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).
The author of the message and how that person or group is perceived is sometimes more important than the message itself. Gunther in fact shows how the same message is interpreted completely differently when two different authors deliver it. The quote she uses as a case study comes from Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer.
“Any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy advocate for ‘humane’ treatment of farm animals, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm; yet, killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.”
What people are really saying, when declaring that “humans are omnivores,” is that the human body has the ability to digest both plants and animal flesh and obtain nutrients from both. And because of this ability, they mistakenly assume that consuming half of our daily calories from animal products is a sensible, “omnivorous” way to eat. They then arrive at the false conclusion that humans must lack essential nutrients when they don’t consume animal products.
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.”
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.
I have heard important figures in all religions and many secular areas of study make the claim that eating meat honors the natural order. But whose natural order? Which natural order exactly? And is it as simple as reducing it down to a world of prey and predator? Of course not. The natural order of the planet is so vast, so complex and still very much a mystery to us. It may simply be beyond human understanding. But even if we do develop a complete understanding of the so called natural order, one could easily argue that all forms of killing, destruction and violence that occur in the natural world serve as models for us and justify our complicity and participation in them as well.
How many times have you heard someone justify their behavior based on the illogical premise that history somehow makes it right and assures its ethical legitimacy into the future? In fact, throughout history influential leaders and thinkers have used this same troubled logic to defend slavery, genocide, the oppression of women, racism, and discrimination based on a whole host of irrelevant criteria including sexual orientation, religion, color and now species.
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.
Last week I sat in a brew pub and spoke with a 55-year-old cyclist who was really into fitness. He looked good for his age. When he learned I was a vegan for three years now, he explained to me that he had tried to be a vegetarian for a while and then described the many obstacles that made him defect.
One of the highlights from the almost 2-hour long Australian debate about meat eating called Should Animals Be Left Off the Menu came from an unidentified young man in the audience who made a profound statement about the pyschological motivations behind why we eat animals. Following is a transcript of his statement:
Author and speaker Dr. Melanie Joy has made numerous live presentations across the country to a general audience on the psychology behind eating meat she calls carnism. For those who have not seen this powerful presentation about the invisible belief system behind our meat eating culture, now you can watch this live recording on your desktop anytime you’d like.