if given the “choice” between, on the one hand, being shot in the back of the head while overlooking the pleasant Latvian countryside, and a deep trench filled with bodies, and, on the other, being worked to death at Treblinka, then yes, by all means, I’ll take the former. But the moment one claims that the former “option” is “humane,” then I fear you are laboring in Orwell’s totalitarian vineyards, and indeed are repeating, but in a different key, the same arguments made by the Binding and Hoche and other leading ideologues of Hitler’s euthanasia program.
It used to be that vegans concerned ourselves with social justice and digging at the roots of unjust privileges. We worked at changing how society conceptualizes other animals, at getting people to finally see the unnecessary, systemic violence that is so pervasive and ingrained, it’s nearly invisible. We thought that we had a lot of work to do but it turns out that we’d been badly neglecting a whole sphere that deserved our attention: nutritional one-upmanship.
It is curious that people will show great concern for how farmed animals are treated when alive and yet do not seem to be troubled by their slaughter. This fact seems to demonstrate a general inability to appraise the various gradations of moral transgressions, with killing being at the furthest end of the spectrum of immorality. Especially with respect to animal slaughter, there is a general tendency to ignore gradations of violent and harmful actions.
Many people are very concerned that farmed animals will go extinct if everyone goes vegan. What they don’t realize is that commercially-raised farmed animals exist because of artificial insemination and highly controlled breeding environments, not through natural mating. In the case of chickens we annually breed approximately 9 billion birds that will go “extinct” in 42 days (just in the U.S).
How does one regulate a U.S. industry that kills 300 chickens per second and some 10 billion animals per year and still keep the prices of meat cheap? By not regulating it. Instead, let the meat industry largely regulate itself. Cut back on the number of USDA inspectors. Speed up the kill lines. Ignore calls to reform the archaic Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (which used purposely vague language to allow for loopholes). Pass ag gag laws that punish whistleblowers. And, force inspectors who report flagrant and repeated violations of humane handling and slaughter to shut up or quit. This is how the USDA and other key U.S. regulatory agencies protect and indemnify a multi-million dollar meat industry that profits on the suffering of animals.
When I saw this video, I cried. Apparently I’m not the only one; every other comment I’ve seen from viewers expresses the same reaction. In the video, a toddler in Brazil explains to his mother why he will not eat his octopus pasta. Originally uploaded to YouTube on May 15, 2013, within 2 weeks the video of little Luiz Antonio had over 1 million views; but it could only be understood by those who knew Portuguese. So when Raffaella Ciavatta, a Brazilian-born vegan activist and certified translator living in NY, saw the video, she knew she had seen something extraordinary, and contacted the mother to ask for permission to translate it into English.
“Why do you think people should not eat meat?” That was one of the many questions I was asked during a recent interview. My initial response was that in order to eat meat we must believe in a set of absurdities about animals that I outlined in an earlier article. But there is another way to respond to this question that occurred to me after the interview was over. While I would typically avoid answering a question with another question, in this case it seems appropriate. My response might be, “With all the great reasons to choose a plant-based diet, what keeps you from considering this for yourself?” Or “If we can live healthy lives without harming or killing animals, why wouldn’t we?
I continually hear from people that “choices” must be respected. “You eat what you want and I’ll eat what I want.” And don’t judge other’s for what they choose to eat.” This comes from both vegan and meat eaters alike. If eating animals is a choice, then we must believe in at least the following six absurdities:
The Story of an Egg is a short documentary that claims “we need a lexicon of sustainability.” Has a nice ring to it, right? By using factory farming as a moral baseline, the film would have us believe that the simple solution to feeling good about the eggs you buy is to look for the “pastured” or “pasture-raised” label.
The emergence of so-called “humane slaughter” is a positive sign of a growing awareness and concern for animal suffering. It indicates that society is finally acknowledging and taking seriously the fact that animals really do have the capacity to suffer. And it indicates that people really do care and are becoming increasingly aware of how their food choices directly connect to animal suffering. Yet, in the end, the concept of humane slaughter fails in its attempt to fulfill our moral obligation to animals. Here’s why:
I would agree that, in many cases, morality is a personal matter. The choice of faith or secular belief is one’s personal business. In fact, any belief or action that does not deny others their basic freedoms is generally respected as a personal one. A personal belief does not harm others, at least directly. That’s what makes it personal. However, when it comes to eating animals, there are no neutral actions.
René Descartes, the first philosopher to emphasize the use of reason to develop the natural sciences, argued that reason was the all-important attribute that differentiated humankind from other animals. Yet ironically he seemed to completely abandon reason in statements such as this one: “I believe, also, that we should eat as the brutes do, without having learned how, if we had no power of thought at all; and it is said that those who walk in their sleep sometimes swim across rivers, where, had they been awake, they would have been drowned.”
Many of the worst cruelties inflicted on animals in factory farms are also routine practices on small, free-range farms. Here are four of them: 1. Sexual violation and exploitation of reproductive systems; 2. The systematic sabotage of motherhood; 3. Routine mutilations without anesthetic; 4. Denial of instincts and preferences. If these were the circumstances of your brief and unfree life, at the end of which you would be forcefully restrained, attacked and slaughtered against your will, at a fraction of your natural lifespan, all for completely unnecessary reasons — would you maintain that you had been humanely treated?
basing our behaviors on those of other animals is a slippery slope, and can be dangerous, silly, and potentially just self-serving. If I am right that the green frog in this photo is eating another green frog, does that mean we should be cannibals? My dog Elsie loves to eat poop. Should I therefore eat poop? Elephant seals have harems and control their multitude of much smaller female mates aggressively, seemingly raping them repeatedly, and attacking other elephant seals who try to mate with any of their females. Does this mean that men ought to have harems, rape women, and attack other men who threaten their dominion?
Yes I realize that the hypothesis of the world going vegan all at once is wildly unrealistic. It’s just not going to happen this way. So instead I’d like to take this opportunity to “change the channel” as activist James LaVeck says, and suggest a more realistic scenario for how veganism may take hold and therefore one that I think is much more worthy of our concern and attention.
The world is red in tooth and claw, it is said. Animals kill and eat each other as a matter of course. It’s as natural as breathing, sleeping, and breeding. But yet … What this elision obscures is the self evident truth that humans are the only species with the potential to conceptualize and consciously apply basic moral principles to the chaos of biological life.
ASPCA, one of the leading animal protection organizations, would have you believe that the killing of chickens, as shown in the photo here, can somehow constitute a humane practice, a practice that is consistent with their mission of respect and compassion for animals. The kill cone method of slaughtering chickens, one of the most barbaric acts of violence we’ve seen, is considered the “humane” standard today, and ASPCA is using charitable donations to fund and promote poultry slaughter, expand poultry breeding and hatchery facilities and pretend that a factory farm is Not a factory farm, while doing NOTHING to promote genuine compassion and respect for these birds.
If we really want to change the situation, we have to do more than endlessly call upon USDA, FDA, agribusiness and related entities to “do” something. We as consumers need to take responsibility. We need to change our eating habits and our attitudes. This change involves thinking more critically and compassionately about the misery that our animal-based diets are causing the animals themselves.