Watching Slaughterhouse vs. Strawberry Harvest Videos: How Plant Harvesting is Often Romanticized as Cruelty-Free

In 2014, I was on one of my FB sites dedicated to anti-speciesism. Someone posted this photo below.

Source: Facebook

I do understand why they posted this.  But…

…I felt compelled to mention that strawberry harvesting, though not nearly as visually ‘gruesome’ and as directly ‘cruel’ as slaughtering non-human animals, does not mean that the harvesting of strawberries is cruelty-free (as applied to those of us who buy strawberries vs. those of us who have the ‘privilege’ of growing our own to pick). Thousands of human laborers, mostly brown people from what is considered Latin America, harvest strawberries (and many other vegetables and fruits) in cruel conditions. Being sprayed with pesticides, not having access to clean water and toilets, working for poverty level wages, etc are what a significant number of what these folk must go through. I don’t mean to throw a wrench in this image and text’s meanings, but I really think this is something I often see being elided within talks about how one’s conscious is more ‘clean’ by eating vegan diets of fruits and veggies in North America. Once again, I am not saying or equating the slaughter of non-human animals as the SAME as exploited and abused human farm laborers; both practices are disgusting and cause a lot of pain and suffering. However, I just want to point out that the former (non human animal slaughter) is always made visible amongst the vegan mainstream in the USA, while the latter (harvesting strawberries or other plants for human consumption under horrible and insufferable conditions) is painted as something one need not think deeply about [since non-human animals weren’t directly harmed].

Here is a book that can help us think more about not getting swept up in what looks like an ‘easy’ binary to make. The cover has a laborer picking strawberries. Click on the title to learn more:


The Food Empowerment Project, a pro-vegan organization, also advocates more awareness around the human cruelty endured by farm laborers.   Lauren Ornelas, ED of the Food Empowerment Project,  discusses these issues in this video below:

12 thoughts on “Watching Slaughterhouse vs. Strawberry Harvest Videos: How Plant Harvesting is Often Romanticized as Cruelty-Free

  1. In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer optimistically observes: “The environmental movement… has led people to think about our relations with other animals that seemed impossible only a decade ago. To date, environmentalists have been more concerned with wildlife and endangered species than with animals in general, but it is not too big a jump from the thought that it is wrong to treat whales as giant vessels filled with oil and blubber to the thought that it is wrong to treat pigs as machines for converting grains to flesh.”

    Similarly, it is not to big a jump from the thought that it is wrong to purchase products that involve slave labor, the exploitation of women and children in sweatshops, etc. to the thought that it is wrong to purchase products which involve the exploitation, suffering, and death of animals…

    …the animal rights and fair trade movements can find common ground, forge an alliance.

    Anatomically, humans are suited for a plant-based diet, but can adapt to flesh-eating, like cannibalism, if our survival depends on it.

    Some argue that human intelligence has enabled man to transcend his physical limitations and function as a “natural” flesh-eater. If this is true, then we must also classify napalm, poison gas, and nuclear weapons as “natural,” too, because they are also products of (misused!) human intelligence.

    Agriculture, cookery, refrigeration, transportation, etc. aren’t found in nature, either. One might therefore argue if human technology is “natural,” then the ethical treatment of animals is equally natural.

    “I am the very opposite of an anthropomorphizer,” said writer Brigid Brophy. “I don’t hold animals superior or even equal to humans. The whole case for behaving decently towards animals rests on the fact that we are the superior species. We are the species uniquely capable of rationality, imagination and moral choice, and that is precisely why we are under obligation to respect the rights of other creatures.”

    The key words in Brigid Brophy’s famous quote are NOT “moral choice” but rather “under obligation.” Recognizing the rights of another class of beings limits our freedoms and our choices and requires a change in our personal lifestyle.

    Pro-life feminist Juli Loesch wrote in the 1970s:

    “Each woman has the right (to contraception)… But once a woman has conceived, she can no longer choose whether or not to become a mother.

    Biologically, she is already a mother… the woman’s rights are then limited, as every right is limited, by the existence of another human being who also has rights.”

    Recognizing the rights of another class of beings limits our freedoms and our choices and requires a change in our lifestyle — the abolition of (human) slavery is a good example of this.

    Are whites free to own slaves or lynch blacks?

    No! Because of the civil rights movement, we’ve corrected that injustice.

    Is domestic violence tolerated?

    No! Because of the women’s movement, domestic violence is unacceptable.

    Should hate crimes against LGBTs be permitted under the guise of “choice”?

    No! LGBTs have rights.

    This isn’t rocket science, but since animals have rights, our freedoms and choices to commit crimes against animals are similarly limited.

    Along the lines of Brigid Brophy’s words (above), one could argue how we obtain our food really is an *ethical* issue, not an anatomical or dietary issue. Vegan author John Robbins writes in his 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America:

    “… a given acreage can feed twenty times as many people eating a pure vegetarian (vegan) diet-style as it could people eating the standard American diet-style…”

    Raising animals for food, even raising animals for animal byproducts like milk and eggs, means wasting valuable acreage, because the animals have to be fed plant food! If we eat lower on the food chain, less agricultural acreage is required to feed everyone, fewer plants are killed, fewer rodents and insects are killed when fields are ploughed for farming, etc.

