Saturday, February 03, 2018

Cage Eggs and Old-Growth Paper

There are many things I am not, and consumer activist is not one of them. I will never be drawn to the inefficiency of it, or any popular movement.

Having said that though, I cannot bring myself to purchase cage eggs, or for that matter cook with eggs that I know or suspect to be cage eggs. I'm also not, however, one of those people that asks a waiter whether the eggs are cage free. As such I probably consume a bunch of cage eggs just through food products that use it as an ingredient.

But when buying crappy copy paper, that I mostly use for doing crappy sketches, I might like a label on the pack suggesting that there's recycled paper and sustainable forrestry practice endorsements, but by and large I don't particularly give a shit how the paper was made and where it is sourced from.

Thus I have a personal inconsistency, and I love discovering these. The volume of cage-eggs stocked by supermarkets suggests that many consumers care more about price than cruelty. Now there probably is a debate to be had about how cruel cage eggs and indeed factory farming is perceived to be, and how cruel it actually is in terms of a lived experience, but in terms of public perception that debate is irrelevant because I believe most consumers would be biased towards perceiving cage eggs as crueler than they've ever bothered to investigate.

Because it looks awful, and we can't imagine life in a cage eating out of a tube through broken teeth with no room to move. I also can't imagine having no capacity to think about the future or reflect upon the past, to not be able to contemplate my own mortality - but again, interesting but irrelevant.

The thing is it also smells bad, and for reasons I shall never understand, my mother took my siblings and I as children to 'Happy Hens' probably for the giant slide, but we did go on the tour of the cage farm.

And it is indeed, unappetizing. I suspect that might be key to my inconsistency. I have a visceral reaction to the thought of cage eggs that views them as dirty, disgusting. For a while my mother would get eggs from a market vendor, like a farmers market that unfortunately sourced their egg cartons from old discarded egg cartons, meaning that most often these organic free-range market eggs came packaged in cage egg labelled cartons.

Curiously, though assured by my mother (known for being snug with a buck) that they were indeed eggs from the market simply placed in re-purposed cartons, I would actually percieve the egg yolks as more anemic, more nutritionally deficient and the whites as runnier, less viscous. I'm not sure if I could ever subjectively praise the quality of an egg, but my brain I'm sure changed the taste and experience of the egg based purely on the packaging.

I speculate, that much as if a non-depressive and depressive were to drink together, the non-depressive enjoys their drink less because while they get the same pleasure of intoxication, they do not experience the same relief of inwardly directed rage of a melancholic depressive - so too if a vegetarian who was vegetarian for environmental reasons, and a vego who was a vegetarian for conscious reasons were to sit and eat bacon, the former might enjoy the sheer joy of eating bacon where the latter cannot because the flavor is tainted with their perception of the benefactors suffering.

Does that make sense? Someone who cares, tastes the cruelty.

And crucially food is primed to pick up on the biological systems in our brains that generate disgust. Which are the same systems that often shape our reactions to moral stimuli. In our evolution, our ancestors survived by not eating putrid foods, and diseased flesh, and parasite infested species. The mechanic being disgust, and it's corresponding safety mechanisms like throwing up.

Our brain didn't have a unused cluster of neural anatomy lying around for navigating social-moral stimuli, so it multi-tasked our disgust circuitry. At least that's my paraphrasing of actual respectable research.

And paper, paper is much harder to build that visceral disgust-association with. Even the aesthetics of clear felled landscapes, slash and burn smoldering pits, or cute displaced fauna doesn't seem to have anywhere near the impact of stuffing a chicken in a cage and force feeding it through a straw.

Thus it'd s marketing challenge to me, if you are a conservationist, it's a question of evoking not just the emotions that come with the destruction of rain forest or old-growth forests, but the visceral disgust which has far more hand-staying power when reaching for an item in a shelf than a rational belief.

If environmental issues could tap into the same brain circuitry that bad-food handling does, political will would in my opinion, have far more traction.

Of course, it seems a bunch of consumers don't give a shit about cage-eggs, and the biggest volume-consumers are probably much more problematic than individual consumers (like a catering business or an office building for paper).

And then you get the cage egg producers branding their cartons so they have 'farm' and 'barn' and such in the title, with discrete as possible labels that they are in fact cage eggs. These may fool the unsavy consumer. But still, I feel by several orders of magnitude, my inconsistency would be reflected across the population.

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