April 11, 2014 | 18 Comments

Design and Violence Debate III: Eating Animals

Debaters: Nicola Twilley (FOR) and Gary L. Francione (AGAINST)
Moderator: Paola Antonelli

We want to continue the public debate held in the Bartos Theater at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on April 17, 2014. We welcome and encourage comments from both audience members and those who couldn’t make it on this special debate page. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @desviolenz or using the hashtag #desviolenz. View the Storify archive of the debate here.



The debate motion: "Design can allow us to humanely include animal products in our diet." Are you for, against, or on the fence?

  1. April 18, 2014, 6:09 pm

    mitchell schuman

    what is the debate about?

    I attended the debate last night. It was thought provoking in so many ways and I was impressed by the intelligence (and also the attractiveness) of the speakers and the moderator, (as well as the intelligent questions from the audience). I would like to understand which question/premise the debate was designed to address. Was it:


    OR WAS IT:


    I would love to comment on the topic but my first question is “What is the topic?” (Or have I completely misunderstood it?)

  2. April 18, 2014, 6:10 pm

    mitchell schuman

    typo correction

    April 11, 2014
    Design and Violence Debate III: Eating Animals
    By Paola Antonelli

    Debaters: Nicola Twilley (FOR) and Gary L. Francione (AGAINST)
    Moderator: Paola Antonelli

    We want to continue the public debate held in the Bartos Theater at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on April 17, 2014. We welcome and encourage comments from both audience members and those who couldn’t make it on this special debate page. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @desviolenz or using the hashtag #desviolenz. View the Storify archive of the debate here.
    Keywords: Stun
    The debate motion: “Design can allow us to humanely include animal products in our diet.” Are you for, against, or on the fence?

    April 18, 2014, 6:09 pm
    mitchell schuman

    what is the debate about?

    I attended the debate last night. It was thought provoking in so many ways and I was impressed by the intelligence (and also the attractiveness) of the speakers and the moderator, (as well as the intelligent questions from the audience). I would like to understand which question/premise the debate was designed to address. Was it:


    OR WAS IT:


    I would love to comment on the topic but my first question is “What is the topic?” (Or have I completely misunderstood it?)

  3. April 18, 2014, 9:58 pm

    Gary L. Francione

    A Great Question!

    A great question! I can speak only for myself but it was my impression as a participant that Nicola interpreted the question in latter sense. As I hoped I made clear, I do not dispute that design *can* lessen suffering. That would, indeed, seem indisputable.

    But I interpreted the question in the former way. I think that was a legitimate interpretation of the question because I do not think “humane” is a coherent moral notion when we are imposing any level of suffering or when we are killing for palate pleasure, fashion, or any other transparently frivolous purpose.

    I hope you enjoyed the event. I cannot believe how quickly the time went. I thought that Paola was a great moderator. And Michelle Fisher and all the MoMA people did a splendid job of having it all come off smoothly.

  4. April 18, 2014, 10:23 pm

    Ivy Baer Sherman

    “Animals for human consumption” is at once a string of words, a concept, a reality — in each sense fraught with ethical questions that garner layers of response – among them academic, religious, emotional. Thus the debate over the motion “Design can allow us to humanely include animal products in our diet,” with Temple Grandin’s Serpentine Ramp as a starting point, at times tugged off and away from the motion’s design foundation – begging the question — is there really any way to treat animals humanely when the end goal is to slaughter them – is there such a thing as humane slaughter?
    Taking “humane” out of the motion, perhaps substituting “ease the stress level of the animals,” the idea of design comes back into play and Grandin’s Ramp seems to achieve this effect. However, seeing the slide of the design in use – the animals on the ramp — evoked comparison, for me at least, with the trains taking people to slaughter during the Holocaust. And did hoarding people into “showers” at the concentration camps ease their anxiety before they were gassed? Was this transport to camp to shower an example of effective design?
    With a motion so fraught, I noted the argument design of each of the excellent debaters. Ms Twilley (FOR) used slides to complement her words – providing a visual texture – pictorial reminders of the relationship between animal and human – the Pig App an example – pig snout and human hand at play. Mr. Francione (AGAINST) made a point of stating, at the outset, that he would not be using any slides . Rather he presented a keenly designed ramp of words, if you will, that led the audience up to the stunning Michael -Vick –killing- dogs -for –personal-pleasure imagery before lifting us to the analogy with the slaughter of animals for our food.
    Each effective.
    Quite the pre-prandial debate.
    A ravishing discussion.

