Eating Animals and the Illusion of Personal Choice

Bizarro Comics cartoon

Illustration courtesy of Bizarro Comics,

Of all the rationalizations we make for eating animals in an age when we now know that eating animals is not necessary for our health or survival, many people today are borrowing a popular slogan I call “the personal choice defense.” It goes something like this: “My decision to eat animals is a personal choice.” At other times, it is simply implied, in the casual way animal and plant food choices are compared, as if the two set of options are somehow morally equivalent. And it is usually followed by a statement sympathetic to their vegan and vegetarian friends, acknowledging that they too are making personal choices that are right for them. Yet, upon closer examination, the choice to eat animals, whether it is never, once a week or every day, is not strictly a personal choice. Eating animal products is indeed exercising a choice, but the repercussions extend well beyond the individual. Here are at least five of them:

1. Eating animals is made “personal” only upon public scrutiny

The ethics of food choices had never been discussed at the dinner table, much less defined as personal, until a growing number of vegans and vegetarians — by their very presence at the table — question the legitimacy of eating animals. A person who tells you that their eating of animal products is a personal choice is experiencing a state of cognitive dissonance (deeply entrenched beliefs are being challenged and that challenge causes them to defend old beliefs). In other words, they have made this issue personal precisely in response to you making it public. Making the issue personal is a nice way of saying, “I don’t want to be judged or held accountable for my actions that harm animals.” So this is not so much an attempt to defend eating animals as it is a defense intended to block any further discussion or evaluation. Moreover, personalization removes animals from public discourse and keeps them tucked away in our closet of denial and silence.

2. There is no free choice without awareness

The irony explained in point 1 is that while non vegans defend their choice to eat animal products as a personal one, they will nonetheless go to great lengths to defend it publicly when confronted with a vegan or vegetarian. Like some apologetic white liberals who defend themselves by defiantly exclaiming to a new black acquaintance, “But I have Black friends, too!,” some will painstakingly explain how intimately they understand the vegan lifestyle. After all, they will assure you, they have already heard and evaluated the vegan friends’ reasons for going vegan, and they deeply respect them for it.

They’ve carefully considered being vegan themselves, they will tell you, but have concluded that it’s just not for them. In this conclusion, they are essentially declaring that caring about animals is “optional,” a morally-relative option. When pressed further, instead of arriving at some novel new argument for eating animal products in an age which presents them with an increasing number of alternatives, they simply revert back to the traditional arguments that are all pretty much centered around what social psychologist Melanie Joy calls the three N’s of justification: eating animal products is normal, natural and necessary. (1)

But their reasoning reveals the fact that they have sorely misunderstood even the most fundamental tenets of veganism. By simply reaffirming the supremacy of personal choice, they simultaneously reaffirm the belief that even trivial palate pleasures can be made more important than life and death itself. This reaffirmation requires a suspension of moral reasoning. One forgettable meal = an entire lifetime cut drastically and violently short.

3. Merely “Personal” Choices Don’t Have Victims

Let’s take a look at the issue from the animal victim’s perspective, which has been completely denied by the non vegan’s unexamined assumption that animals have no interest or understanding of the value of their individual lives. In essence, animals are denied victimhood because they are viewed as objects rather than animals who actually have lives that matter to them, full of rich experiences and interests. The notion that conscious omnivores think they have done their due diligence by examining the pros and cons of eating animals means nothing for the animals that value their lives as we do. Without a doubt, the animals we raise for meat, dairy and eggs are sentient in the same manner we are, with at least as much of an interest in staying alive, avoiding pain and suffering and seeking pleasurable experiences as our companion animals.

As Canadian activist Twyla Francois so aptly puts it: “All animals have the same capacity for suffering, but how we see them differs and that determines what we’ll tolerate happening to them. In the Western world, we feel it wrong to torture and eat cats and dogs, but perfectly acceptable to do the same to animals equally as sentient and capable of suffering. No being who prides himself on rationality can continue to support such behaviour.”

4. Justice Informs Our Choices

Choice requires free will and a basic understanding of the options and their consequences. In the spirit of justice, we live in a society where our actions and choices are governed by what society deems acceptable. If we choose to maim, rape, enslave or kill someone, our actions have consequences and are punishable by law. In a democratic society, we generally understand on principle and in practice that we are free to do what we want as long as it doesn’t harm, exploit or infringe upon the same rights and freedoms of others.

