The Sheep Who Jumps for Joy: On the Will to Live in All Animals

So-called “humane” farming advocates see no paradox in the use of the word “humane” to describe unnecessary slaughter, because they do not view killing as a legitimate category of harm to animals raised for food. But killing animals when it is not necessary to our survival is wrong for the same reasons that it is wrong to kill humans without just cause. Who goes to prison longer: the person who beats someone up, or the person who murders someone with a single painless bullet? It is the killer who receives the worst punishment, because depriving someone of life is seen as a far greater harm than abusing someone; the killing is a harm because the person who was killed desired to go on living. But the will to live is not unique to human beings, it is something shared by all animals— our most basic and profound emotional and biological drive.

Animals desire to continue existing. Like us, they are sentient beings —they feel pleasure and pain —and, like us, they will fight and plead for their lives till the last breath. “The harm of death to a sentient being,” writes Gary Francione, “is that she or he will no longer be able to have conscious experiences. If you kill me painlessly while I am asleep, you have harmed me because you have deprived me of having further experiences that I, by virtue of the fact that I have not chosen to commit suicide, wish to have. And our experience of sentient beings other than humans reasonably supports the position that all sentient beings share in common an interest in continuing to live.”

Like the will to live, the ability to experience pleasure is also not unique to humans. Animals exploited for food also seek pleasure, from chickens who purr, to sheep who (literally) jump for joy, from cows who play ball, to pigs who prefer to sleep snuggled up to one another. Animal behaviorist Jonathan Balcombe writes, “Pleasure adds intrinsic value to life — that is, value to the individual who feels it regardless of any perceived worth to anyone else. Pleasure seekers have wants, needs, desires, and lives worth living.”

Decades of scientific studies— along with millions of thriving vegans— have irrefutably demonstrated that humans have no biological or nutritional need for animal products. Once we know this, and once we recognize that non-human animals value their lives, how can we justify denying them the mercy we ourselves would beg for if the roles were reversed? The only way for our values to mean anything—the only way for our values to actually be our values— is if they are reflected in the choices we freely make. And every day, we have the opportunity to live our values through our food choices. If we value kindness over violence, if we value being compassionate over harming others for a fleeting pleasure, then veganism is the only consistent expression of our values. If we can live healthy lives without using or abusing others, why wouldn’t we?

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About Ashley Capps

Ashley Capps received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her first book of poems is Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. The recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she works as a writer, editor and researcher specializing in farmed animal welfare and vegan advocacy. Ashley has written for numerous animal rights organizations, and in addition to her ongoing work for Free from Harm, she is a writer and researcher at A Well-Fed World. For more information on her poetry or advocacy writing, please visit her website. She also runs the vegan facebook page Make Compassion Consistent.


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  6. Nicely written. This definitely one of the articles I’ll point others to. For The Cause!

  7. That is the best video. After reading about the death of Marian, a turkey at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary, it was just what I needed. Veganism is about honoring and celebrating life.

  8. A wonderful video–and a sad reminder of all the farmed animals who never have a chance to experience the joy of play and of being young.

  9. Pingback: The Sheep Who Jumps for Joy: On the Will to Live in All Animals

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