“We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other’s dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us.”
- The Formic hive queen, Ender’s Game
Eating animals is wrong. If you think that statement is hypocritical coming from a meat eater, you would be correct (I’ll come back to that later). But that doesn’t make it any less true.
I certainly don’t expect to convert anyone to veganism with this post, but I hope to at least lead some people to the unavoidable conclusion that eating animals is wrong, even if they choose not to act on it. If someone has a convincing argument for the opposing side, I’d love to hear it (no sarcasm meant there).
For a long time I never understood why vegetarians had such a moral objection to eating meat. Sure, it would be great if we were powered by wind or sunlight. But since we’re not, some other life forms have to be on the losing end of the food chain, right? Does it make that much of a difference who eats whom?
Granted, the rules for what animals are OK to eat don’t exactly make sense. Pigs, for example, are smarter than dogs, more affectionate than cats, and cuter than horses. Why don’t we put them on the same pedestal? Who decides these things? I don’t even know all the rules. Is it OK to eat snakes? Dolphins? Hippos? Gazelles? Giraffes? Lions, and tigers, and bears? Oh my!
But let’s say we all agreed on which animals were most expendable. We’ve identified some species that are delicious, sanitary, have the right number of legs, and are cute enough, but not too cute. What then, is the problem with these crazy vegetarians?
Photo by Create For Animal Rights
When I looked into it, I quickly saw that the issue (for me, at least) isn’t whether meat is murder. Of course it’s murder, but I’d have no problem if it were only that.
The real problem is that meat is torture. More specifically, raising animals for food in the way we do is torture. Our demand for animal products has just grown far beyond our ability to supply them humanely. We no longer just kill the animals; we do things to them that I doubt you would be willing to do personally.
I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but the video Cruelty to Animals: Mechanized Madness gives a good look at how animals are raised for food. It’s pretty graphic. For a much milder and more entertaining version, watch the two cartoon movies at The Meatrix.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
- Lord Acton
People seem to be hardwired with an “us vs. them” mentality. What happens when one group is bigger, stronger, or technologically superior to another? They trample the rights of the weaker group, or even consider it to at their disposal. That torturing a weaker group is wrong seems to be a lesson the human race needs to keep relearning.
Manifest destiny, the belief that the European settlers were under a divine mandate to conquer North America, fueled them to do unspeakable things to the poorly armed Native Americans. Ditto for African American slaves, as well as the many examples of slavery in other countries. The Holocaust, women’s rights, gay rights, there always seems to be another group to discriminate against, despite the lessons of the past.
And for God’s sake, this is just a matter of accepting that people are people. We’ve got a long way to go before everyone acknowledges that animals are entitled to basic dignity as well.
Murder and torture become much easier with distance. It’s not too hard to send a drone to kill people without remorse. It’s a lot harder to pull the trigger yourself. And it’s even harder to actually twist a knife into them.
Would you be able to go Jack the Ripper on a little piglet while it squeals in pain? (See the Cruelty to Animals video above.) Probably not, but we have no problem paying thugs to do our dirty work for us. There’s so much distance between us and the animals, it’s easy to ignore what goes on.
You only like your sausage because you don’t have to watch it being made. And if you wouldn’t be willing to make it yourself, you have to admit that it’s wrong.
“Marge, kids, the things I saw. It makes me never want to eat meat again. Just fish, chicken, burgers, veal on Fridays, deer, but only in season, and if necessary, the sweetest meat of all: human.”
- Homer Simpson
Now, to address some anticipated objections:
1. “But we’re supposed to eat meat.”
I do think that we evolved to eat meat. We also evolved to lose our teeth, our eyesight, and die in our twenties, but we’ve managed to make some improvements on that. Our bodies may have evolved without ethical considerations, but that doesn’t mean our brains can’t do better.
Anyway, we weren’t meant to eat nearly as much meat as we do. Many of our health problems are a direct consequence of dietary problems, one of which is excessive meat consumption. Our closest relative, the chimp, eats mainly plants.
2. “But you can’t get enough protein from a vegan diet.”
Tell that to a 400-pound gorilla as it munches on leaves, fruits, and shoots. Or a 110-ton vegan Argentinosaurus, the largest land animal that ever lived. Or any of the vegan athletes out there. Maybe there aren’t that many, but you can start with Carl Lewis.
3. “But vegans are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency.”
Isn’t it just a little ironic for someone to brag about their adequate intake of vitamin B12 while they march down the path to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer? I don’t happen to know where vegans can get B12 from, but this seems like a minor issue.
4. “But it doesn’t do any harm to consume animal products, if you’re not actually eating the flesh.”
It may not seem so, but it does. See this Undercover Investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery for the shocking impact of eating eggs. (Does it remind anyone else of when Itchy sent all the Scratchys from the cloning machine to the killing machine?) There are similar issues with drinking milk.
5. “But animals aren’t entitled to the same rights as people.”
No one’s saying that pigs should be able to vote. But since they’re smarter than three year old children, maybe we shouldn’t castrate them without anesthetics. Just sayin’.
6. “But where do you draw the line? You can’t end all animal abuse. Look, you just stepped on an ant.”
We can’t prevent all homicides either. That doesn’t mean we might as well declare open season. Don’t worry about where the line will ultimately be drawn, just start moving towards it. Currently, we’re far less compassionate to animals than their natural predators are. We have plenty of room before we reach the line.
7. “But I just like the taste of meat.”
I know. This sounds like the weakest reason, and yet it’s the one that stops everyone from making a change (along with other practical issues like wanting to fit in, or difficulty finding vegan alternatives in some situations).
I’ve gone vegetarian or vegan for several weeks at a time on a few occasions, but I’ve always come back to eating meat. It’s just too easy to forget what the animals go through, and too easy to remember that I like chicken burritos.
I know that eating animals is wrong, but this is a really tough habit to break. I just don’t feel enough of a repulsion enough of the time to want to make much of a change.
So why the hell am I writing this, and why don’t I get off my high horse? Because it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. Every little bit counts, and some changes are very easy to make.
I ditched milk with no problem at all. That’s a few more cows who won’t be injected with hormones and have their babies killed while they get sucked dry. I’m mostly off pork. That’s a few more pigs who won’t be crammed into disgusting cages and butchered alive. And I’ve cut way back on red meat in general. More cow friendliness.
If even these things are too much to give up now, what else can you try? Can you refuse to eat foie gras? You probably don’t eat it anyway, so it should be pretty easy to take a stand against it. There’s a big continuum here, so if you can’t jump to the other side, just take whatever steps you can.
Many people wonder, if there’s a god, then why does he let bad things happen? They think that if they were god, there would be no suffering. But guess what? Compared to animals, you are god. What will you do with that power?