Yet, for the non vegan, the choice of eating animals is divorced from the standards of justice we uphold for ourselves, since justice, according to this specious worldview, does not apply to non human species. Therefore, there are no visibly negative consequences to eating animals. The victims have already been transformed into products and therefore remain conveniently absent, both physically and psychologically, from those who cause their suffering and death. This absence is the basis of the denial inherent in the claim that we are making a personal choice to eat animal products. Framed from this fictional perspective, these choices then become perceived as harmless — as harmless as eating an apple that has fallen from the tree. Moreover, This belief is reinforced by a variety of cultural norms, such as the consumer’s routine experience of viewing these products, pristinely packaged and elegantly assembled on a store shelf.

5. The Negation of Choice

In reality, the choice to eat other animals paradoxically annihilates choice and free will for others who were designed by nature as free agents like ourselves. This choice necessitates the domination and violation of animals against their will, as well as their murder and dismemberment by no choice of their own.

In the words of author Carol Adams, “Objectification permits the oppressor to view another being as an object. The oppressor then violates this being with object-like treatment, e.g., the rape of women that denies women freedom to say no, or the butchering of animals that converts animals from living breathing beings to dead objects. This process allows fragmentation, brutal dismemberment and finally consumption.” “Consumption is the fulfillment of oppression, the annihilation of will, of separate identity.” (2)

Moreover, the artificial breeding, exploitation, enslavement, killing and profiteering from the slaughtered corpses of some 60 billion land animals and another approximate 60 billion to 1 trillion marine animals every year globally is certainly not a personal matter for individual consumers. On the contrary, the animal industrial complex depends on a system of laws, standards, political power structures, institutionalized violence, economics and distribution. In sheer scale and degree of suffering, the ongoing atrocity against farmed animals dwarfs all human atrocities combined. The most contemptible aspect of this system is that it is unnecessary. Plant-based alternatives to animal products are growing in number and availability. The nutritional science on the health benefits and advantages of a vegan diet are overwhelming and will continue to permeate mainstream culture. For the vast majority of us who have other options, the only question left to answer is an ethical one: If we can live healthy lives without harming anyone, why wouldn’t we?

A Postscript: After reviewing a lot commentary on this post, I decided to publish a follow up piece, addressing many of the points raised in these comments. See Seven Reasons Why We Have NOT Evolved to Eat Meat. This may become a series where I continue to address the most common reasons people use today for continuing to eat animal products.

(1) Melanie Joy, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, (San Francisco: Conari Press, 2010) 96–98, 105–122

(2) Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory

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About Robert Grillo

Robert Grillo is the director of Free from Harm which he founded in 2009 to expose the food industry’s exploitation of animals and foster greater empathy for farmed animals. As an activist, author and speaker, Grillo focuses awareness on the animal’s experience and point of view, drawing on insights from sociology, psychology, popular culture, ethics and social justice to bridge the gap between humans and other animals. As a marketing communications professional for over 20 years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts where he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. His new book, Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal Consuming Culture, reveals how popular culture uses a variety of fictions that condition us to consume animal products and perpetuate fasle perceptions of animals that make us feel better about exploiting them


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  2. I will make this short but sweet, well maybe.
    First off, who are we that we can say that they should be eaten? Or tortured, or used for entertainment and I could go on and on.
    The idea that people eat their flesh is something that was done by they families, and those families by their families. When we should be asking questions as to why they ate them in the first place. If it is because their other family members ate them, then we don’t need any intelligence, we just need to do what everyone else does!
    Since a lot of people have asked questions and have decided not to eat them. My reason for not eating them is the same, we don’t have the right to eat them. They have their own reasons for being here, and there are better sources of food than the flesh from tortured creatures!
    I wish more people would questions instead of being a puppet and not using their intelligence!

  3. sadly, the vegan /vegetarian choices are often made for intellectual reasons and since most people know little about their own biology and evolutionary heritage – they make this vegan/vegetarian choice from their ideals and (sometimes perverse)sensitivities of liberal western culture – chat with a Moroccan or any number of other traditional meat-eating cultures and they’ll look at you as if you are from another planet if you say you don’t eat meat.
    The western cultural response to this is that condescending “we know better about ethics and health” than these “less evolved” cultures do – and then we go on to pay the price in a myriad of modern diseases for our arrogant denial of the wisdom of traditional diets.