  5. April 19, 2014, 2:37 pm

    Linda McKenzie

    Nicola Twilley never attempted to respond to the central, most important argument advanced by Gary Francione: Since there is no necessity to consume animal products for health, we have no moral justification for torturing and killing 58 billion land animals and approximately a trillion sea creatures a year in order to consume their flesh and secretions. We do so only for the transparently frivolous reason that they taste good. No concept of “humane” makes any sense in this context. The fact that Grandin’s design may lessen suffering of animals on their way to slaughter does not make their totally unnecessary slaughter humane. It’s a travesty to even use the word, “humane” in inflicting horrific suffering and death on fully sentient beings who value their lives and want to live, merely so that we can enjoy eating their flesh and wearing their skins, wool or fur, when we can live perfectly healthy, in fact, healthier, lives as vegans. Twilley didn’t respond to this argument because it’s obvious that there’s no response that doesn’t endorse gross immorality. She simply took it as a given that we will continue to exploit animals, without offering any convincing argument as to why that is morally justifiable. The best she could to was to say that without our continued exploitation farmed animals would become extinct and that we have a responsibility to continue the “relationship”.

    The extinction argument is invalid because, as Francione pointed out, these animals have not evolved naturally but have been artificially bred by humans to satisfy our appetites and they are totally dependent on us. There is no scenario in which they can live autonomously in the wild. It’s absurd to think that any sentient being would thank us for bringing them into existence only to live a miserable life of torture as well as physical and emotional deprivation, ending in a violent and terrifying death, and think this was better than never existing at all. Individual, sentient animals almost certainly have no concept of species and do not care whether their species survives or not–that is a human concern. It’s obvious, however, that they care very much about not being hurt and killed–they resist it with all their might. Why is it problematic for Twilley that a species of animal may not survive, while condoning the slaughter of millions of animals within that species? Is she really saying that we should care more about an abstract concept–species–than actual, living, feeling, individual members of that species?The “relationship” of humans to these animals has only ever been one of oppression and abuse. Why would anyone want to perpetuate that? Twilley’s notion of some kind of mutually satisfying, non-oppressive coexistence or “co-evolution” with these animals where we respect their agency is pure fantasy. What kind of “agency” can they have when they’re trapped in being totally dependent on us for every single thing in their lives? How can they evolve at all if they can’t even survive independently? The fact is that they’ve been bred exclusively for the purpose of exploitation and no other kind of existence as a viable future is open to them because we’ve disabled them from having any. Francione explained that even growing into adulthood is hugely problematic for these animals because of the abnormal and grotesque selective breeding to which they’ve been subjected, leading to all kinds of health problems. If we want to end exploitation and suffering, there is no reason whatsoever to carry on breeding these animals. Again, there was no response from Twilley to these points.

    As Francione stressed, Temple Grandin is **not** an “animal rights activist”. On the contrary, she’s a shill for the meat industry who assists them in achieving greater efficiency and profitability. She helps them promote the fantasy that we can exploit “compassionately” and “humanely”. This reassures people that they can go on consuming animal products with impunity, resulting in more exploitation and more suffering for animals. Let’s get one thing clear: the minimum qualification for being called an animal rights activist, or advocate, is that you are vegan. That’s the moral baseline. If animal rights means anything at all, it means that animals have the right to not be the property of humans, used by them as resources; the right not to be tortured and murdered for the sake of palate pleasure and fashion.

