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April 4-10, 2007

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Silicon Veggie - Elisa Camahort

Silicon Veggie

Does Mindful Matter?

By Elisa Camahort

LAST MONTH I talked about the mindful eating craze, and in the four weeks since that column ran, two major companies jumped on the mindful eating bandwagon.

First, Wolfgang Puck, owner of a number of fine dining and fast casual restaurants, announced that he would be launching a program to bar animal cruelty from his entire business. No more foie gras; no more pigs or calves that have been kept in crates; no more eggs from caged hens. He further pledged to use only certified, sustainable seafood, and all-natural or organic chicken and turkey from progressive animal welfare-compliant farms. He even spoke directly to my interests by pledging to have more vegetarian offerings in his restaurants.

Less than a week later, an even bigger brand made an announcement. Burger King announced that it was shifting policies to also use meat and eggs from more humane resources.

Burger King isn't committing to the kinds of sweeping changes that Puck is, however; instead, it has set a pretty modest goal over the next few months of having 2 percent of its eggs be from "cage free" hens, and 10 percent of its pork be from farms that allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates.

In each case the companies announced their new programs in conjunction with animal welfare organizations. Note that I purposely did not call them animal "rights" organizations, because under the overall umbrella of animal-focused organizations there is a definite difference between those that are going for eradication of the use/abuse of animals, and those that are seeking better treatment of animals, even as they continue to be used.

My first reaction to such announcements is very positive. If you read this column, you know I believe that taking some steps is better than doing nothing. But an alternate view is that such actions just ease our guilty consciences without actually changing the outcome—animals being slaughtered and exploited for human pleasure.

As one nonvegetarian friend put it, "I guess it is kind of like driving a Prius, but not doing anything else to help the environment."

I don't have the answers. I'd like to think such actions raise awareness and will eventually lead more people to vegetarianism than if companies continued to pay no attention to the issue. I like to think that consumers might go a tiny bit out of their way to frequent more humane businesses. Am I being naive? Why don't you email me at [email protected] and tell me what you think.

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