    • The exact same argument for tradition was made by slave holders and slave traders by the very Western imperialist cultures you refer to. What makes species a valid criteria to enslave and exploit others if we condemn the same based on race, color, sex, etc? Why should we not question the wisdom of other traditions and cultures that have like us also employed all forms of oppression throughout the ages to both humans and nonhuman victims? Surely there is much to be proud of and ashamed of in any human culture and in every age.

    • A human or nonhuman who is the victim of violence and killing does not care about intellectual arguments. They care about staying alive and avoiding suffering. Protecting their basic right to not be exploited and killed is the basis if veganisn. Many cultures and traditions are founded on the principle of the golden rule, so if we really want to honor the wisdom of tradition we might do well to look at the teachings of these ancient cultures instead of citing only current day practices that support exploitation.

      • Do insects not also deserve the right to be free from harm and killing, especially highly social insects? They just want to live and procreate like the rest of us. Think about the millions of bees that die every year while being trucked across the country to pollinate the nuts, vegetable and fruits you eat. They are sprayed with fungicides, pesticides and other chemicals while pollinating the plants we eat, then they are imprisoned in their hives and stacked on trucks where they have to stay in their own waste for several days until they arrive at the next farm. Finally when winter is here all of their honey is stolen and they are fed nutritionally inferior sugar water to survive. Whether you like it or not, we all depend on animal husbandry to survive.

        • Hi Chris, Your point is well taken. We cannot eliminate our impact. We can only reduce it by avoiding harm when it is not necessary. On a practical level, If you truly care about insects, then you would not be defending meat consumption since the production of grains needed to feed the animals who become meat is immense and the harm to insects and other wildlife is also much greater than it would be if those same grains were instead fed directly to ourselves. Animal agriculture is also a miserably inefficient use of the earth’s precious natural resources. Less lives, both animal and insect, would be impacted by our ravenous appetite if we fed the plant crops we grow directly to ourselves rather than to “livestock.”

          On an ethical level, if you believe that it is wrong for me to kick your dog for no good reason, then it follows logically and consistently that you find it immoral to pay someone to harm an animal for a taste sensation, that is, for no good reason, when there are an abundance of other options.

          Animal husbandry may seem oppressively unavoidable to you, but consider this quote from social psychologist Melanie Joy: ““There is a vast mythology surrounding meat, but all the myths are in one way or another related to what I refer to as the Three Ns of Justification: eating meat is normal, natural, and necessary. The Three Ns have been invoked to justify all exploitative systems, from African slavery to the Nazi Holocaust. When an ideology is in its prime, these myths rarely come under scrutiny. However, when the system finally collapses, the Three Ns are recognized as ludicrous.” ~ Melanie Joy from her book Why We Love Dogs

  4. Well I for one don’t agree. There is no reason to eat eggs since getting protein is very easy to get without eating eggs. I have not eaten eggs for over 13 years, and I am in better health than most people! Getting protein is so easy that with most faux meat you get a lot of protein, but don’t feel you can get enough go purchase the protein and drink it in your water or whatever you drink. So go get your protein! and leave the chickens alone!

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  6. Thanks for the article! It ALWAYS helps to have new weapons of mass defense to add to one’s arsenal, as one never knows when the next vicious attack may strike… I’ve recently thrown caution to the wind when it comes to taking on those dreaded online insults (tho i’m learning to ignore such wastes of time as ‘TROLLS’) — eg. on a recent YouTube video showing Chef Ramsay eating shark’s fin soup (ew!), to someone who replied to my comment with “Ooh, another vegan who thinks she’s better…” i responded “Ah what the hell — VEGANS ARE BETTER, YO!!… at least we’re not hypocrites!!” And OK, i may have gone a lil overboard letting off more steam (oops) but who says meat-eaters have a monopoly on reactivity? But generally, i pick & choose who gets to be the lucky recipient of my animal-defending wrath (haha) since let’s face it, having a soft spot for non-human species means i’m extra-sensitive myself, with feelings that are easily hurt!

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  11. I am with you maybemorrigan, big words don’t make this any thing other than, Kent wants to eat flesh. Think about it this way, you are born, you are not given flesh to eat as you grow up, when you are grown, you probably will not eat flesh. This has happened forever and no one wants to stop and think, is this right?? Is eating a living, breathing creature right? Just because they did it back then doesn’t mean it is right. I often think how can anyone eat another living, breathing creature, a creature that was here before we were. Yes I did it a long time ago, but I am living proof that man doesn’t need flesh to survive. So don’t use that non-reason for saying you must eat flesh.

