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One Good Thing: How fashion became a part of The Nanny’s legacy
Fran Fine’s fashion-forward flair is the perfect gateway to a greater appreciation of the iconic ‘90s comedy television series. | CBS via Getty Images Fran Fine has remained a style icon for a generation of kids born during (and after) the years that the series aired. The often-used meme, “I watched it for the plot,” is an irony-laden acknowledgment that we, as viewers, often gravitate toward eye candy. Most people prefer to watch flashy productions and beautiful celebrities over “highbrow” content; they have a knack for avoiding convoluted plot lines that force the viewer to think. This is not an incrimination but a very real aspect of our media consumption. Even Netflix’s official social media accounts have leaned into the joke to promote shows like Squid Game. “The plot,” then, becomes a teasing reference to its attractive cast instead of to the show’s unsubtle statement on social class in South Korea. Similarly, my interest in The Nanny, a CBS sitcom that aired from 1993 to 1999, stemmed from its superficial, plotless elements — or so I thought. I began streaming the show not for its comedic charm but the extravagant and colorful designer costumes worn by its main character, Fran Fine, the titular nanny (played by Fran Drescher). That isn’t to say The Nanny is all style with no substance. Instead, Fran’s fashion-forward flair was the gateway to my greater appreciation of the series and its tendency for excess through its comedy and aesthetics. The Nanny, both the show and the character, excelled at endearingly doing the most: Yiddish references pepper Fran’s vocabulary; she manages to be brash and self-deprecatingly honest, sweet but not cloying; and her clothes are ridiculously ostentatious for nanny-ing around the house. Fran’s costumes, engineered by stylist Brenda Cooper (who won an Emmy for her work), were the stylistic vehicle to distinguish her vivacious character from the rest of the well-rounded cast. The Nanny’s catchy, show-tune-like theme song even sets the audience up for this distinction. Fran is described as “the lady in red while everybody else is wearing tan.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by Fran Fine Fashion (@whatfranwore) To recap, The Nanny follows Fran Fine, a Jewish lady from Flushing, Queens, who, after losing her job at a bridal shop, accidentally lands a job as the nanny for the high-society, WASP-y Sheffield family. Her over-the-top persona (and nasally intonation) was initially bewildering to Maxwell, the widowed single dad of the family, but became endearing as he realized how smoothly his three children had taken to Fran’s antics. She moves in with the Sheffields and their snarky live-in butler Niles, and she playfully contends with Maxwell’s clingy and haughty business partner, C.C. Babcock. From the start of the show’s run to its sixth season finale, Fran remains its centrifugal force; her bubbly charm blew fresh air into the stuffy lives of the Sheffields, who viewers grow to individually adore. But Drescher, the series’ creator, and Cooper weren’t so sure The Nanny would’ve established such a beloved and lasting legacy if not for Fran’s clothes. “Could you imagine if I dressed that show and dressed Fran like an average, everyday nanny?” Cooper told the HuffPost in 2018. “We wouldn’t be having a conversation right now.” Cooper, until her departure after season four, was famously given free rein by Drescher to dress Fran Fine however she wished. She crafted Fran’s costumes to be an extension of her personality while also serving as memorable timestamps for the show’s progression and class commentary. Fran famously carried a red Moschino heart-shaped purse on a (failed) date with a mobster in season one and wore a Moschino piano dress in a season four episode that featured an aspiring concert pianist who later lost any desire to play the instrument. Still, her character is a “shopaholic striver with a mountain of credit card debt,” observed Rachel Syme in the New Yorker, “a profligate clotheshorse who, the viewer assumes, cares more about materialist trends than timeless art.” Even after Fran’s induction into the Sheffield clan, her style remains singular, unswayed by the social expectations of the Upper East Side. In a 2020 interview with Vogue, Drescher described Fran’s style as “sexy, but definitely not trashy” and shared some of Cooper’s costuming decisions. The character wore a lot of Moschino, since the clothes had pizzazz and humor, according to Drescher. And in the scenes Fran shared with C.C., the goal was to depict the two women as “contrasting in every way, as people and in the way they dressed.” By today’s ’90s-obsessed standards, Fran’s looks are distinctly modern and timeless. CBS via Getty Images In the scenes Fran shared with C.C., Maxwell’s clingy and haughty business partner, the goal was to depict the two women as “contrasting in every way, as people and in the way they dressed.” Yet, The Nanny never achieved the level of widespread popularity and cultural cachet afforded to other ’90s shows, like Friends or Sex and the City. Female leads like Rachel Green and Carrie Bradshaw have remained style flashpoints for a generation of ’90s and 2000s kids born during the years their shows aired. The Nanny, on the other hand, became lauded and referenced by a much smaller audience (including Cardi B) in the decades after it went off the air. Various women’s and fashion publications have dedicated coverage to Fran’s unique fashion sensibilities in recent years, nearly two decades after the show ended (and before The Nanny was revived via streaming service). This interest was, in part, driven by the @whatfranwore Instagram account, which identifies Fran’s iconic wardrobe to over 350,000 followers. The series’s arrival on HBO Max in April 2021, however, has likely introduced the show to more viewers. It is also a step toward memorializing its cultural