls me. We see the grazing cows. We see the delicious dinner. We don’t see the bit in the middle. If we are truly tracking the journey of this completely ethical and ‘quality’ beef than we should be seeing the whole journey. The honest pig farmer states that he lives behind a shroud. That’s exactly what Lidl are doing here. That’s exactly what all supermarkets do in their advertising of meat and dairy products. They are creating an illusion so that it is easier for consumers to feel good about the consumption choices that they make.
But surly the public aren’t that stupid? Surly they know that there are terrible consequences attached to the consumption of these products? I believe this is true. I don’t think the public are stupid. I think they are very intelligent and have found various different coping mechanisms so that they don’t feel the guilt that they should feel and so they can continue to live by the social norms that have been constructed around them. I think they are very good at being ethical in some parts of their life, but unethical in other parts. And I think they know it. Deep down, they know that what they are doing is wrong, but they keep on doing it.
The honest pig farmer states it himself:
“What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95 percent of the American population. I know it in my bones – even if I cannot yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don’t weave dark, damming shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise.
It might take incalculable generations of being hooked by and grappling with the ethics of slaughter to get there, but we really do need to get there – because again, what I am doing, what we are doing, is wrong, even terribly so.”
I don’t want you to feel like I’ve taken this article and twisted it in some way. This is a genuine pig farmer who feels like his actions are wrong. I use these quotes and the reference to the advert from Lidl to highlight the point that all people who support the mass slaughter of animals by buying and consuming animal products, deep down, they all know that it is wrong. Unlike this pig farmer, perhaps like Sharna in the Lidl advert, they may deny it. In fact Sharna even says that she worries about the quality of the food that her daughter consumes, but it is clear that Sharna knows deep down that this is wrong.
I’m confused because I know that a life spent doing something that you know is fundamentally wrong is a life spent shrouded in guilt. I know this because I have been a meat eater and a consumer of animal products for most of my life. I have only been a vegan for about 6 months, but the weight that has been lifted from my shoulders is so great. Why don’t more people do it? I don’t see how any meat eater can be happy with eating meat. I wasn’t. I know a lot of my meat eating friends aren’t and whilst there may be some people who do get their kicks from inflicting pain on other creatures – I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people see this as unethical. So, why do they do it? Why do they support it? Why? Why? Why?
I don’t understand why Sharna eats meat at all. If she is so concerned about where her food comes from. If she is so concerned about the well-being of her daughter. Then why can’t she just be honest with herself? It’s easy isn’t it. But it’s not. This is a deep and complicated issue to do with the very nature of ethics and morality.
So, let’s hear it. This is a direct address to all of my meat eating friends. To all meat eating readers of this very blog. I love you all, but I would really like a genuine answer to this question. Why do you still eat meat? Because I know that you know all of the arguments against it. You’ve heard all the arguments for veganism several times over. All the reasons why you shouldn’t eat meat, or fish, or dairy. Why you shouldn’t buy leather or wool and yet you still don’t change. Are the arguments not persuasive enough? Or is there something else going on here? A crowd mentality? If everybody else is doing it then why is it a problem?
You’ve heard all the reasons to do with health. You know that eating a plant based diet is healthier. You know it will lessen your risk of cancer and heart disease. Yes, there are plenty of unhealthy vegan foods. Sometimes we do eat unhealthy things because they make us feel good, but although you might see vegans around you who have made positive changes to their physical and mental health as a result of changing their diet, this doesn’t convince you that it is something that you can see yourself doing. The studies are all there. The experts all agree, but what do they know? Really?
You know all of the arguments about animal cruelty. You’ve seen terrible videos from inside slaughterhouses. You’ve seen animals going through incredible suffering. Your grandfather used to take you fishing and you never felt bad killing those fish, did you? My grandfather actually did take me fishing once and I did feel pretty terrible, especially when we put the fish back. Anyway, that slaughterhouse footage isn’t really representative of the meat industry is it? The meat I eat comes from cows like the ones on the Lidl advert. Free roaming, grass eating, happy beasts. Right? You know it’s not true. You know it’s a lie. I know you know this.
You know that the meat and dairy industry is responsible for over eighty percent of deforestation across the world. You know that if meat production continues the way that it does that the world literally won’t be able to sustain it. You’ve heard all about the environment – animal products are undeniably bad for the environment.
You know all of these things, yet you still consume meat. You still buy leather. You still use animal products. So, where does this compartmentalization come from? Why do we spend our lives trying to justify things to ourselves when we know that they are wrong? Perhaps it is because we can’t see the consequences of bad decisions when we make them. If we had to buy our meat directly from the slaughter house where we have to watch the animals getting their throats slit as we line up outside – perhaps then we wouldn’t want to eat it. Yet, there is only an invisible middle man in between this and the meat on the shelf in the supermarket. Just because you can’t see something happening, it doesn’t make it right.
I think this is one of the primary reasons why more people aren’t making positive steps towards better well being. Not only in their diet, but in other areas of their lives as well. How many times a day do you have to justify decisions that you make? Let’s take fast-food as another example. Fast food is bad for you. There is no doubt about it. There is no hiding it. It’s greasy, it’s cheap, it’s packed full of preservatives and GMOs and other crap that we know isn’t good for us. Yet we eat it. I eat it. Papa John’s do a fantastic vegan pizza, but it doesn’t mean that it’s good for me. Caught up in the moment we justify the decision to buy this fast food, we eat it and then we conveniently forget about the long term consequences of our actions. Again, because we can’t see them.
Let’s finish where we started. Back on a Scottish farm. Like the honest pig farmer, this Scottish farmer knows that what he does is wrong. It doesn’t matter how much room the cows have to graze, they will be slaughtered for consumption – even if they are fed only grass (which I can neither prove nor disprove) – something about this advert makes me wince. As a society we need to stop lying to ourselves about the damages that our individual actions cause. We can’t all be perfect. We can’t know everything about every product that we buy. Yet, if we do know something causes unnecessary harm. If we know it as a fact and if we can do something about it. Do we not have a moral obligation to ourselves to stand up and do what’s right? I like to think we do. I like to think that all of us can do that. It just takes a little bit of courage. The more of us that stand up for what we believe is ethical and true and right and just then the more people that do the same. And hopefully the world that we inhabit starts becoming better. Bit by bit. I’m not saying become completely vegan. Not right away. Meatless Monday’s. Vegetarian. No milk. Whatever it is. Whatever works for you. Don’t just sit there. If you know something is wrong. Even if you know it right down deep within you. Then make a change. You will feel so much better for it. It doesn’t matter what other people think.
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” – Albert Schweitzer
Rick Spry on YouTube has some brilliant videos about veganism and ethics. I urge you to check them out. His videos were the inspiration behind this blog post and I give him muchos credit.