    Stop with the big words and think about what you are doing. Would you like to be raised the way these creatures are and then tortured and killed just so you could fill someone’s stomach? Of course you wouldn’t, so why do you think they like it. They were given this life the same as man. WE don’t have the right to take it away.

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  13. a man of kent uses a lot of big words and is clearly well educated and opinionated but all i read was: i am better than an animal, i am superior, my taste buds are more important than taking the life of an animal. so many many many words just to say that.

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  15. A Man of Kent ,
    using the actions non-human animals to justify humans killing and eating animals does not hold up. non human animals also eat their young and procreate by rape but humans hold ourselves to higher standards when it comes to these actions. an infant child, disabled person or elderly person may not understand death so is it justified to kill and eat them also? the standard for rights should be based upon ability to suffer instead of an artificial and arbitrary subjective trait like intelligence.

    the fact that vegans may kill animals unintentionally does not mean that is morally and ethically justified for non-vegans to kill and eat animals for their own personal gratification. veganism is not about perfection, but is about doing the least harm possible. are there other area’s of you life where because you are not perfect, you do not try at all? this type of thinking is a logical fallacy known as “False Dilemma”-when only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exist between two extremes. for example, when roads are built, it is a forgone conclusion that people will die on them from accidents but does that mean it is ok to run over pedestrians?

    stating that animals do not love humans is merely a mechanism which allows one to disconnect from the suffering and allow people to kill and eat non-human animals. how can anyone prove that anyone else loves them and even if we could, how does loving or not loving someone justify harming and killing them (is it ok for a husband to kill his wife because he doesnt think she loves him?). if farmers truly loved the animals they are raising and not the profits that the animals represent, they would not send them off to be killed when the animals are no longer producing enough for the farmers benefit. would you send your dog off to slaughter after he or she gets too old to do what they used to?

    just as human slavery and the nazi regim used the “might makes right” philosophy to exploit and kill others for their own benefit, people confine and kill non-human animals for their own benefit also support this ethically morally corrupt justification to harm and kill others for their own benefit.

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  17. Thank you for your responses.
    When engaging in such a polemic the protagonists must be wary of letting the discussion spiral out of control, as witnessed in some of the lively comments on Care2. Some comments above, whilst written with admirable sincerity and passion, are unhelpful in suggesting that my reasoning regarding animals logically implies an absurd parallel with humans. Many of humanity’s long-standing failings, such as slavery and war (both of which are very much still with us), are wholly undesirable, whilst others, such as competitive mercantilism (i.e. capitalism), religion, and veganism are debatable. By equating one’s position regarding any of these, or any other argument, to Nazism is to dehumanise the other’s position and make it unarguable. Invoking Godwin’s Law ( closes this debate much more so than the premise of this discussion – that personal choice is no excuse. I believe the distinction between animals and humans is that we fully understand death with a perspective that animals do not and can not possess. Most animals can never know their fate more than a few moments beforehand, if mortally injured, and will never know anything about it if humanely slaughtered. If a cow comprehended what just happened to the cow that was just stunned before its eyes, it would probably not stand idle whilst the same bolt gun was put to its head. I agree that more intelligent animals can fear death in a similar way to us, and fully believe primates comprehend when their life is in danger (most people would baulk at eating a chimpanzee because of this perception. I won’t even eat octopuses because they’re incredibly intelligent, but that’s a personal foible (maybe there’s a very little vegan deep inside me!)). In anticipation of the riposte that all animals try to avoid death, I would say that if no distinction can be drawn between humans and (most) animals, then it would be reasonable to assume that vegans do not drive cars since they account for many billions of insect deaths every year (they don’t ‘want’ to be splattered on your windscreen). I don’t think this is a reasonable assertion, so am not making it. If, as many vegans believe, the right to life is fully equal in the animal kingdom (including humans and, one assumes, insects and crustaceans), then a sort of logic exists that it is in our power to intervene to stop some animals killing other animals and failure to take action where the opportunity arises is a dereliction of our moral obligations – if you could stop a badger from killing a hedgehog, or an ape from killing another ape would you do it and do you think such intervention justifiable, after all they’re both omnivores and don’t need to eat meat? I believe this interventionist proposition is also absurd. But as humans are indeed part of the animal kingdom, I question if there is a moral obligation to remove ourselves from the established food chain (and yes, we too are the prey sometimes).