status as a ’90s sitcom. To viewers in 2021, the show’s set-up — its punchlines and the way it was filmed — might feel a bit dated. Not so much that the humor was corny, but that it was simply of a different time. Some seasons of The Nanny were taped before a live audience, which has become “a class signifier of comedy itself,” according to NPR’s Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour, “that somehow [a live audience laughing is] a less sophisticated or old-fashioned or more broad kind of comedy.” Still, the show boasted a list of enviable celebrity cameos during its run, featuring Elton John, Celine Dion, Elizabeth Taylor, Patti LaBelle, and of course, Donald Trump. The Nanny “finds jokes everywhere, sometimes three or four to a line, and links them across episodes and plotlines,” wrote Hilarie Ashton for the New York Times. Its self-aware, slapstick humor is refreshing and explicit for a decades-old show, and it generally holds up as a breezy ’90s sitcom to stream. The Nanny’s embrace of excess, however, had the potential to be wholly liberating and ahead of its time, but the show’s writers (and likely Drescher herself) drew the line at fatness. Instead, oversized bodies are to be feared or laughed at, and at one point in the series, Drescher dons a fat suit. In spite of this, Drescher’s charisma and comedic talent cement Fran Fine’s place in the television canon, as a lead who manages to subvert and reinforce stereotypes — about women, Jewishness, and class. The Nanny is a worthwhile watch for the cast’s physical humor, charm, and laugh-out-loud antics. But if you don’t find yourself convinced by these plot asides, do consider watching it solely for the clothes. The Nanny is streaming on HBO Max. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.
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vox.com
Prices for food and gas are rising sharply. Is health care next?
iStock/Getty Images Health insurance premiums could spike in 2022, experts warn. Inflation is on the rise, driving up the price of gas and food. One sector of the US economy is behaving particularly strangely: For once, medical prices have been increasing at a significantly lower rate than prices in the overall economy. In October 2021, according to the nonprofit health care analysis group Altarum, prices for health care services rose at a 2 percent rate year-over-year, compared to a 6.2 percent rate for all consumer products. But a sharp rise in medical prices could still be around the corner, experts say, delayed only because of unique features of the health care industry. Over the last 30 years, consumer prices have almost never risen faster than medical inflation, which measures the change in the prices paid for medical services, everything from doctor’s visits to surgeries to prescription drugs. If anything, the opposite has been true, particularly during economic downturns; after the 2008 financial crisis, for example, overall inflation slowed down to almost nothing but medical prices continued to grow at a 2 to 3 percent rate. In fact, since 2010, prices in the overall economy and in health care have moved more or less in tandem — until the spring of 2020. Altarum But while that may make it sound as though the health care sector is enjoying a welcome respite from the general inflation creating so much nervousness among businesses and political leaders, the reality appears less reassuring. This comparatively slow growth in medical prices could be a mirage. And if health care inflation does eventually catch up with the broader economy, patients would largely be the ones paying for it. Why medical inflation could accelerate soon The same problems driving up prices in the rest of the economy — rising costs within the supply chain, difficulty finding workers for open jobs — are issues in the health care sector too. The workforce crisis in particular is acute and not likely to go away any time soon, given how many nurses and doctors have left their jobs during the pandemic. A recent survey from the Chartis Group found that 99 percent of rural hospitals said they were experiencing a staffing shortage; 96 percent of them said they were having the most difficulty finding nurses. That has forced hospitals to increase their pay and benefits or hire temporary help from travel nursing companies that are more expensive — sometimes much more expensive — than regular full-time staff. The costs for purchasing personal protective equipment and other supplies have also been elevated because of Covid. Hospitals are going to want to make up for those higher costs by bringing in more money. While the numbers of patients they served fell sharply in March and April of 2020, patient numbers are already back near their pre-pandemic levels. There are only so many ways to increase how many services they provide, especially amid a staffing crisis. The other option is trying to charge health insurers more money for procedures and treatment, particularly the private insurers that directly negotiate prices with health care providers. So while it might be a while before higher prices hit patients, they likely will — just on a time delay. For medical services in particular, there is a lag between when the inflationary pressures like rising supply costs or labor shortages first appear and when they are actually felt in health care prices. In the rest of the economy, inflation and increased costs ripple through the market pretty quickly. If the cost of beef goes up today, the restaurant can raise the price of hamburgers tomorrow. If they can’t find fry cooks and need to increase wages to attract new workers, the restaurant can immediately charge more money for fries. But the prices for health care services are set in advance, written into binding contracts after negotiations between insurers and providers or after the government issues new regulations for public programs like Medicare. And those prices are generally set for an entire year, until another round of negotiations