By Kimberly Dreher, VegFund Program Director
Meatonomics, a new book by author Dave Simon, exposes the hidden economic forces that drive the animal agriculture system and explores the ways in which these forces affect consumer spending, eating, health, prosperity, and longevity. In the book, Dave discusses how the public has largely lost the ability to decide for themselves what – and how much – to eat. Instead, those decisions are manipulated by meat and dairy producers through artificially low prices, misleading messaging, and heavy control over legislation and regulation. A must-read for activists, this book will provide you with a better understanding of how the animal agriculture industry operates and what can be done to address the broken system.
VegFund recently caught up with Dave to learn more about his important book.
VF: How did the idea for Meatonomics come about?
DS: A few years ago, I emailed a factory farming video to a bunch of omnivorous friends and asked them what they thought of it. The most interesting response came from the dean of a major law school, who said that while the images in the video were disturbing, the humans were likely acting illegally and for that reason, the behavior was exceptional and anomalous. That is, in his view, the images in the video didn’t portray a systemic problem or suggest a need for change.
At the time, I didn’t know whether this was accurate or not. But I decided to start digging around, and what I found in my research was really shocking. In the past few decades, animal food producers have engaged in a relentless legislative campaign to emasculate anti-cruelty protections for farmed animals. They’ve also made it much harder for consumers to investigate, criticize or sue them.
These dozens of recent laws don’t help animals or consumers – they help only meat and dairy producers. And they help in monetarily important ways; by helping producers keep costs low, they help ensure higher profits. As I learned more about factory farming’s economic forces and consequences, I thought the material was worthy of a book.
VF: In doing research for the book, were there any statistics that you found especially surprising?
DS: Yes – there are a lot of very surprising statistics in this field. A few dozen of the most interesting are posted on the book’s website, but here are a few that stand out:
- The U.S. spends about $38 billion to subsidize meat and dairy, but only about .0004 of that, or $17 million, to subsidize fruits and vegetables.
- A hot dog and a baked potato contain the same amount of protein – about 5 grams.
- 200 million pounds of bycatch (dead birds, fish and marine animals) is discarded each day in the world’s oceans as an unintended consequence of fishing. This mass killing of animals – some with inherent economic value, and some with value as feed for commercially fished species – has devastating economic and ecological effects. The U.N. says fishing represents a “net economic loss” for the world.
VF: What do you think are the two most important things vegan activists can do to effect change?
DS: I think the single best thing vegans can do is encourage other people to consume less meat and dairy, or even better, to go vegan. There are a number of ways to do this, but the two I like best are handing out vegan literature in public, and inviting friends, coworkers or family members to eat at vegan restaurants where they can experience firsthand how easy (and tasty) it can be to be vegan. Anyone interested in handing out flyers can get them free from Vegan Outreach.
Another thing people can do is push for changes in law and policy. This takes more effort but, when successful, has the potential to affect thousands or even millions of people and animals. I propose a meat tax in the book and would certainly be interested to see that rise to the level of national discussion, but there are many other campaigns people can get involved in.
VF: What’s the main message you want readers to take from this book?
DS: I hope people will see that meat and dairy producers, often with the help of governments, are aggressively influencing consumer behavior in ways that are creepy, misleading, and inappropriate. The result of this heavy influence is that consumers are routinely manipulated into supporting animal agriculture practices that are unethical, unhealthy, and ecologically and economically unsound.
VF: Is there anything else that you would like to share with readers?
DS: As Gandhi said before successfully completing the unthinkable task of dismantling British rule in India, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Don’t ever be afraid to ask for change. Ask restaurants to provide vegan options. Ask friends and family to go vegan. Ask legislators to pass humane laws. There’s no harm in asking, and you might be pleasantly surprised to get what you asked for.
Be sure to visit www.meatonomics.com where you can order a copy of the book, find out about Dave’s book tour, and learn more about this important topic by reading the informative posts.
Dave Simon is a lawyer and vegan advocate. He works as general counsel for a healthcare company and serves on the board of the APRL Fund, a non-profit dedicated to protecting animals. Dave received his B.A. from U.C. Berkeley and his J.D. from the University of Southern California. He lives in Southern California with his partner, Tania Marie, and their rabbit, tortoise, and two cats.