    I do not need to prove with references that we are omnivores any more than I have to prove the sky is blue. Of course, the sky isn’t really blue, it just appears to be, but only a pedant or a fool would argue that the sky is not blue. If two humans were forced to live on diets of cabbage and chicken alone respectively, I know which of them would be healthiest for longest.

    If animals were not ‘put here’ (religious considerations are not a part of my reasoning) to die for me, they were equally not put here to die for a non-human animal, but that’s what happens to most animals eventually. Even if they die from some other cause than as prey, the mortal remains are consumed.

    To suggest that people shouldn’t be living in places that crops can’t be grown is to deny the very origins of humanity. Nomadic peoples followed herds around the African continent to exploit them, they didn’t grow crops and couldn’t even if they knew how. To say ‘we don’t need to do that anymore’ isn’t an argument against it in its own right. The argument not to eat meat is based on the above morality supposition, which I dispute.

    I’m sorry Vegany but, affinity between pets and their owners aside, animals do not love us. Dairy farmers (the better ones) love their livestock much more than the livestock loves them. During the UK foot and mouth crisis, I heard of one sheep farmer who moved his entire herd into a closed barn (which meant they were not required to be slaughtered) and lived with them for months until the crisis abated. Most farmers were in tears at the prospect of their herds being slaughtered (not for the financial loss before you say it, they were compensated).

    Kind regards.

  18. A Man of Kent’s entire argument is based upon the “might makes right” mentality so it is quite ironic that he disputes the Nazi correlation of exploiting farmed animals. he even goes as far as expressing worry that if human’s did not commodify, exploit, and slaughter billions of non-human animals a year the animals may go extinct. according to his “logic”, humans have been killing other humans and going to war for 200,000+ years so these also must be valid acts. in addition, it is a logical fallacy (Appeal to Common Practice) that since the vast majority of people are killing and eating animals, then it must be correct/moral/justified/reasonable to do so. his “You think it’s wrong, I think it’s right” argument excludes the victims perspective entirely.

    all of this can be proven invalid by just applying the Golden Rule: how would he feel if someone came up behind him or one of his loved ones and shot them in the head for a quick and perhaps painless death, so that the assailant could gain what he or she wanted from their victim? in this case also, the victim would be unaware and the death a “completely humane” one from the perpetrator perspective.

    the bottom line is that when one speaks of evolution, they should really consider that humans have long evolved from the necessity to kill other sentient beings for our survival. to do so is to make a choice to cause others who are helpless to prevent it to suffer and die for our own selfish pleasure and profit.

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  21. Dear Robert Grillo,
    I am a conscientious and ethical meat eater. I read your article on Care2 but found many flaws in your arguments. It’s all too easy to preach to the choir, but your choice of reactionary words and fallacious moral posturing does not convince me of anything. I agree with the main thrust of your argument that people who say ‘it’s a personal choice’ are closing down the argument and probably haven’t really thought too much about it, or would rather not. And if it comes up at the dinner table, quite rightly so. But when we aren’t breaking bread together I’m happy to have the discussion.

    The Victim:
    Most of our livestock has evolved with humanity. Those who don’t believe in evolution can stop reading now and please don’t get involved, because I’m not interested. For example, the original ‘cow’ is a long extinct species, auroch, that was domesticated in pre-history, just like the original wheat, mulberry and cauliflower. Does it not concern you that 200,000 years of humanity would be extinguished if in year 200,001 we suddenly decided that the vegans (a small fraction of humanity today and an insignificant fraction throughout all of humanity) are right and we stopped farming animals and all our domesticated livestock went extinct? Countless millions, billions, of humans were wrong and you are right?

    Ethical Farming:
    I hate factory farming vociferously. I am a supporter of Compassion in World Farming. Factory farming is WRONG for lots of reasons, not only the conditions, but the environmental impact (water use alone is a third higher), but most people don’t care to care. It’s not even an issue in most parts of the world where factory farming is but a long distant dream. It’s been suggested that chickens imported from Thailand are more ethically treated that the vast majority of those in the West simply because they don’t have the pharmaceuticals, the factories, the hormones, or the technology to turn them into meat units that we spew out as KFC over here.