establishes new prices for the next year. Altarum’s inflation experts told me the negotiations for 2022 plans will determine how much the current inflation crisis ends up affecting medical prices. These inflation-driving trends, like the rising workforce costs, have only accelerated throughout 2021. For the last decade, health care prices have consistently grown at roughly a rate of 1 percent to 2 percent. Already, in the last 18 months, prices for hospital and physician prices have exceeded a 3 percent inflation rate. Altarum’s experts say they are watching whether health care prices eventually increase at the same 5 percent to 7 percent rate currently being seen in the rest of the economy — which would be the fastest rate since 1993. Such historic medical inflation would ultimately end up raising costs to patients in two distinct ways. First, if providers negotiate higher payments from insurers to make up for their increasing costs, the insurer will turn around and increase premiums for its customers. But patients also feel the rising costs more directly because they are being asked to pay more money out of pocket for their health care. Deductibles and other cost-sharing have been steadily rising for the 180 million Americans enrolled in commercial health plans. At the same time, the number of Americans considered underinsured — meaning they do carry insurance but the insurance would not necessarily provide them adequate financial protection if they had a medical emergency — has been growing. So if medical prices end up increasing at a historic rate, consumers are going to feel it both when they pay their premium and when they pick up their prescription: They’ll end up getting squeezed from both sides.
6 h
vox.com
How Puerto Rico became the most vaccinated place in America
A man waits in line to be inoculated with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a Puerto Rico National Guard vaccination center in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on March 10. | Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images Politics — or the lack thereof — was a key factor. Florida shares deep connections with Puerto Rico as home to the territory’s largest diaspora community on the US mainland. But when it comes to Covid-19, the two places have little in common. While Florida, like many states in the South, has seen high infection rates and troubling death counts, Puerto Rico has been something of a coronavirus success story. As of November 22, Puerto Rico had fully vaccinated 74 percent of its population — a higher proportion than any other US state or territory — and had among the lowest Covid-19 death rates since the start of the pandemic, with 102 in 100,000 people dying from the virus. By comparison, Florida’s vaccination rate is far more typical for the US; it has administered two shots to 60.9 percent of its population, slightly above the national average of 59.2 percent. That’s after Florida led the country in total caseloads for months, and after significant loss of life: Florida residents have died of the virus at nearly triple the rate of Puerto Rico residents. Throughout the US, politics has been a key factor in determining how states have fared during the Covid-19 pandemic. States that embraced the individualistic approach of the Trump administration, sometimes ignoring scientific guidelines and avoiding mandates, have seen worse outcomes than states that took more comprehensive actions to stop the spread of Covid-19. Florida Republican Gov. Ron De Santis has been threatening government agencies with millions in fines if they mandate vaccines for employees and has boosted the voices of anti-vaxxers. At the same time, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi, a member of the Partido Nuevo Progresista who caucused with Democrats while a commissioner in Congress,has quietly implemented some of the broadest vaccine mandates in the country across the private and public sectors. And while Floridians have taken to the streets with signs reading “No jab, no job, no way,” Puerto Ricans have largely embraced the mandates without protest. Though coronavirus cases have risen across the mainland in recent weeks, Puerto Rico has avoided a spike, with cases and hospitalizations even trending downward. Carlos Giusti/AP Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, center, attends a mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 at the Maria Simmons elementary school in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on March 10. So, how was Puerto Rico able to insulate itself from political polarization around the virus and outpace the rest of the country on vaccinations? Officials and NGOs had already built public trust and infrastructure in the aftermath of other recent crises, including Hurricane Maria in 2017. And importantly, scientists and physicians — not politicians — led Puerto Rico’s response to the pandemic. Puerto Rico had already weathered several public health crises in recent years A series of crises over the last few years made Puerto Rico’s public health system more resilient in the face of disaster than those in other states and territories, and its residents more receptive to the scientists leading the response. This process began when Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017. The category 4 storm left more than 5,000 dead and wreaked $90 billion in damage, destroying homes, roads, and bridges, and causing island-wide power outages. The public health consequences were disastrous. Many Puerto Ricans had limited access to food and safe drinking water. Without adequate hygiene and sanitation, they faced increased risk from infectious diseases. Nearly every hospital was closed for days after the hurricane hit, and when they reopened, many had to rely on generators for power for months thereafter, causing disruptions to services. For many people with chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes, that meant traveling far for lifesaving