If you’re already vegan this may be seen as preaching to the choir, but may help motivate or solidify your current beliefs. If you’re not vegan, I would strongly encourage you to read further. This isn’t an effort to convert you or shame you, but promote understanding. If you can’t imagine why anyone would ever go vegan, please let me tell you.
This is not an all-inclusive list of reasons to become vegan. I started writing this because I felt inspired to do so, but it became so long that it quickly became clear I’d have to break it up into parts. This first part is about the ethical reasons veganism appealed to me. My line of thought based off of what I was learning. This is a mix of facts and observations. All facts are provided sources.
1.) Cultural hypocrisy. What animals are worthy of protection is seemingly dependent on where you live. My culture says it’s perfectly normal to kill or pay someone else to kill a slew of animals, but not a dog or a cat. It says it’s okay to hunt deer, but there’s an uproar on social media when someone trophy hunts an elephant. We find disdain in seal hunting for fur, but purchase leather shoes without a second thought. There is even debate about whether or not fish should be protected among those following a vegetarian diet simply because they’re seen as more expendable. What is deemed acceptable or not acceptable is based off of nothing more than cultural norms and not a moral hierarchy.
2.) Cognitive dissonance. There are many people who are concerned for animal welfare who continue to consume animal products. They are able to buy the prepared meat from the grocery store without thinking about how it came to be. Examples of animal abuse on the news upsets them and they can’t stand to watch commercials from the Humane Society with Sarah McLachlan. They don’t want to see an animal suffering, so they just turn off the channel. They don’t want to think about what it’s really like for the animals that they eat, so they choose not to think about it. It’s easier to ignore the suffering and go with the flow than it is to face it and reevaluate how they contribute to it. Some people may see showing this footage as emotional manipulation, but how is it manipulation when all you’re doing is showing someone the truth? Sad music aside, the suffering depicted is real. How can one have a genuine opinion on anything if they don’t expose themselves to the reality of it first?
3.) Misleading public perception. Consumers who do have some concern over animal welfare sometimes opt for products that seem more compassionate. They see words like “free-range” and “organic”, and think purchasing these items is promoting animal welfare. The truth is these labels are often little more than a marketing ploy. For example, “free-range” as defined by the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture) simply means the chickens have access to outdoors. That’s it! It doesn’t mean the chickens are frolicking through green meadows all day every day. They may have a mere exit to go outside, but with cramped conditions may never even come across it in the entirety of their short lives. I’m not insinuating that there are no exceptions to this rule, however keep in mind, even when these animals live in decent conditions, they still end up at the same slaughterhouses as the animals from conventional factory farms.
4.) Humane slaughter is not what people think it is. The truth is most of these animals experience pain and terror in their last moments. Typically an animal is stunned before they are hung upside down and their throats are slit. Among religious sects seeking kosher meat, stunning is not permitted at all and the animal is fully conscious when it’s killed. Stunning is sometimes ineffective, requiring multiple stuns or semiconscious slaughter. A missed stun still causes a lot of damage and makes it harder for additional stuns to be effective. Also keep in mind, this is a fast pace industry and sometimes the workers do not slice the animals throat deep enough to kill it quickly. This means sometimes the animal is ineffectually stunned, not killed when their throat is slit, and are in fact, still alive and conscious when they’re lowered into boiling water and finally drown.
5.) The dairy industry is the meat industry. There’s the argument that there’s no moral qualm about eating dairy because milking the cow doesn’t kill the cow. While this isn’t an outright false statement, it is disingenuous. A cow’s natural lifespan is about 20 years, but in the dairy industry they’re likely to only live for about 5-6 years. Once their milk production slows down it only makes sense to replace them with a younger, more vibrant cow. In order to produce milk, she will be artificially inseminated about once a year. Her calf will be taken from her (sometimes before it’s even able to walk) so it doesn’t drink the milk that is intended for human consumption. If it’s a female, she may be raised to replace one of the older milking cows. If it’s a male or they have too many females, they’ll likely be sent to slaughter to make veal. What happens to the “old” cow after she is replaced? Sent to slaughter. Egg laying chickens also see shorter lifespans. When they get past their prime they may be killed via gas, asphyxiation, or slaughtered to make pet food. When male chicks are born, they aren’t raised at all. They’re usually put through a grinder or suffocated in a plastic bag.
6.) Animal suffering is inconsequential. Livestock will routinely have parts of their bodies cut off with no pain relief or anesthetic. Due to being confined to such close quarters chickens will start pecking at each other. To help prevent how much damage is done the tips of their beaks are cut off (debeaking). Pigs have their tails cut off, their testicles removed, their teeth clipped, and notches made in their ears. These are just two examples, among many. Chickens and ducks raised for meat are genetically manipulated to be as fat as possible as quickly as possible. This rapid growth causes heart, lung, and leg deformities. Many can not even support their own weight when they are shipped off to be slaughtered.
7.) Supply and Demand. Generally speaking, animals are not treated the way they are because people enjoy their suffering. The human race has eaten meat for a long time, so it’s ingrained in us for that to be a perfectly normal thing to do. The culture we’re in makes it very easy for us to not analyze this too much. The reality is animals are treated the way they are because consumers pay for it. They’re kept in tight quarters because it’s cost effective and a lot of animals need to be killed in order to meet the demand. Roughly 6% of the U.S. population identifies as vegan and the number is growing. As the amount of consumers who don’t pay for animal products grow the supply will eventually follow. The results of this is seen in the dropped sales of the dairy industry (down $1 billion in 2018) and growth of non-dairy alternatives. This is a subject where anyone can make a tangible difference every day of their lives. If you don’t want to see animals treated this way put your money where your mouth is. Your money speaks louder to businesses than your words likely will.
In review, I don’t want my ethics to be governed by what region I happen to live in. I don’t want them to be the result of denial, half truths, or flat out lies. I don’t want to ignore the suffering of others simply because it suits me to do so. I want to behave in a way that is a reflection of what I believe and I want to support business practices that align with those beliefs. If following your morals is always easy and convenient, I challenge you to reevaluate the code you live by. As we’ve seen throughout history, doing the right thing is often not the popular thing.
Future entries will focus on health concerns, the human impact, the affect of animal agriculture on the environment, how small farms compare to factory farms, and possibly other subjects as well. Part 2 of this series should be up next Monday.