    I have to say Nicola Twilley lost me at “I prepared by eating a bacon sandwich”. I’m assuming this was supposed to be cute and funny but served to alert us that this was not going to be a serious attempt to address an important moral issue on her part. It revealed a disturbingly frivolous attitude to the issue of our violence and oppression towards other sentient beings based on speciesism–a form of discrimination no different to racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc. in that it involves exclusion from the moral community based on an irrelevant criterion. Even more disturbing was her glib, and frankly callous assurance that she could easily kill a pig after she played with him for a whole day and she would feel even *more* comfortable killing him after spending the day with him. I’m not sure whether this was said disingenuously for effect, or whether we’re supposed to believe that she really does lack empathy to such a serious degree. If this is the case then she seems an odd choice to engage in such a debate at all. Moreover, much of what she said was just plain silly–plant pain? human photosynthesis? “Design can empower these animals to impact the future of our relationship rather than us making all these decisions in our speciesist sort of way”? What does that even mean? She kept ending her sentences with “You know?” No, Nicola, we don’t know what you mean and you don’t seem to either.

    Twilley’s lack of any convincing moral concern for animals, her often incomprehensible gibberish and lame jokes about bacon and being a psychopath contrasted sharply with the earnestness, logical clarity and gravitas of Francione as someone who has spent the last 30 years dedicated to addressing one of the most pressing moral issues of our time. I feel the two presenters were so mismatched in intellect and seriousness that no real debate was possible. However, for me the “debate” was clearly won by Francione.

  6. April 19, 2014, 2:54 pm

    Gary L. Francione

    Debating Eating Animals at MoMA

    From my blog essay at:

    On Thursday evening, April 17, I had the pleasure to participate in a program at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in which we discussed the following proposition:

    “Design can allow us to humanely include animal products in our diet.”

    Nicola Twilley argued in favor; I argued against.

    As I tried to tease out in my presentation and in the question period that followed, I think that there are three ways to interpret this question: one purely empirical; one partly empirical and partly moral; and one completely moral.

    First, can design result in *less* suffering? Of course it can. As a purely factual matter, we can design systems of animal exploitation that result in less suffering. That’s clear. But it is also an uninteresting way to interpret the question. I do not believe that Nicola and I had any disagreement here.

    Second, we can ask whether design can reduce suffering to a point where we would feel comfortable in consider calling the resulting level of exploitation “humane.” That is how I understood Nicola Twilley to interpret the question.

    This is a mixed question that involves moral and empirical components.

    As I discussed in the debate, because animals are chattel property, there are structural limitations on how far industry can go in reducing suffering. For the most part, our “humane” treatment is limited by economic efficiency: we protect animal interests to the extent that we get an economic benefit from doing so. So efforts to make treatment more “humane” are usually coextensive with efforts to reduce inefficiencies and increase profitability. That is *exactly* what slaughterhouse designer and meat-industry consultant Temple Grandin does–and acknowledges that she does. She focuses on industry inefficiencies and proposes ways to reduce those inefficiencies through more “humane” treatment.

    As long as animals are chattel property, the ability of design to address the issue is structurally constrained. The most “humanely” treated animals are still subjected to what could only be called *torture* if humans were involved.

    The primary reason why we think that design can make exploitation “humane” in some morally acceptable way is that there are animal advocates, such as Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, who put their stamp-of-approval on people like Grandin and the “solutions” she provides. PETA gave an award to Grandin, declaring her as a “Visionary” and as “the world’s leading expert on the welfare of cattle and pigs.”

    You can see the actual PETA award here:

    This not only assumes that “welfare” is consistent with exploitation, but it also tells us that meat-industry consultants who seek to increase the profitability of the meat industry have something to tell us about the welfare of animals as a *moral* matter. It establishes and reinforces the idea that we can exploit animals “humanely” in this mixed empirical and moral way. In my view, that is simply wrong on both the empirical and moral levels.