treatments. Then, in late 2019, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the island, followed by dozens of significant aftershocks and a second quake, this one at magnitude 5.9. That caused additional damage to critical infrastructure and hampered the island’s rebuilding efforts. Tens of thousands of people were relegated to emergency tent shelters with limited access to medical care. The federal and Puerto Rican governments failed to adequately respond to the hurricane and the quakes, with the Trump administration deliberately delaying more than $20 billion in relief. The Puerto Rican government mismanaged the funds that were delivered. NGOs and community leaders picked up the pieces, which built trust with the people they served. In the immediate aftermath, they helped assess the damage, mobilized volunteers, set up emergency support centers, helped clear routes to water sources and medical facilities, and distributed basic supplies including non-perishable food, medicine, water purifiers, hygiene kits, and tents. “It was the NGOs that put together everything because the government, locally and federally, couldn’t deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” said José Rodríguez-Orengo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust (PRPHI), a public health institution that partners with the Puerto Rican government and community groups. Data gathered after Hurricane Maria was crucial. PRPHI captured data on individuals whose homes had been damaged or destroyed and who were staying in camps in the southwest of the island. It provided that information to the local Department of Health to ensure that victims received the services they needed. And Voces, a coalition of Puerto Rican community groups and health care providers focused on immunization, provided flu vaccines in the wake of both disasters to people who could not otherwise access a vaccination site. That was important because the lack of clean drinking water and overpopulation at emergency shelters was creating the ideal conditions for the flu to spread and become a serious public health issue. By the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, such organizations had already established the infrastructure and community relationships necessary for effective Covid-19 prevention and vaccination campaigns under difficult circumstances — an advantage that Puerto Rico might have had over other states and territories. Voces alone, for example, has administered close to a quarter of a million vaccine shots. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images Senior citizens receive Moderna Covid-19 vaccines during a priority Covid-19 vaccination program for the elderly at a Puerto Rico National Guard vaccination center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 8. “The island has developed an expertise around addressing public health emergencies,” said María Fernanda Levis-Peralta, a consultant in Puerto Rico working on improving systems for public health delivery. “These organizations were already set up and deployed to do community outreach.” From scientists to community leaders, the message was the same: Mask up and get vaccinated Puerto Rico wasn’t untouched by the kind of vaccine misinformation that remains prevalent in the mainland US. Rodríguez-Orengo said his organization encountered Puerto Ricans who had heard conspiracy theories that they were being injected with a microchip that would allow the government to track them or that the first-of-its-kind mRNA vaccine could permanently alter their DNA. But those conspiracy theories simply weren’t allowed to take hold in Puerto Rico, in part because the local political parties did not tolerate them. “Our main sport in Puerto Rico is politics. We are a very political society,” Rodríguez-Orengo said. “What helped us out from the beginning was that the main political parties in Puerto Rico were saying the same message: ‘Let’s start with the scientists. They will lead us in public policymaking.’” Initially, Puerto Ricans were somewhat skeptical of the vaccine. In November 2020, before the vaccines were available to the public, the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust conducted a study in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Puerto Rico Department of Health that found that only 57 percent of Puerto Ricans wanted the jab, Rodríguez-Orengo said. But government officials, scientists, physicians, pharmacists, the National Guard, and religious and community leaders rallied in a unified campaign around the vaccine and Covid-19 prevention. The science always came first: Even when the CDC loosened its guidance on masking in May, the Puerto Rican government heeded the advice of local public health officials to maintain universal mask mandates in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. That decision was later vindicated by the resurgence in cases due to the delta variant. Public messaging also focused on how the vaccine could help protect families, a sentiment that resonated with the island’s “strong communitarian ethic that values helping and supporting one’s neighbors,” said Krista Perreira, a health economist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has studied health care access in Puerto Rico. “When we get vaccines, we protect each other, protect our communities, and protect our futures.” Unlike on the mainland, there wasn’t a singular figure like Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House’s chief medical adviser, who became the face of the vaccine campaign. This allowed for a multitude of trusted voices to advocate for vaccination, including the US’s first Hispanic surgeon general, Antonia Coello Novello. “People trusted their physicians to provide them with health information,” Levis-Peralta said. “And one of the things that Puerto Rico has had is a very vocal physician community and consistent communication from folks on both sides of the aisle.” As a result, the share of Puerto Ricans who wanted the vaccine had grown to 85 percent by February 2021, according to Rodríguez-Orengo. At that point, only 55 percent of US adults overall indicated that they wanted to get the vaccine or had already received it. That public support laid the groundwork for a successful vaccine drive and compliance with later vaccine mandates. