Cecil reveals our glaring moral inconsistencies
Few issues cause more discomfort and hostility than openly questioning the practice of breeding, feeding, watering, and slaughtering tens of billions of sentient animals annually, which we do today in the total absence of necessity.
I want to be liked as much as the next gal, so when posting on my personal social media accounts, I try not to alienate myself from friends and family, the majority of whom love animals — or at least wouldn’t intentionally hurt one — but who have not (yet!) peeled back the layers that normalize the pervasive atrocities of animal agriculture affecting animals, people, and planet. For better or worse, I mostly compartmentalize these issues for discussions with like-minded folks. I’m working on that.
But the public’s justifiably outraged reaction to a lion named Cecil being killed by a hunter who paid $50,000 to do so makes it difficult to remain silent about the glaring moral inconsistencies that recently plastered many Facebook feeds.
Animal Rights BC (Before Cecil)
Here’s the deal. A man paid someone to allow him to kill an animal for pleasure.
Most people, on the other hand, pay people to kill animals for them, also for their pleasure.
Yes, in our society today, we eat animals for pleasure, not necessity. More on that in a minute.
It’s a wonderful thing when people speak up for human rights concerning specific races, genders, or sexualities. Most likely, someone who does so is not then proceeding to intentionally exploit humans outside of the group they’re defending at that particular moment. That would just be ridiculous and incredibly hypocritical. Can you imagine, for example, someone with a rainbow profile picture enthusiastically posting a racist photo?
Yet when most people speak up for the rights of certain animals — often dogs, particularly those left in hot cars — they then turn around and proceed to intentionally exploit animals outside of the group they’re defending at that moment, particularly those species they’ve been hypnotized by society to assign little to no moral consideration. This is equally ridiculous and hypocritical as the above example.
For example, over the past few week, I have seen people expressing their outrage over the intentional killing of a defenseless lion hours later posting a photo of themselves chowing down on the body of an intentionally killed, defenseless cow.
What we call a cheeseburger is actually totally vulnerable, sentient, heartbreakingly docile bovines (usually hundreds of them per patty!) whose ground-up remains are so casually consumed, covered in the congealed mammary secretions of their own species, whose formula-fed offspring likely lived out their unimaginable weeks on this Earth alone and imprisoned in a veal crate.
Amongst my many online vegan acquaintances brave enough to point out this glaring cognitive disconnect on social media, I’m seeing two common, knee-jerk reactions from their typically infuriated and offended non-veg friends:
1. It’s perfectly okay to kill (certain) animals that are plentiful, but not those that are endangered.
This would mean that animals have the right to exist, but not to live.
2. It’s okay to kill (certain) animals as long as their bodies are used in some way, especially for (unnecessary) food.
This is saying it’s not okay to kill or use just any animal for food, just certain species as dictated by society. After all, most Westerners would be horrified if someone slaughtered a local unwanted shelter dog to barbecue, defending it by saying he would have been put down anyway and would have gone to waste. Can you imagine? But this is how we are justifying needlessly killing other perfectly healthy young animals barely into their natural lifespans. (Worst of all, we actually brought them into existence just to use scarce resources to briefly sustain them before prematurely killing them.)
This way of thinking is not based on logic, but purely on social conditioning. This concept is what Melanie Joy, PhD, has coined “carnism.” It’s comparable to saying it’s not okay to exploit just any human, only the ones society has traditionally designated are okay to exploit — because that’s the way it’s always been. The anti-vegan attitude is often: too bad, deal with it.
Friends, it may be time to reread that creepy Shirley Jackson short story from high school English lit, “The Lottery,” to remember why we don’t do abhorrent things just because it’s the status quo/how it’s always been.
This latter justification also completely ignores the fact that, again, we don’t need to be eating (or eating from) any animals. I’m always floored when this revelation isn’t met with unbridled joy rather than the more common response of annoyance, accusations of moral superiority, and continued insistence on hurting and eating them anyway. Just because we can.
Although there will always be arguments that some people ostensibly have absolutely no choice but to eat from animals for survival based on their remote geography, it’s safe to say that if one is posting on Facebook, one is not one of those people. That would be using rare instances of meat-eating for survival to justify meat-eating for preference, despite an abundance of non-violent options.
The American Dietetic Association and their international counterparts confirm a vegan diet is indeed healthful and appropriate for individuals in all stages of life, and no medical association claims any animal flesh or fluid is needed to survive or thrive, nor to cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Long-time vegans like Scott Jurek are breaking athletic records, and “The 300 Pound Vegan” David Carter was just signed by the Chicago Bears (perhaps the diet is an unfair advantage?).
When there is no need to do something, it is then, by definition, needless.
It may be hard for most to admit, but killing and using animals for food today is needless. Just like trophy hunting is needless. Both are done for pleasure and enjoyment and tradition, not necessity. You can’t rationally vilify one and condone the other.
They Grind Chicks, Don’t They?
Sure, meat products used to taste good to me, and I was brought up to eat them daily without question. But when my happiness depends on the suffering of another being, quite frankly, I need another kind of happiness.
And I’ve found it. My taste buds and stomach acids have adjusted, as everyone’s can and will, to fully enjoy an entirely plant-based diet. The thrill of making delicious vegan dishes and discovering new vegan foods is unmatched. It is all so far from the bland sacrifice I once pictured. The last time I accidentally ate cheese — something I once insisted on putting on absolutely everything I ate — it tasted oddly gamey, greasy, and downright nasty to me.
