Reduce, Refine, Replace–The Three R’s of Meat Consumption

R letterblock

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” has to be one of the most clever memes ever, particularly when combined with the ubiquitous symbol of three green arrows. Now the Humane Society is offering a variation based on animal welfare:

  • Reduce our animal consumption.
  • Refine our diet by switching to higher welfare animal products (e.g., cage-free).
  • Replace animal products with readily available vegetarian options.

These Three R’s were first defined, for a related purpose, by the scientists William Russell and Rex Burch in The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (1959). Russell and Burch were referring to methods which reduce, refine, or replace animal experimentation (and which are now widely accepted as the basic principles guiding animal use in scientific research). Now the Humane Society has adapted Russell and Burch’s phrase to apply to humane eating practices.

Obviously, both the environmental movement (which sometimes adds a fourth R, “repair”) and the animal welfare movement have piggybacked on the alliterative power of the phrase long used to describe the foundations of a basic skills-oriented school curriculum—”reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.” (There’s even a “new school,” higher-order thinking version of the three R’s—”relating, representing, and reasoning.”)

As an educational writer and literacy specialist, I spend a lot of time developing materials that help kids recognize, decode, and write their letters, with the ultimate goal of preventing reading difficulties and creating lifelong readers. So I fully believe that each letter is crucial to cracking the code and making it one’s own—whether you’re a first grader finally able to sound out the word “rooster” or an adult consumer in a supermarket decoding labels to decide which kind of chicken to buy. In this case, that letter is R. Really.