How we’re being kinder to food animals

Farmer Frank Hillier holds one of his 8,000 Leghorn chickens in a cage-free barn in Lakeview.
Farmer Frank Hillier holds one of his 8,000 Leghorn chickens in a cage-free barn in Lakeview. Los Angeles Times file

As someone who has been working to protect animals for almost two decades, I am consistently amazed at how speedily our society is becoming kinder and more compassionate, especially for animals raised for food.

This year saw many positive changes for farm animals. Some of the biggest names in the food industry pledged to stop selling eggs from caged hens, Massachusetts voters passed a landmark law to improve the welfare of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves, and more cities (including Sacramento), schools and hospitals have started participating in Meatless Monday. I’m optimistic that 2017 will bring even more progress.

Millions of people are beginning to make small changes that amount to big impacts – some by simply enjoying more meat-free meals. This shift is hugely important: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that obesity rates continue to rise, and last year the World Health Organization categorized processed meats as carcinogenic.

More leading health experts say we can help prevent and even reverse certain diseases by eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal products. California-based Kaiser Permanente encourages physicians whose patients suffer from heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity to treat them with a plant-based diet.

As it turns out, what’s good for us is also good for animals and the planet, too.

When we choose a vegetable stir fry over kung pao chicken, we reduce our climate footprint, support water conservation and reduce the number of animals subjected to inhumane factory farm practices, such as confining them in cages and crates so small they can barely move.

Perhaps the easiest – and tastiest – way to improve our diet is by practicing the three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by switching to sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

There are a lot of problems in the world and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but we really can make a difference. Start making that difference in the new year when you sit down to eat.

Kristie Middleton of Oakland is senior food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States. She can be contacted at