    The Core Question:
    “…it’s easy to get pulled into unproductive argumentation about side issues. By simply pointing out that the core questions are being avoided through distraction and misdirection…”
    This essentially underlines the fundamental question of inherent value. To you, there are no other arguments apart from whether it is right or wrong to take another sentient being’s life. If this is all you are concerned with, why do you talk about all the other fringe issues on your website? Unfortunately there can be no correct and satisfactory answer to this question: we are simply not equipped as human beings to fully comprehend such a question, let alone answer it. You think it’s wrong, I think it’s right. The arguments for and against (surely these are the interesting bits?) are what you have referred to above as ‘unproductive argumentation…distraction and misdirection’. You have even mentioned ‘justice’ as if you have some way of knowing what that means better than those who are pro-meat eating.

    Twyla Francois and Godwins Law:
    OK, so now we get to the ‘you’re all Nazis’ bit. By throwing in the word ‘torture’ that is obviously the clincher for you. Only a Nazi fascist or despot would use torture so we must be wrong, right? Wrong. Those of us who support the highest standards of farming both with our actions and wallets (an ethically farmed turkey costs 10 times that of a supermarket factory farmed one) dismiss this sort of alarmist twaddle out of hand. My chickens die after a short but comfortable life, unknowing what is about to happen to them before they are dispatched (killed, if you prefer). My beef eats grass in a field, much like the auroch but without the wolves. They are stunned, completely humanely, and die in their sleep peacefully. It sickens me to the stomach to see livestock being treated cruelly or living in cages on concrete fed with unnatural proteins and pumped full of antibiotics. However, Twyla, if people want to eat cats and dogs, that’s up to them, just so long as they have good lives before they’re turned into food.

    I agree that there is a lot that has gone very wrong with most of our meat production, but we ARE omnivores, and arguing that we aren’t isn’t going to get you anywhere. It may be possible to live without meat, but considering the last fact, most people will ask why we should. What about all the thousands of cheeses that are produced across the world to recipes devised in long forgotten times? What about the Northern peoples that live mostly on permafrost ground where no crops will grow? The foodstuffs that have evolved with us are a part of what makes us human, it’s our culture and our heritage.

    We need to be paying more for our meat so that the environmental damage stops – an organic system (one where there are no external energy inputs; everything is recycled into the land, not the Soil Association version of organic) is environmentally benign.

    Thank you for reading and kind regards.

    • I’m not the person who wrote this, just a commentator, so hopefully Robert can answer back to you better than I can.

      I would just like to ask you, by that sort of mindset, it would be okay to eat humans so long as they had a good life and were killed “humanely” first? Do you think the human would care if they had a better life or not (sure it’s “better”, but in the end they would know their fate.) Would you fell if, the minute you were born, someone knew when your number was going to be up? When is it ever okay to take another’s life out of needlessness?

      Eating meat does not take into account the animals choice to live. Just like a human wouldn’t be okay with someone slaughtering them to eat, an animal isn’t okay with it either. They value their lives as much as we value our own.

      The thing is, we have a choice not to eat meat and not to support the exploitation over another being. Animals are at our mercy to be kind and want us to be aware that they love, feel, breathe, and want the same love from us that they give us. We should listen~

      • You’re a vegan, no wonder.

        >>I would just like to ask you, by that sort of mindset, it would be okay to eat humans so long as they had a good life and were killed “humanely” first?

        No, because humans and animals are obviously different. How? We have a conscious and are aware of what death is. Not only that but our evolved teeth tells us that meat eating can be tolerated within our bodies.

        • Jacqueline,

          One of the most common defenses of meat-eating that vegans encounter is, “If I wasn’t meant to eat meat, then I wouldn’t have these canine teeth!” But there are several serious problems with the “canine teeth” argument, the most glaring one being the premise that “the presence of canine teeth = meant to eat meat.” In truth, with the exception of rodents, rabbits, and pikas, nearly all mammals have canine teeth. In fact, several herbivores have ferocious canine teeth, and, as you’ll see in the gallery below, the largest canine teeth of any land animal belong to a true herbivore. See Nine Reasons Why Your Canine Teeth Don’t Make You a Meat Eater at

          • You have to laugh, people who eat flesh are running out of excuses as to why they feel they were to eat flesh. I think the last of those are the canine teeth and how if you have them you must eat flesh.

            Here are the facts plain and clear…they like the taste of flesh! In fact there isn’t any living, breathing thing on this earth that they won’t eat! So let’s all stop trying to come up with a reason as to why they continue to eat flesh.