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images People wait in line to be inoculated with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a Puerto Rico National Guard vaccination center in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on March 10. Puerto Rico made it easy — and for many, mandatory — to get the vaccine Importantly, Puerto Rico made it simple to get the vaccine for free, even for people who face mobility challenges or are in medically underserved areas. According to the federal government, 72 of the island’s 78 municipalities are medically underserved and have “unmet health care needs.” Nearly half of Puerto Ricans are on Medicaid and 350,000 people rely on Medicaid-funded community health centers to access primary care services, especially in rural areas. The National Guard and Puerto Rico Department of Health operated at least a dozen mass vaccination sites across the island for months. The island’s high concentration of pharmacies and community health centers also helped in administering vaccines. And NGOs have led large-scale vaccination events and even gone door-to-door to vaccinate bedridden people in their homes and improve vaccination rates in communities with low uptake. Voces, for example, has been able to give out nearly 250,000 shots by holding as many as 25 events daily across the island, meeting people where they live and work. “Creating access directly in the community is very important because not everybody has a car to go to the pharmacy or the hospital or the clinic,” said Lilliam Rodríguez Capó, president of Voces’s board of directors. “There was no excuse not to get the vaccine.” For many, there was also no choice but to get the vaccine. Puerto Rico adopted far-reaching vaccine mandates well before any of the 50 states or the federal government had implemented anything similar. And it did so with relatively little fanfare — a testament to the success of collective messaging efforts to build public support. In July, Puerto Rico’s governor required all students to show proof of receiving at least one dose of the vaccine in order to return to school after the summer break. And in August, he extended the mandate to all employees in the public sector and at salons, spas, gyms, child care centers, grocery stores, casinos, gas stations, restaurants, and theaters, as well as on visitors to any establishment where food and drink is provided. In November, he expanded that mandate even further to all private businesses with at least 50 employees. By comparison, it wasn’t until September — just as delta cases were at their peak on the mainland — that President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring that all federal employees get vaccinated. Also that month, his administration pushed out a policy that would require employees of private companies with 100 or more workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear masks. But the move immediately drew legal challenges that could prevent the policy from going into effect. Having used politics, culture, and public health infrastructure to get buy-in from Puerto Rico’s population, the island’s government has faced no such challenges. Getting three-fourths of its population vaccinated took time and groundwork, meaning other states and territories may not be able to directly emulate its strategy. The previous presidential administration didn’t prioritize science over politics, and it is too late to go back and change that. Had the Trump administration made choices as those in Puerto Rico did, there might not have been such resistance to vaccination. It’s not too late to apply lessons to the future, however: States and the federal government can make greater investments in public health infrastructure and can continue to work to make it easy to access vaccines. “Let the scientists lead public health policy. And once this is over, we can continue discussing politics,” Rodríguez-Orengo said.
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vox.com
Why the future of animal welfare lies beyond the West
A woman holds a sign that reads in Spanish “Ecocide” as animal rights activists march against a proposed deal with China to build large pork farms in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on August 31, 2020. | Natacha Pisarenko/AP Factory farming is spreading around the world. Animal welfare groups are trying to keep up. The fight to end factory farming has long been vexed by a disconnect: While experts estimate that 6 percent of the world’s farm animals are located in the US and Europe, advocacy groups in those regions collect the lion’s share of funding. Last year, about $200 million went into the farmed animal advocacy movement, according to a survey of several hundred nonprofits conducted by Farmed Animal Funders. Only about one-fifth of that reached activists in countries outside the US and EU, where the vast majority of animals are farmed. This misallocation of resources comes against a backdrop of worrisome trends. Meat consumption is rising in the developing world, particularly in Asia. Intensive farming practices are becoming the norm in Latin America and Asia, and they are getting a foothold in Africa as well. According to one estimate, nine out of 10 animals raised for food globally are confined in factory farms. The animal rights movement is responding — and not a moment too soon. From São Paulo to Shanghai, local organizations focused on animal protection are growing fast. Meanwhile, nonprofits that once worked only in the US, including Mercy For Animals and the Humane League, now have staff in Brazil, Mexico, India, and Japan. Institutional funders are supporting advocacy and public awareness