    Although Newkirk’s praise for Grandin is ostensibly bewildering, it makes perfect sense. There is a symbiotic relationship here. Industry needs welfarists like Newkirk to provide a positive moral characterization of their efficiency efforts. Industry needs to have its efforts to achieve efficiency, resulting in largely minor changes to the institutions of animal exploitation, declared “humane” by those identified as animal advocates. But PETA needs industry as PETA uses these efficiency measures to proclaim “progress” and to fundraise. For the most part, the campaigns of animal welfare organizations target economically vulnerable industry practices for precisely that reason. These practices are “low hanging fruit,” so there is an easy “victory” for fundraising purposes.

    As I have written in connection with this debate and elsewhere, including my academic work and blog essays (which you can find at, I regard the actions of groups like PETA to be problematic. I think that it is terribly wrong under *any* circumstance to say that some form of “better” exploitation should be normatively endorsed when the resulting situation still involves a violation of fundamental rights. To say that a slave owner who beats his slaves five times a week is “better” than one who beats his slaves six times a week does not mean that the former is practicing “humane” slavery, or that the “better” slavery is morally acceptable, or that the “better” slave owner ought to be declared a “Visionary.”

    Third, the question can be interpreted as asking whether design can ever make it ethical to consume animals. This makes the question a purely moral one.

    As I explained in the debate, I believe that we have already answered that question as a matter of our conventional wisdom, which maintains that we should not impose “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals. Whatever “necessity” includes, it must exclude suffering and death imposed for pleasure and convenience or else the moral norm about unnecessary suffering/death is meaningless.

    But what is our justification for imposing suffering and death on 58 billion land animals and an estimated trillion sea animals every year?

    We do not need to eat animals or animal foods for optimal health; indeed, mainstream health care professionals are increasingly telling us that animal foods are detrimental to human health. But animal foods are certainly not *necessary* in any sense.

    Animal agriculture is, without question, an ecological nightmare.

    So what’s the best justification we have for inflicting suffering and death–however “humane”–on all of those sentient (subjectively aware) beings?

    The answer: they taste good; we derive palate pleasure from consuming animals.
    And no one would accept such a justification in any other context. Think about Michael Vick, the football player who conducted a dog fighting operation. Everyone objects to what Michael Vick did.


    Because he inflicted suffering on animals for no reason other than his pleasure.

    But what is the difference between sitting around the ring watching dogs fight and sitting around a summer barbecue roasting the corpses of animals, or drinking milk or eating cheese, where–under the most “humane” circumstances–animals have suffered and died?

    There is no difference. And as any first-year law student can tell you, it does not matter whether Mary with premeditation shoots Joe or hires Alan to shoot Joe. It’s murder in both cases. There may be a *psychological* difference between one who engages in violent conduct and one who pays another to do the deed but there is no *moral* difference, which is why the law treats them in the same way.

    You can read further about my Michael Vick Analogy here:

    So I would suggest that the answer to the moral question posed in the MoMA debate is simple: no.

    If animals matter morally, we have a moral obligation not to impose *any* level of suffering, or death, on animals at least in the absence of a true conflict where there is compulsion. And that does not exist with respect to our consumption of animals.

    So let me summarize: if you take morality seriously, and you regard animals as having moral value, go vegan. It’s the *only* option that is consistent with we say we believe about the moral status of animals. Anything else leaves us saying that we accept that animals matter morally but that we can disregard their fundamental interests for trivial reasons. That makes no sense.

    Thanks to Paola Antonelli, Michelle Fisher, and all of the wonderful people at MoMA for having this program.


    If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

    The World is Vegan! If you want it.