    If you carry this argument to its logical conclusion, a VEGAN diet is the least violent, because it requires one-third less acreage than a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, and twenty times less acreage than a meat-centered diet.

    Democrats For Life of America, 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, South Building, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20004 (202) – 220 – 3066

    Feminists For Life, PO Box 320667, Alexandria, VA 22320

    1. I agree with the vast majority of your comment, but respectfully disagree with your thoughts on abortion. Women have the right to contraception, you say, but is that true? Many women are still hard-pressed to find access to affordable contraception, especially in other parts of the world (where it is often illegal). And what about in cases of rape? Would the suffering that a woman endures through carrying to term her rapist’s spawn not outweigh the amount of suffering endured by an as-yet undeveloped life form were it to be terminated? Why is a woman’s suffering through an unwanted pregnancy negligible, while the suffering (most likely minimal) of the fetus is made to be relevant? Furthermore, forcing another person to do something with her body is problematic in many ways. Is a pregnant woman morally capable of ending her life (and thus the fetus’s as well)? Or is this another way in which her personhood is limited by this unwanted burden? I agree that in a perfect world, abortions would be rare or even eradicated, but as long as rape, misinformation/poor education, and imperfect contraception exists, so too must a woman’s right to choose.

      At the very least, I think this topic is far too complicated to simply condemn women who chose to terminate pregnancies as murderers.

      I love Dr. Harper’s blog and would like to hear her thoughts on this.

      1. Tricia,

        I am sorry for going off-topic, but I am upset about and saddened by what you write. I have to totally disagree with what you write:

        “Why is a woman’s suffering through an unwanted pregnancy negligible, while the suffering (most likely minimal) of the fetus is made to be relevant?”
        I find the use of the word “fetus” too convenient; it distracts from the fact that this is a human being in formation, equipped with a unique set of DNA to ultimately grow into a full human being. Where do you draw the line as to what is life and what’s not? And is there not incredible hubris in arbitrarily drawing such a line?
        Also the suffering of an unwanted pregnancy is certainly not negligible, but do you not see that there is a considerable difference between suffering emotional, and perhaps, physical distress, and being murdered? The later is irreversible. How can you than claim that such suffering is “most likely minimal”? And what about late-stage abortions? They exist, and no, being hacked to pieces in your mother’s womb does presumably not fall under “minimal” suffering.

        “Furthermore, forcing another person to do something with her body is problematic in many ways”

        Oh, really, is it as “problematic”, as murdering someone? Is it as “problematic”, as denying someone his or her right to live?

        “I think this topic is far too complicated to simply condemn women who chose to terminate pregnancies as murderers.”

        I don’t think such women are murderers. The murderers are to be found in the abortion industry, the people of influence in the media thinking this is somehow “progressive”, and a culture that does not value life.

        I am always very disappointed that so vegans are not pro-life. How can we be possibly be silent on such an important issue? This is a social and a race issue, this is the big taboo, and i think most other issues pale in comparison to the horrible reality of abortion.

        I highly recommend watching the videos of Ms. Gianna Jessen, an abortion survivor (What would you tell to such a person, Tricia? Is her suffering also “minimal”? Did she not have a right to live?). I am not a Christian, but if you can look past that, I think this video is worthwhile to watch:

    2. Our ancestors haven’t been able to *both* go without meat *and* go without cookery *and* stay fertile enough as a group to have enough babies to not go extinct since the *Australopithecus* genus, *long* before Homo erectus and definitely before Homo sapiens.

  2. Good points. Tracie McMillan also writes a first-hand account of the plight of migrant farm workers in The American Way of Eating.

    Of course farm workers endure terrible conditions in animal slaughter industries as well. No product, vegan or otherwise, should be thought of as entirely cruelty-free.

  3. Just finished watching the Food Empowerment Project video you posted – great stuff. Thanks very much for posting it. I’ll be sharing it with my fellow food justice volunteers.

  4. We used this book, ‘Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies’ as one of the required texts to teach our Intro to Medical Anthropology and Global Health course recently. The prof for the course is Holme’s colleague, plus some of the research looked at the farm workers here in WA state and so it was good to let the students see how something like this is happening LITERALLY right in their backyards but (*MOST*) of us don’t even see it. The prof brought in 3 different small baskets of strawberries — one organic and one local and etc and had some of the students do a taste comparison and tell the class what they thought, and then delve into the conversation on exactly where these came from and how they get to our stores.

    Over the week or so that we talked about this a couple of the students became really emotional because during lecture and engaging with the text it really hit home for some of them, as far as their own family members being the ‘broken, invisible migrant bodies’ in the US. I grew up in So. Cali, on the border of Mexico and so there was a very large population of Mexican immigrants, and quite a bit of strawberry fields, so something like ‘fresh fruit, broken bodies’ is not at all a foreign concept to me at all.

    It is interesting that many folks tend to believe that one way of living surpasses the other, without always looking more in-depth, so is why I’m glad you’re also bringing this up. But I guess the society we live in everything is supposed to be painted with a veneer of ‘beauty’. It’s the same for other things Holmes mentions in the book such as the Tulip Festival here that happens once per year. Here is a link: when he talks about the ‘hiddenness of migrant bodies’.

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