campaigns across Latin America and Asia. “We’ve shifted funding to the Global South,” says Amanda Hungerford, a program officer at Open Philanthropy, the world’s biggest funder of farm animal advocacy. She expects that trend to continue. Kieran Greig, a manager of the EA Animal Welfare Fund, says by email: “Our grantmaking to the global south has increased significantly in these past five or so years. I am optimistic that the percentage of giving to the global south will continue to increase steadily.” These early efforts have led to some gains. For instance, the Open Wing Alliance, a global but decentralized network that was incubated by the Humane League, has brought together 79 organizations from 63 countries, most in the Global South, to campaign against battery cages for egg-laying hens, considered one of the cruelest factory farming practices. It reported earlier this year that more than 2,000 companies around the world have adopted cage-free egg policies, and that 85 percent of companies that pledged to use cage-free eggs by 2020 or earlier have done so. “We can put pressure on the company at the global headquarters and rally our partners to pressure regional branches and outlets,” says Alexandria Beck, the alliance’s director. Carolina Galvani founded Sinergia Animal in 2017 to focus on farm animal welfare issues in Brazil, after spending a decade working for US- and UK-based advocacy groups. “Parts of the Global South were being ignored,” she explains. At first, she was its only paid employee. Today, Sinergia Animal has more than 30 full-time staff members, an annual budget of $850,000, and operations in six South American countries, as well as in Thailand and Indonesia. “If we want to see a truly global movement, we need to have strong organizations originating and working in the south,” Galvani says. Carol Smiljan/NurPhoto via Getty Images Animal activists organized by Sinergia Animal protest the use of cages for chickens in the egg production industry in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in July 2019. But the scale of the challenge facing animal welfare advocates is daunting, and the movement faces new obstacles as it expands around the world. It’s difficult to identify startup organizations or leaders to fund, donors say. Meat consumption remains a marker of economic well-being in many places. Western donors and activists can’t assume that tactics that worked in the West — investigations of factory farms, say, or street-level protests — can simply be exported everywhere else, and have to be mindful to defer to locals on strategy, so as not to violate cultural norms and laws. By far the steepest challenges are in China. China farms more animals than any other country. Altogether, China consumes almost one-third of the world’s meat, although its per capita consumption is still less than half that of the US. Yet the animal advocacy community there is small, and groups in China play by strict rules set by the government. Second to China in terms of its farmed animal population is India. There, strong laws prohibiting animal cruelty are rarely enforced. Despite the country being home to more vegetarians than any other country, meat and dairy consumption are on the rise. The question now is whether the animal advocacy movement can build on its progress in rich countries, even as it seeks to expand to the Global South. It has won meaningful victories, including an EU ban on battery cages for egg-laying hens and a slew of corporate animal welfare commitments in the US, and it has helped power the growth of plant-based alternatives to milk and meat. Even so, huge problems remain in the West, notably the misery suffered by the billions of chickens raised for meat every year. Funding is not just limited but meager: The estimated $200 million a year spent on farm animal welfare is a fraction of the amount devoted to more popular causes, like climate change. Donors and activists will have to decide where to allocate their money, their time, and especially their creativity. New thinking will be required to build a robust animal welfare movement in countries where hundreds of millions of people live without electricity or suffer from malnutrition. How the animal protection movement went global In January 2021, Mercy For Animals launched the Farmed Animal Opportunity Index (FAOI), a tool designed to guide the organization’s international expansion. US- and EU-based nonprofits have been expanding their operations in the Global South in recent years, but they had sometimes done so in an ad hoc manner. The FAOI brings rigor to the process. Using publicly available data, Mercy For Animals’ index ranks what it has identified as the 60 countries that are most important to farm animal welfare. (China tops the list, with the US close behind. Latvia is No. 60.) Christina Animashaun/Vox Like many nonprofits and donors that work on behalf of farm animals, the FAOI is shaped by the principles of effective altruism, a philosophy and social movement that uses reason and evidence to do the most possible good. To allocate resources to solve problems, many effective altruists rely on a framework that looks at a problem’s scale, tractability, and neglectedness. The FAOI ranks countries based on scale (how many farmed land animals and fish are raised there) and tractability(the likelihood of success). It leaves out neglectedness, the third pillar, because it is too hard to quantify. Instead, the index seeks to measure global influence, meaning the degree to which one country affects others. “Global influence plays an important role,” says Lucas Alvarenga, Mercy For Animals’ senior vice president for strategy, which is why the dollars do not simply match up with the number of animals in each country. The US, Germany, and the Netherlands top the rankings of influencers because progress in those countries has consequences beyond their borders, through trade agreements, corporate animal welfare commitments, and global media. (In case you’re