            I have asked this question so many times and never once have I gotten an answer to it. If every creature was taken from this earth what would you eat then???? No one can answer this, or won’t answer this. Let’s here what you would eat if you are a flesh eater.

        • Some humans that are cognitively impaired, such as those who are mentally retarded or have dementia or babies have no “consciousness.” Does that mean we can kill and eat them too? If we use your logic, the answer is Yes. But we don’t make an argument for exploiting, killing and eating others based on how “conscious” or smart they are because this is not a morally relevant criteria for how we treat others. The only morally relevant criteria for how we treat others is whether they are sentient, that is whether they can feel pain and suffer. ALL animals, including the human ones, are sentient, will fight for their lives, and seek to avoid pain, suffering and death. The same argument you make about animals not knowing what is happening to them or caring what happens to them was also made by slaveholders to defend African slavery not too long ago. Yours, like their, is a prejudice based on morally irrelevant factors. Species is not more a reason to justify killing and eating someone as is race, color, religion or gender.

    • Thanks for all the interest and comments on this post. There have been over 600 comments on Care2 alone, many direct emails and some comments here. I’ve decided to write a follow up piece and perhaps build this into a series which address the most common objections and counter arguments I have found in these comments. I’ve just published the follow up at

    • “conscientious and ethical meat eater”….that is without a doubt the best oxymoron I have ever heard. There really is no “humane slaughter”. Post your references indicating we are omnivores by design. We ARE herbivores. Animal products of any source cause great harm in our bodies when taken more than occasionally. People who live in places where plants don’t grow are clearly ignoring the fact that we were not meant to live in such places. We do not have the fur, claws, teeth or other survival skills to survive on our own in such an environment. The justifications for meat and dairy consumption don’t add up. You don’t need it and they were not put here to die for you. They were put here to live, like everyone else.

        • This is truly correct. That they are put here for their own reason, the same as man, and it is just wrong to use them for whatever reason you want too! Man has this idea that he is something special, and that all living, breathing things belong to him, and a big fat mistake. The ego is beginning to show!

    • “Does it not concern you that 200,000 years of humanity would be extinguished if in year 200,001 we suddenly decided that the vegans (a small fraction of humanity today and an insignificant fraction throughout all of humanity) are right and we stopped farming animals and all our domesticated livestock went extinct?” – but how does a change in behaviour eradicate history? This is akin to arguing that the development of the computer extinguished literature, or that by being against slavery now would extinguish 200,000 years of humanity, which was pretty heavily into slavery for a good chunk of that. The other point is, agriculture has only existed for a small portion of that 200,000 years, so your timeline is a little faulty.

      • How is that possible? We are facing a global population growth spurt and expecting another 2 billion people on this planet in 30 years. That explosion of growth is what should be our real concern. How high of a population can our planet sustain? It’s reaching it’s limit. The human population would not go extinct because it went to a plant based diet. What kind of theory is this? Where is the evidence?

  22. As an animal advocate, I heartily agree with the reasons in this article. I am, however, aware that some people don’t care about animals at all. For these people, it might be more persuasive to argue for the detrimental, destroying effects of animal agriculture and use on the environment and other world concerns, such as global poverty and water scarcity. It cannot be a personal choice to destroy the world we share.

    • I certainly agree that the environmental case for not eating meat is a strong one and will resonate with many; however, I firmly believe that the underlying reason why people don’t care about animals, as you say, is because not enough voices are taking a firm stand to advocate for them and not wavering from the stand. Even the animal advocates themselves, instead of defending animal interests and explaining why they should matter, aren’t being too effective when they quickly switch to other arguments. But if we keep diverting the issue away from animals, they will never gain in importance in people’s minds.

      I am delighted to report that in the 48 hours since this piece was published, 3218 people have viewed it. I take that as a sign that we can foster greater concern for animals if we stick to our guns and make a good case.

      I learned a great piece of advice from filmmaker John LaVeck that can be best explained by quoting him directly: “When someone else changes the channel, change it back! These manipulative tactics only work when most people don’t recognize them for what they are. Without a deeper awareness of what is happening and why, it’s easy to get pulled into unproductive argumentation about side issues. By simply pointing out that the core questions are being avoided through distraction and misdirection, and by insisting that substantive concerns be addressed in a public forum, a far greater level of accountability is possible.”

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