The other day, a Facebook fan wrote in with the following question: “I love my pets, but still eat meat. What’s wrong with that?” And I offered the following response, breaking it down into five key points:
- The question itself already implies that humans are entitled to dominate other species — a sense of “privilege” ingrained in us since childhood. So to understand the answer, you must first be willing to question your most basic assumptions about animals, namely the belief in dominionism (the belief that animals are here to serve our own ends).
- Regardless of what emotion we feel toward an animal — whether it be love or hate or indifference — that animal is a sentient being, that is, able to sense physical and psychological states of pain and pleasure, in the same way we do. The fact is, an individual animal cares about what happens to him or her, regardless of what we think of him or her.
- Referring to an animal as “meat” divorces the animal from any identity except as a product for consumption. “Meat” is the language of objectification — an attempt to turn a someone into a something. But this is inaccurate. Animals are not inanimate objects; they are sentient beings with specific interests, desires and subjective awareness. Referring to animals as “meat” disconnects us from the reality of the animal and thus disconnects us from the reality that certain food choices exploit and harm animals.
- When we bestow upon some animals love and empathy and other animals disdain or indifference, it reveals more about our own prejudices than about the intrinsic worth of the species we are judging. Laws prevent us from discriminating against our fellow humans based on race, color, religion, sexual preference, or gender, but there are no laws protecting animals from our discrimination against them. The only reason we get away with such speciesism is because it is socially and culturally acceptable. But that does not make it right or just or rational. Speciesism is inconsistent with the value we place in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Therefore, eating animals disconnects us from our core values.
- Eating “meat” is a symbol of human power over vulnerable sentient beings. “Meat”-eating feeds our ego. We do not eat “meat” today out of necessity, but rather out of self-indulgence (and, in some cases, from mistaken beliefs about nutrition). So, if you say you care about animals, then you cannot morally defend causing them suffering and death to satiate your frivolous pleasures. Instead, you would acknowledge their basic right to sovereignty over their own bodies, and you would protect them from being exploited by humans for trivial reasons, particularly when those trivial reasons are, for them, a matter of life and death.