Californians are voting on several initiatives, one of which is Proposition 12. Prop. 12 “would ban the sale of meat in California from calves raised for veal or breeding pigs unless the farms that raise them — both in the state and in other states — meet minimum standards for pen size. It also would ban the sale of eggs from hens that are kept in cages that don’t meet minimum standards.”

If you live in California, join me in voting Yes. From the moment they are born to the moment their necks are slit, the vast majority of animals raised and killed for food (or eggs) will experience lives of unremitting torment. They will not know contentment, respite, safety, happiness, or kindness. Instead, they will live a short life characterized by inescapable discomfort, social deprivation, the thwarting of every natural instinct and constant stress, all punctuated by moments of agonizing pain, terror, and the deliberate infliction upon them of harm, cruelty and eventually, a brutal and untimely death. Being presented with the opportunity to do so something — anything — to relieve their misery even by the tiniest degree is an opportunity I welcome.

Some animal groups oppose Prop. 12 saying that people should go vegan. Of course they should, but that is not on the ballot. Others are opposed, arguing that HSUS, the key architect of Prop. 12, is corrupt. Of course they are. I have long been a fierce critic of HSUS for that corruption, but I would never allow the disdain I feel for the organization influence the choice I make when that organization does something I can support, such as better the plight of animals even a little bit. The animals come first when I oppose the policies of HSUS which harm them, and they must come first here. Finally, some groups say that the proposition does not go far enough: “One square foot per hen is cruel. They should have more space than that.”

Stocking density is a major animal welfare issue. Right now, the average stocking density for egg laying chickens, for example, could be as low as 67 sq. inches or lower. Prop. 12 would increase that to 144 sq. inches (1 sq. foot) after 2019 and 1.5 sq. ft. per hen (on single floor warehouses) after 2021. Is that still obscene? Yes. But there are no other choices presented but the status quo which is even worse. It also makes similar minor but important improvements for baby cows and mother pigs.

Should each bird have more than required by Prop. 12? Absolutely, but, again, more is not on the ballot; only more than is currently allotted. Obviously, it isn’t much. But factory farmed animals don’t have much. Assuming it passes, and assuming producers are actually held accountable to the standards — a very big if — then maybe some animals will have a fraction less misery than they do now. We must take every opportunity presented to us to chip away, however incremental, at the many and varied forms of suffering to which animals raised for food (or their eggs) are routinely subjected.

I have never embraced an “all or nothing” approach to social change, as all or nothing often means nothing. I support laws, for example, banning the gas chamber for killing dogs, cats, and other animal companions in pounds and so-called “shelters” even though I’d like to see laws banning the killing of animals in pounds and so-called “shelters.”

While I believe we should never sacrifice our principles or our ultimate goals, which, in this case, means never suggesting that by increasing the space allotment for animals their otherwise brutal treatment and killing are somehow rendered acceptable, I also believe that pragmatism bent on success should be our guide, rather than ineffectual and unyielding dogma that leaves animals to continue suffering egregiously and unnecessarily when the means and public will exist to eliminate (or in this case reduce) certain forms of cruelty.

As Jennifer and I write in All American Vegan, our cookbook, we do not need “cage-free” or “free-range” chicken nuggets, we need chicken-free “chicken” nuggets. Rendering meat obsolete by weaning Americans off animal-based foods is one of the most pressing goals of our movement. But I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. I will continue to promote a plant-based diet, even as I vote Yes on Prop. 12 and ask others to do the same.

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