wondering, the Netherlands is by some metrics the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products.) Alvarenga is careful to say that the index, which has been shared widely in the movement, is designed as a starting point for analysis and not as a decision-making tool. Europe, by most accounts, has been a pioneer in animal welfare reforms. The EU’s directive to eliminate conventional battery cages, for example, which was enacted in 1999, laid the groundwork for the global movement to free egg-laying hens from cages. California voters enacted a ballot measure to phase out battery cages in 2008, after which dozens of big food companies made commitments to source cage-free eggs. David Coman-Hidy, president of the Humane League, says, “What happened on cage-free in the US probably would not have happened had the EU not acted years earlier.” Looking to take the cage-free momentum everywhere, the Humane League started the Open Wing Alliance in 2016, around the same time other organizations and funders began to take a more global approach. Open Wing’s focus is cage-free campaigns, both because of the number of animals affected and because the demand to liberate hens from cages is easy to explain, even in countries where animal protection issues are new. “You can get people to empathize,” the alliance’s Alexandria Beck says. “They wouldn’t want to be fenced into a small space. They don’t want chickens confined in a small cage either.” This fall, Yum Brands, the world’s largest fast food company, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, pledged to eliminate battery cages in its entire global supply chain after Open Wing members staged street protests in Eastern Europe, Russia, Indonesia, and Nigeria (along with the usual petitions and social media campaigns). One country that has drawn a lot of attention from US- and EU-based animal rights advocates — and where some notable progress has been made — is Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of livestock. Animal Equality, the Good Food Institute, Humane Society International, Mercy For Animals, and World Animal Protection all have operations in Brazil, engaging in a broad range of activities — public awareness work, vegan advocacy, celebrity engagement, undercover investigations, corporate campaigns, and support for developing plant-based and cell-based meat. Brazil’s food industry has responded. São Paulo-based JBS, which is by far the world’s largest meat company, pledged in 2017 to source exclusively cage-free eggs by 2020; it missed that target date but has made meaningful progress, activists say. Meanwhile, BRF, Brazil’s largest producer and exporter of chickens, has fulfilled a pledge to source cage-free eggs for its processed foods. Courtesy of Mercy For Animals Members of Mercy For Animals in Brazil protest deforestation for cattle grazing in the Amazon rainforest. Humane Society International (HSI) works with school districts in Brazil to shift from meat to plant-based food in 20 percent of their meals. “I was surprised at the number of schools that were interested,” says Julie Janovsky, vice president for farm animal welfare at HSI. Sinergia Animal has moved beyond cage-free campaigns to push BRF to improve its welfare practices for pigs and Nestlé to improve the treatment of dairy cows in its supply chain. Other groups working on farm animals include Alianima and Forum Animal, which were started in Brazil and get funding from Western donors. The challenges ahead But the corporate pressure campaigns that have proven effective in the US, EU, and Brazil don’t work everywhere. Different tactics are required in cultures that frown on confrontation, particularly in Asia, activists say, so local groups typically approach industry in a spirit of cooperation. The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, for example, works with retailers and egg producers to create a cage-free supply chain. The group recently made progress on the issue when the Taiwanese government announced it will mandate that eggs from caged hens be labeled as such. In Singapore, where there’s little local agriculture but an eagerness to innovate, activists focus on developing plant- and cell-based alternatives to meat. Last year, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of cell-based meat when regulators approved a chicken product made by Eat Just. In Africa, where the vast majority of land animals are still raised and slaughtered by small-scale farmers, the animal rights movement is just getting started. The EA Animal Welfare Fund and Open Wing Alliance have made grants to the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, a group based in Kenya, to research the prevalence of battery cages in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. Other groups are engaging with regulators who are setting fish welfare standards in South Africa and cage-free campaigns in Nigeria. But the biggest opportunities outside of the US and EU to curb global animal suffering, per FAOI, are in China and India. Unlike the meat industry in Brazil, where markets are dominated by some of the world’s biggest food companies and large-scale farmers, India’s vast meat and dairy industry is decentralized, consisting of millions of rural, small-scale operations. Reliable data is hard to come by, but it’s estimated there are some 75 million dairy farms in India. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk, with about half coming from cows and half from buffalo. Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images A worker cleans up cow dung in a cattle shed at a dairy farm in the village of Zurkheda, Maharashtra, India, in October 2017. The industry structure is a barrier to animal advocacy, explains Vasanthi Vadi, a founder of several Indian animal rights groups. “You will find small dairies in every village,” she says, and livestock can be well treated, relatively speaking. “If a farmer has six buffaloes, they all have names.” Another obstacle is poverty, which remains widespread. Government policy, for example, seeks to increase the production of eggs, a cheap source of protein, to reduce malnutrition and lift the income of farmers. The government goes so far as to supply chicks to poor farmers. People are unlikely to jump from being food-insecure to being vegan. Despite all that, there are reasons to be optimistic about India’s growing animal protection movement. India has more vegetarians than any other country — as high as 37 percent of the populace, according to government surveys, although some estimates put the number at more like 20 percent. Importantly, India’s 1960 constitution makes it the “duty of every citizen ... to have compassion for all living creatures,” and a strong animal welfare law prohibits “causing unnecessary pain to any animal” and “keeping any animal in a cage where it doesn’t have reasonable opportunity of movement.” The Dalai Lama welcomed the Humane Society International to India when it opened an office in Hyderabad in 2012. Given this legal precedent, animal advocates focus on enforcing or strengthening current laws rather than lobbying for new ones. People for Animals, which calls itself India’s largest animal welfare group, provides training to police on the effective enforcement of welfare laws. FIAPO, a federation of animal welfare groups, has pushed for state-by-state guidelines on the treatment of dairy animals. The national government has issued directives to ban battery cages, as have the courts, but with little effect on farming practices. “Implementation is always a challenge,” says Shreya Paropkari, a senior campaign manager at Humane Society International in India. Though efforts to improve animal welfare on farms are gaining steam, India’s animal protection movement is largely devoted to companion animals, as the US movement was during its early years. “Most NGOs focus on rescue and rehab,” Vadi says. “Advocacy work is a little more challenging.” Meanwhile, China poses a unique challenge for animal welfare — and an opportunity. A recent analysis by the nonprofit Faunalytics concluded: “Supporting the animal protection community in China should be a key goal of globally oriented animal advocates.” But what, exactly, can advocates do when the government won’t tolerate dissent? Chinese authorities promote factory farms because of their productivity and efficiency. “The expansion of China’s animal agriculture is not an accident,” says Peter J. Li, an adviser to Humane Society International and author of the book Animal Welfare in China. “It is deliberate government policy. The government is obsessed with food security.” What’s more, much of the population is neither aware of nor interested in animal welfare issues, according to Li. Older people remember what’s been called the Great Chinese Famine, a period of mass starvation between 1959 and 1961. They don’t want to be told to eat less meat. “I’ve given up on older people. They’re hopeless,” Li says. The situation, fortunately, is far from hopeless. Young people in China’s cities who aspire to middle-class lives do not want to see animals treated cruelly, activists say. (There’s no polling data to support that claim, but pet ownership — which can lead to awareness of animal welfare issues — is rising rapidly.) Young people are showing interest in vegetarian diets, in part because of worries about climate change and food safety; an African swine fever epidemic in 2018 and 2019 is thought to have killed more than half of China’s hogs. Animal welfare groups are free to raise awareness about the benefits of consuming less meat, so long as they don’t criticize the government. Considering tofu originated in China 2,000 years ago and meatless meats are commonplace in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, vegetarianism could be an easier sell there than in some countries. Visual China Group via Getty Images Workers dry tofu before making fermented bean curd in May 2018 in Qinhuangdao, China. Paradoxically, China’s authoritarian system could become a boon to animal welfare should the state choose to get behind plant-based alternatives to meat. In 2016, China’s health ministry issued new dietary guidelines urging citizens to reduce their meat consumption by half out of concern for public health; it’s unclear whether that has made a difference, but there’s no doubt the state has the ability to drive the growth of plant-based meats by offering low-cost capital or state contracts. Government records recently reviewed by the Good Food Institute indicate that significant funds are being allocated to help the plant-based sector scale up. Other activists say corporate animal welfare pledges and global trade create opportunities to influence welfare practices in China. After leading Humane Society International’s work in India, Jayasimha Nuggehalli moved to Singapore to start Global Food Partners, a consulting firm that helps businesses throughout Asia source higher-welfare eggs and meat. Global firms including Accor Hotels, Hilton, Marriott, Nestlé, Unilever, and Yum Brands have all made global pledges to go cage-free, but they need help developing supply chains in China, Nuggehalli says. Global Food Partners helped one of the largest egg producers in China develop a pilot cage-free farm with about 60,000 birds. “What really has led to change in Asia are corporate commitments,” he says. Building awareness of animal welfare issues and influencing government policy in China could take decades. Mercy For Animals’ Leah Garcés worked in China earlier in her career, seeking to persuade the government to pursue more humane slaughter practices for pigs in order to comply with EU rules regulating imports. “I think we have to keep throwing spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks,” Garcés says. “We have not cracked the code. Nobody has.” Marc Gunther is a veteran reporter who writes about the animal welfare movement, among other issues.
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