An Open Letter to the Animal Agribusiness Industry About Words

Good day.

Last week, I saw that your $38.1 billion dairy industry fired a salvo in the form of a class-action lawsuit against Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko’s Kitchen, a popular brand selling vegan butters and cheeses. According to the suit, Miyoko’s brand, which sells clearly labeled plant-based products, is cashing in on the dairy industry’s “halo,” a dubious claim considering that dairy’s so-called halo includes widespread lactose malabsorption, the destructive and wasteful ecological footprint of the industry, and, last but certainly not least, the profound cruelty inflicted on cows, including but not limited to mutilations without anesthesia, forced impregnations and the killing of unwanted male calves. Included in the alleged halo is also that dairy cows are eventually killed for meat as well. Yeah, I’m sure Miyoko wanted to get in on some of that feel-good prestige. Any halo the dairy industry has is because of what is conveniently hidden from public view.

Rather than out of confusion or manipulation, consumers are flocking to Miyoko’s brand and those like it precisely because they are plant-based and they taste damn good. Sadly, though, the harassment of Miyoko is far from an isolated incident. In July, the Food and Drug Administration revealed their allegiance to big dairy when FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb indicated that his agency may start enforcing the federal standard of “milk” as coming from cows.

This industry-fueled litigation comes on the heels of a similar move in Missouri, which recently passed a law making it illegal to “misrepresent” plant-based proteins by using terms commonly associated with meat if they are not of animal origin. Those of us of a certain, um, vintage can remember another time animal agribusiness overstepped due to a perceived threat. Remember Oprah Winfrey’s 1998 food libel lawsuit and trial? Surely you do. The difference is that time, your industry was trying to stifle critics, not the competition. Frankly, back when Oprah and co-defendant Howard Lyman were sued, animal agribusiness didn’t have much competition but the story is different today, with the meat replacement industry alone projected to hit $7.5 billion worldwide by 2025 and the non-dairy sector projected to surpass $28 billion by the same year. Did the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association not learn from the Texas Cattlemen’s Association public humiliation when they attempted to silence Oprah Winfrey? The Missouri law mentioned above is being challenged, by the way, but it’s also being considered on the federal level.

Oh, and of course I’d be remiss to not mention the debacle that was Unilever trying to sue the company formerly known as Hampton Creek for producing plant-based mayo and the bizarre scheme involving the American Egg Board that was revealed in the process? Not long after the dust settled on that, Unilever-owned Hellmann’s brought to market its own animal-free sandwich spread with the word “vegan” prominently displayed on the label in the ultimate “if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em” gesture.

Look at that proud vegan product!

If milk is no longer a usable term unless it was released from an udder, as per the dairy industry’s stipulation, what do we call the grated pulp of a mature coconut? How about magnesium hydroxide, better known as milk of magnesia? Whither thou goest, Cream of Wheat?

And what about butter? This is even more complicated. If “butter” is off the table, so to speak, where does this leave us with regard to apple and pumpkin butter, not to mention peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter and on and on? What about poor l’il butter beans? They never hurt anyone. Shea butter? Body butters in general? I know the dairy industry can claim these products are not trying to sponge off of butter’s largesse but have they shopped at LUSH? Some of that body care stuff is damn tempting and delicious on toast. (Kidding.) (Or am I???)

So this is all to say that I think it’s time vegans sat down to the table with animal agribusiness and set some terms for negotiation. I’ve given it some thought and I think we can give up words like “butter” and “meat” if you will agree to the following:

• You are no longer allowed to use unspecific words like “beef” and “pork.” Considering that we have nut meats, which became part of the human diet long before cows were domesticated for consumption, you’re overreaching to claim that word as yours and yours alone. Given that “meat” derives from Old English mete meaning “food, item of food” as opposed to a beverage, it’s especially presumptuous of you. Because I don’t want consumers getting confused and thinking animal flesh is actually nut meat, you will have to label flesh foods clearly as such: pig flesh, cow flesh, etc.

• Processing plant? You don’t get to keep this one. Too vague and euphemistic. Slaughterhouse? Sounds right. You get to keep this word.

• Speaking of, you’re going to have to stop using terms like “harvesting” animals. I don’t think you can be serious about negotiating with us if you think you can still use the term “harvesting” for “killing”. You claim to want truth in advertising and you’d refer to destroying an animal so euphemistically? Here are some words you can use: Kill, murder, execute, slaughter, massacre, annihilate, exterminate. Take your pick. It’s up to you.

• Corned beef? Ours. Corn is ours. Popcorn shrimp? There will be no encroaching upon the upstanding name of popcorn to apply to atrocious prawn industry products. I don’t think so. Orange roughy? Did the fishing industry get permission from citrus growers? You’ll need to rename this as well. Currywurst sausage? Oh, no, you don’t get to use delicious curry in the name of your ground flesh products. Back to the drawing board for you.

• You know how your industry refers to the fecal waste product basins as lagoons? That is off the table. ASAP. Lagoons are evocative of balmy island living and are actually shallow bodies of saltwater separated from the ocean by coral reefs or sandbanks not cavities filled with excrement. A blue lagoon was where Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins cavorted to the delight of creepy film-going audiences in 1980. Lagoons are not accurately descriptive of the fetid, huge trenches where waste products of confined animals pollute the air and water, so you do not get to use that term. I’d come up with a bunch of alternatives for you but you’d have to pay me for that and I am annoyed with you people so I am going with this: “open-air manure pit.” You’re welcome.

This is for starters.

So, animal ag, you can see I am willing to negotiate on behalf of vegans. You don’t like us applying familiar words to our popular products that are eclipsing yours. Listen, I get it. You’re scared and defensive. It’s just that we’ve got some words that are disagreeable to us, too.

Let me know when you’re ready to talk,

Marla Rose