Opinion Columns & Blogs

Karma tastes rich in new, more humane economy

As the human circus of presidential politics has plodded along for what seems a decade now, a revolution has been taking place in the ever-more-dignified animal kingdom.

Several victories in just the past few weeks have raised cheers, or their equivalent, in aquariums, barnyards and board rooms across the country as three giants in the food, clothing and entertainment industries have launched policies to reduce animal suffering:

Last month, SeaWorld announced it is ending its orca-breeding program, much criticized following the release of CNN's 2013 hit documentary "Blackfish." Once the current population expires, so, too, will its killer-whale "entertainment." The company is also beginning a transition to a rescue-and-rehabilitation model for marine mammal entertainment, and has joined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in calling for Japan to end its commercial whaling.

Wal-Mart, along with other major retailers, has agreed to sell only eggs that come from cage-free chickens by 2025. As the nation's largest food seller, Wal-Mart's decision has massive implications for the billions of hens condemned to life in extreme confinement.

Finally, Armani has vowed to stop using animal fur in its clothing line, a decisive indicator that the use of real fur is unnecessary given the wide array of alternatives.

These may seem like smallish strides, but they're component parts of a revolution in business and public policy. "Creative destruction" is what Wayne Pacelle, leading animal welfare activist and president/CEO of the HSUS, calls it. And it's happening in all sectors of the economy, including tourism, wildlife management, the pet trade and, perhaps most relevant to readers, food.

And, no, "they" aren't going to take away your burgers. But you might be willing to shed them, along with a few pounds, if an equally tasty alternative were available, right? Hold that thought for now.

These policy shifts are the product of a sweeping evolution in consumer consciousness, but at least some thanks is due to Pacelle's superhuman work ethic and the rigorous moral code that brought him to veganism 30 years ago. As he sees it, humans' power over other creatures requires that we act as their stewards rather than their torturers and slaughterers.

Under Pacelle's leadership, the HSUS (where, full disclosure, my son works) isn't just a puppy-and-kitten rescue operation, though ending puppy mills and domestic animal abuse are top priorities. Primarily, the HSUS is policy- and business-focused, working with companies such as SeaWorld, Wal-Mart and Armani to create a more enlightened business model.

These things take time, but the humane imperative seems to have become contagious and taken hold. The operating principle: Humane treatment of animals and good business practices are not mutually exclusive.

To better explain this, Pacelle has written a book, due out April 19, called "The Humane Economy."

In one chapter, Pacelle documents the rise of plant-based meat alternatives being spearheaded by groundbreaking companies such as California-based Hampton Creek — one of the fastest-growing food startups ever — and Beyond Meat, both of which some may recognize from their local Whole Foods.

Other futuristic foodies suggest that people may prefer a twice-daily shake or wafer (yes, this comes to you from a company named Soylent) to spending so much time procuring, cooking and consuming food, otherwise known as breaking bread with friends and family. Is there something better we should be doing?

In the meantime, what Pacelle makes appetizingly clear is that humane business practices make economic as well as karmic sense. SeaWorld's stock bounced more than 15 percent immediately after its policy announcement. And Google tried to buy plant-based burger company Impossible Foods in 2015 for more than $200 million.

Human virtue, it seems, can be profitable — and delicious, too.

kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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