Animal activism is a boysí club. Silicon Valley could change that
By Chase Purdy, Quartz
Feb 13, 2020
For champions of animal rights, the last five years have been good ones.
The rise of plant-based milk has captured consumersí imaginations, as have high-tech plant-based meats made by the likes of startups Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. There are more than 30 cell-cultured meat companies across the globe, a handful of them within striking distance of getting the first slaughter-free meat to market. And campaigns to push the egg industry into going cage-free found major victories in California, Massachusetts, as well as in major food corporations.
Nestled between those victories, though, is a lingering issue. Most of the people who take credit for these startups, advances, and victories have something in common: The vast majority of them are white men. Like many spheres of American culture, the animal rights movement is grappling with a gender imbalance.
The two leading US plant-based meat startup companies are run by white men. The majority of the rising cell-cultured meat startups are also run by men, as are most of the vegan venture capitalist groups that fund them. The leader of the preeminent organization that represents the interests of both, The Good Food Institute, is also a white man.
Studies have shown that the animal welfare movement is propelled in large part by vegan activists, and it has been estimated that some 79% are women. Yet often, the female activists that play an integral role in the biggest achievements of the movement have gone unrecognized. Thatís been the case for decades, according to activists and academics whoíve studied animal rights activism, and early signs show the pattern is being perpetuated in Silicon Valley startups aligned with the mission.
Erica Meier, for one, leads a watchdog group called Animal Outlook, which gets the undercover, boots-on-the-ground activists into dairy farms, slaughterhouses, egg barns, and feedlots to collect images and video footage of how animals are treated. By leading investigations of factory farms, Meierís teams gather the opposition research that can compel the public to vote for animal-friendly laws.
It isnít hard to find stories that reference the men behind some of these efforts. But Meierís name, along with many female voices in the movement, often remain conspicuously absent.
Now, though, as animal welfare groups recast their priorities in a post-#MeToo era, and as the public grows to accept new food technologies offering alternatives to animal protein, the animal rights movement has an opportunity to double-down and improve its internal culture.
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