PETA’s Butterball Blues

Derrick of An Obsession with Food posted a thought-provoking discussion Friday of “Butterball’s House of Horrors,” a recent PETA exposé of poultry slaughterhouses. In the four-minute video, we see undercover footage taken by a PETA investigator who gets a job as a slaughterhouse worker; the video documents some rough treatment of turkeys and a lot of angry, swear-word-laced rants directed at the birds, all narrated by the investigator, who appears only as a shaved-headed figure sitting in the shadows. Derrick brings up the good point that the video does a lot more telling than showing; much of the most egregious language and behavior would be unintelligible without the narration.

More frustrating to me are the conclusions that PETA draws from the investigation: “If even one person sees this video and stops eating birds, it will be worth it,” the investigator says in the last line of the video.

I mean, OK, they are PETA—their whole shtick is to speak out against meat eating, convert carnivores, etc. (and as Derrick points out, there are many animal-rights groups out there with more palatable tactics). But I actually think PETA is in a position to have some impact and start some engaging debate about the merits of vegetarianism—it just needs to stop shooting itself in the foot with this kind of rhetoric. Just because Butterball workers subject turkeys to horrific treatment, does that impugn all turkey farmers (and by extension all bird eaters)? At a time of unprecedented access to organic and sustainable meats, increased consumer education about humane livestock handling, and rampant flexitarianism, few people would say yes.

I’d love to hear a rational discussion about the morality of raising animals for slaughter, period, whether or not they’re raised organically/sustainably. And now that strict vegetarianism is at its lowest rate in years—even Vegetarian Times, the OG of veg-friendly cooking magazines, has found that 70 percent of its readership dabbles in meat eating—it seems like the debate is just going to have to get smarter.