There are so many yummy plant-based alternatives now, and many can be cheaply and easily made at home. The hardest part about being vegan once you’ve made the adjustment can be summed up by the always spot-on Marla Rose:
The challenge is in coexisting with those for whom the practice of eating animals is still shrouded, either intentionally or unintentionally, and that we are asked to suspend seeing what we do so the rest of the world can continue maintaining the status quo, which is that animal parts and products are neutral and harmless, no different than broccoli or apples or kidney beans. To us, this is being complicit in a deception we have already identified and rejected.
Although it may seem obvious, eating meat requires sentient animals we would have otherwise cherished and protected to be slaughtered and eviscerated. And obtaining the reproductive belongings of fertile females (her milk and eggs) for any significant amount of people to consume — again, despite needing to — means those females are slaughtered as soon as they’re “spent” while billions of their newborn males are considered a useless byproduct/trash.
This means fluffy baby chicks are actually ground alive or suffocated at the hatchery even if others go on to be “free range” for the duration of their short doomed lives, all based on their gender. Calves with their umbilical cords still attached are removed from their terrified moms so we can make Ben and Jerry’s out of their mothers’ milk. No one probably could pay you to push the “on” button on the chick grinder or push the wheelbarrow with the stolen calf away from her mom, but one does that by proxy every time one pays for and eats these products.
That’s how it works. Sorry, but don’t shoot the messenger. As comedian Aziz Ansari has incorporated into a stand-up routine, this standard hatchery practice of “chick culling” would likely be common knowledge and collectively rejected if only it were presented to people in the right context — like, as he jokes, via a Ja Rule rap rather than by PETA.
I spent most of my life not knowing and/or denying the above information, even when I was a clueless teenage vegan doing what seemed cool at the time, as well as for the many following years I went back and forth between vegetarianism without having quite gotten it. I just thought it would be so difficult and extreme to be vegan, or even stay vegetarian, and that if animal agriculture was really that bad, far more people would be vegan.
I now know:
- Perception of personal ramifications and judgments < contributing to the needless exploitation of tens of billions of sentient animals for pleasure.
- Unfortunately, for most, status quo/social norms > logic/compassion.
Just Because We Can
It’s easy to empathize with a single beloved lion with a name. But to try to fathom the mind-boggling numbers of exploited farmed animals, know that more nameless animals are killed every five days than the amount of humans killed in all wars and genocides in all of recorded history combined. You can even see the numbers in real time.
They are all sentient, whether or not we personally assign them a name or moral value, and regardless of how little their packaged or sandwiched carcasses resemble their former beings. They all possessed an extremely strong will to have relationships, exhibit natural behaviors, nurture their own young, and of course, to live.
You know this if you’ve ever had a pet, who are usually considered members of the family and who leave this Earth surrounded by loving, grieving caretakers who have likely just dropped thousands at the vet in an attempt to extend their lives.
Farmed animals, on the other hand, are intentionally, ruthlessly killed by strangers a fraction into their natural lifespans. Yes, we happily pay people to end their lives rather than extend them as we do those of our pets.
Again, we do this to them just because we can. What does that say about us? We were taught as children that we can’t do whatever we want, including hurt others, just because we feel like it. We are asked if we would jump off a bridge just because everyone else is, and we like to think we wouldn’t.
Would you pay to eviscerate sentient animals just because everyone else is doing it?
In the words of Philip Wollen, a former Vice President of Citibank turned profoundly moving vegan orator, “In their capacity to feel pain and fear, a pig is a dog is a bear is a boy.”
It’s also important to note that there has been much outrage over the fact that before he succumbed, Cecil suffered for 40 hours after Walter Palmer took aim. Most farmed animals suffer for the entirety of their brief, unnatural lives, during which time they are confined and completely removed from nature and natural behaviors, an undeniable form of torture. Additionally, they are subject to painful procedures without anesthesia and it is legal to forego feeding them for the 24-hour period before their slaughter. And then we send them down the unthinkably atrocious slaughter line, effectively stunned or not.
They are all Cecil. Each and every one of them.
Crouching Lion, Hidden Hamburger
Cecil has now prompted a mainstream discussion of the alarming rate of species extinction, but the fact that animal agriculture is its leading cause, as specified by groups including the Red List of Endangered Species, is rarely part of the conversation. Yet it’s not hard to imagine that clearing endless land and using an unsustainable amount of resources to accommodate tens of billions of mass-bred living, breathing animals annually destined for slaughter would immensely affect wildlife and biodiversity.
As icing on the vegan cake, a plant-based diet ironically requires the cultivation of far fewer plants (since feeding animals plants and then eating the animals is inherently inefficient) and can therefore feed billions more people, per the World Hunger Program at Brown University. And groups like the United Nations urge a move toward veganism to stop environmental degradation. As one example of many, by eating a vegan diet, National Geographic says an individual saves an average of 600 gallons of water — per day! This should be at the forefront of any and all discussions surrounding today’s drought and water scarcity, but yet again, due to our collective unspoken agreement to keep our animal agriculture blinders firmly in place, it’s rarely mentioned. Myself and several others are working to change that at truthordrought.com.
So if you’re enraged over Cecil’s death and care about plants, animals (endangered, cherished or not), people, and the planet, you know what to do. Put down the knife and walk away slowly from the animals. They simply do not need to die for you to live in happiness, and in fact, the planet’s health depends on more people — people like you — going vegan. As the proverb says, “No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, turn back.”
Lions may be obligate carnivores, but if he still could, Cecil would roar in approval at your choice to join the millions of people who have gone vegan, for all it means for the world he was prematurely taken from. While the majority of people continue to exploit animals just because they can, we can go vegan for a much better reason — we go vegan because we care.