I get a lot of email from people urging their product, cause or point of view on me as blog fodder. 99% of those unsolicited emails are deleted unopened. If it came from a PR firm, or some purveyor of manufacturing equipment or service wanting me to endorse them in the blog, I'm not interested.
I received one too interesting to ignore, however. It was from a PETA spokesperson, trying to sell me on supporting an anti-McDonalds campaign over chickens. What piqued my interest is that am the most carnivorous person I know. I am the poster boy for that which PETA crusades to eradicate. The likelihood of me agreeing with PETA on anything is so remote as to be unworthy of consideration. Don't get me wrong- I oppose cruelty to animals, but I draw a very clear distinction between people and animals. This particular PETA campaign has to do with the humane treatment of chickens in slaughterhouses. Call me naive, but the words 'humane' and 'slaughterhouse' strike me as polar opposites. There is no avoiding the fact that things are going to get very un-humane for the chicken who finds himself in a slaughterhouse.
The PETA campaign includes a picture of McDonalds' CEO, Jim Skinner, with the clever caption, "How many chicks has this guy burned?" across his image. The play on words, of course, is that at first read the ad appears to be talking about his treatment of women, only to actually be about chickens. I found that just a tad hypocritical – there could just as easily be an ad in Poultry Growers Weekly with a picture of PETA hero and benefactor Bob Barker with the same words, leading people to assume Bob was mean to chickens, only to have the ad include a laundry list of Barker's out of court settlements of sexual harassment and discrimination suits. PETA slams the McDonalds guy for being mean to poultry, although he presumably has respect for women, while PETA endorses Bob Barker who seems to see women as something of lesser stature, but has enormous regard for poultry.
All of that said, however, it seems PETA is probably more right than wrong when it comes to the best way, all things considered, of converting live chickens into chicken McNuggets. I base this not on the illogical, emotional opinions of PETA ranging from the nonsensical to the borderline insane (click here to read about their opposition to fireworks on Independence Day because they scare dogs, why the popemobile should be cow-friendly and their passionate opposition to butter sculpture). I base my view on the thoughts of Temple Grandin, a woman with an extraordinary talent for lean thinking.
For those unfamiliar with Grandin or her work, she is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and she has single-handedly overhauled the beef slaughterhouse business. Her insights have made the process much more cow-friendly (as cow-friendly as mass killing of cows can be, anyway), and at the same time reduced the cost and improved the quality.
What differentiates Grandin from PETA is that, while a night with me in Chicago eating deep dish pizza heaped with sausage and cheese, or better yet, at my favorite Brazilian joint where you turn the disk to the white side and sixteen guys run to your table each with a different, delicious slab of meat, would turn the PETA folks into a quivering mass of shattered nerves, Grandin would probably enjoy it. She has no emotional interest in animal rights whatsoever. In fact, she has no emotional interest in people either. She is a high-functioning autistic genius who says, "the part of other people that has emotional relationships is not part of me." To her, animals are just meat. For that matter, so are you and I.
In her incredible, cold, analytical way of seeing the world in the form of geometrical processes, she has logically deduced that more humane treatment of animals in the slaughtering operation improves quality, reduces cost and increases slaughterhouse throughput. If you read her treatise, "The Effect of Economics on the Welfare of Cattle, Pigs, Sheep and Poultry" you will see it is nothing less than a brilliant assessment of the value stream from farm to meat, complete with the economic case for controlling quality at the source; the case against compensating employees for volume rather than flow and quality; and example after example of the results of asking why as many times as it takes to get to the root causes of problems. It is the product of lean thinking of the highest order.
The moral of this long story is that PETA-type passion, rooted in emotion, but unsupported by facts and a view of the overall process is rarely persuasive. Trying to shame people into change and do things your way simply because you believe you are right doesn't get the job done. On the other hand, when the case for change is made in the form of a business case, supported by homework proving the change is in the best interests of those involved – Temple Grandin style – entire industries can be transformed. PETA and their blubbering nonsense didn't convince me of the McDonalds error, but Grandin and her facts did.