    Gary L. Francione
    Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

    ©2014 Gary L. Francione

  7. April 19, 2014, 7:37 pm

    John Keith

    There is no logic used by Nicola Twilley, just touchy, feely, “caring” statements, all of which are no more or no less than an excuse to continue to do the wrong thing. She is part of the “cool, caring” excuse that we can now use to continue exploiting animals. If of course, you can close your eyes to the logic, which many people have no trouble doing when it suits their needs. I am not as verbal as some of the contributors. So I would encourage everyone to read (or re read) Linda McKenzie’s statements. I don’t think you could say it better than that.

  8. April 19, 2014, 10:57 pm


    If You Care About Logic

    “So I would encourage everyone to read (or re read) Linda McKenzie’s statements [above]. I don’t think you could say it better than that”


  9. April 20, 2014, 2:06 am

    Cath King

    Conflicting Wording

    I found the motion to be confusing and conflicted. If humane is defined as “kind”, “tender” or “benevolent”, then surely the term is completely inconsistent and incompatible with the euphemism “include animal products in our diet”. This is more easily seen when we reword the motion to read: “Design can allow us to unnecessarily torture and kill animals, so as to obtain enjoyment from the taste of their flesh, in a kind and tender way.” Clearly this just doesn’t make any sense. Nicole’s idea of designing a system of farming animals to merely use to make petri dish meat was kind of unrealistic and really had no place in any serious discussion of our relationship with other members of the Earth community at this time.

  10. April 21, 2014, 6:04 pm



    Nicole’s continuous stammering and lack of any real arguments , proves that there is no moral excuse for our exploitation of non humans . She was unable to address Mr. Francione’s argument on the morality of causing unnecessary suffering , simply because there is no way to justify such behaviour without presenting herself as utterly void of morals and empathy . But she eventually did that, when she said, she’d feel better killing and consuming someone she knew. She totally lost me with the plant argument , which I honestly didn’t expect to hear in such a debate .

  11. April 21, 2014, 6:25 pm


    Excellent talk by Professor Francione. He had his facts straight and his logic is air tight. It would have been nice if he was matched in debate with someone we could all take seriously, but when the opening line is “I had a bacon sandwich before this” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was it) that reveals all we need to know about the lack of both intellectual power and of sound arguments on the part of that person. Tant pis. Professor Francione’s talk was superb.

  12. April 25, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Kate FitzGibbon


    A psychopath is someone who cannot empathise with another’s suffering. Nicola Twilley described herself as one and sadly the world is full of them. Please go vegan.

  13. April 26, 2014, 7:25 am

    Linda McKenzie

    Katerina: <>. Indeed, this was a shocker. I don’t think anyone could ever have expected to hear such a fatuous “argument” made in what we assumed would be a serious debate, rather than a sideshow on the part of Ms. Twilley. When she launched into this, I felt as though I could hear a collective groan issue forth from my fellow vegans as we’ve all had to deal with this particular, and now predictable, piece of foolishness many times. The fact that Twilley would *open* her presentation with such nonsense is just breathtaking. A bold and daring start it was not!

    Contrary to her claim, there is zero scientific evidence that plants feel pain. Many people grasp at plant sentience as a last resort when they’ve exhausted all their other arguments, i.e. excuses, for why they can’t or rather, wont go vegan. No-one really believes that plants are sentient and feel pain, or have any kind of mind or interests. The only time anyone expresses this view is when they’re challenged on their participation in animal exploitation and are desperately seeking a way of evading their responsibility in the violence and horror which they know in their hearts is wrong. People who can’t manage to keep a pot plant alive and happily trample on the grass suddenly become solicitous about plant suffering when asked to consider their part in unnecessary animal suffering. It’s astounding just how irrational otherwise intelligent people become when confronted with the immorality of animal exploitation. But prejudice has a way of warping clear thinking, and as I pointed out above, speciesism is just another prejudice.

    If someone wants to persist in the delusion that plants are sentient and is concerned about exploiting them then they should recognize that eating animal products involves consuming many times more plants than we would consume if we were eating the plants directly. It takes 10 to 15 pounds of plants to produce one pound of flesh. So when Twilley consumes her bacon and other animal flesh, she’s consuming far more plants than if she were vegan. Do I expect this fact to make any difference to her moral choices regarding animals? No, because we all know that she was not serious in her “plant pain” argument to begin with and that it’s just another excuse for bullying the vulnerable.

  14. April 26, 2014, 7:30 am

    Linda McKenzie

    Missing quote re: plant argument

    Missing from brackets above is a quote from Katerina: “She totally lost me with the plant argument, which I honestly didn’t expect to hear in such a debate”. If my comment can be edited to insert this quote at the beginning, I would appreciate it.

  15. April 26, 2014, 8:52 pm

    Wendelin Wohlgemuth

    Some thoughts:

    First, for something to be “more humane” it needs to be at least a little bit humane in the first place. A serpentine ramp is not “more humane” because the act of slaughtering a conscious creature for no good reason is not humane in the first place. The only way such design implementations could possibly be described is “less inhumane.” This goes for all supposed “welfare” reforms that seek to “improve” our treatment of animals. A bigger cage is not “more humane.” It is less inhumane, if anything at all. As Francione has stated over and over again, If something is fundamentally inhumane, we should not be funding, supporting, praising it at all. This is something that I think Nicola Twilley was not addressing in the debate.

    Secondly, I think that it could be argued that something like a serpentine ramp, or a video game for pigs, etc. actually makes the process of slaughter more INhumane. In addition to torturing and killing the animal, we are, in a sense, lying to them by luring them into a trap with trickery that exploits their natural behaviors like curiosity. To me, this is much more morbid.

    Thirdly, the part in the video which took me aback the most is when Twilley stated that the belief in sentience is a theological belief. Utter nonsense. It is like saying the belief in life is a theological belief, merely because there are some doubts about when or how life began.

  16. May 12, 2014, 3:04 pm

    Bruno Uel

    Exploiting with compassion...

    If we focus on the purpose of the motion: “Design can allow us to humanely include animal products in our diet.” I really can’t understand how someone could be FOR this motion and try to put the word “humanely” in that expression.

    Killing trillion of animals yearly just because we like their taste (and we can’t forget they love their lifes and would never give it up just to satisfy our most frivolous pleasures) could never be associated with the notion of “humanely”. It’s nosense.

    I also think the motion expression is related to something like: “can design make people more comfortable with exploiting and killing innocents just because we love to do it even without any kind of necessity?

    Yes, who is for this motion is clearly thinking like all those wellfarists that like to make people more and more confuse with the meaning of unnecessary exploitation and violence.

  17. May 12, 2014, 3:13 pm

    Bruno Uel

    Wendelin Wohlgemuth

    I totally agree with you.

    It’s a morbid thing, something like sadism, believe that we can treat other animals with “love”, “compassion”, feeding their natural behaviors of curiosity (among others), playing with them, all this just to trick them, and the actual meaning of all this is that we just want to exploit and eventually kill them for frivolous reasons.

  18. May 28, 2014, 4:36 am


    Are we playing “God” when we think about “designing” something that could enable the live animals to presumably feel less “pain/ suffering/ anxiety/ stress, etc.” prior to slaughter them? We, as a so-called modern/ advanced society, like to play “God” in lots of ways, and yet our moral values and basics understandings of compassion, selflessness, kindness, empathy for one another, and for non-human beings are so limited that it is embarrassing comparing to many non-human beings.

    Nicole Twilley didn’t gain my respect on several points that were clearly mentioned above and they were all very weak, and at time, a bit silly at best. I don’t like to judge anyone too quickly, and I do work hard not to do it, but when someone tells me that she’s perfectly ok eating a pig whom she had spent time playing with earlier, then there is clearly something wrong with the woman. I probably wouldn’t have the patience, nor any desire to communicate further, and I guess this is where, we all need Mr. Francione’s experience and expertise.