This post is part of an ongoing series called Most Common Justifications for Eating Animals where we seek to provide answers and resources to better address these justifications.
In the Q & A at one of my recent presentations, someone pointed out that they’ve heard a concern for animals criticized as first world. Aside from the obvious prejudice in the use of terms such as first world and third world, for our purposes, let’s just focus here on its implication that advocating for animals is a frivolous issue compared with much bigger global problems and one that only affluent people have the luxury to think about. But notice how we hear this criticism only in reaction to farmed animal advocacy, the 99%, and rarely, if ever, for wildlife or companion animal protection. The fact is that many underprivileged countries (that incidentally cause a lot less animal suffering than we do in the “first world”) have sought protections for animals far beyond our first world standards, proving that you don’t need to be affluent to care about and defend animals.
In the case of Cecil the lion, the Zimbabwe government cares enough about the issue to seek the extradition of his perpetrator so that they may try him in a high court. The efforts to save feral dogs from brutal killing in Romania and Russia are not criticized as “first world” concerns. Actually what’s really “first world” is our fetish for buying designer, pure breed dogs while millions of other dogs languish in kill shelters. What’s really “first world” is a multi-million dollar doggie day care and products industry that caters to our “first world” trend of showering our pets with toys and professional beauty treatments, while we ignore the plight of billions of other animals we pay to be brutalized and killed for our daily food choices.
On the surface, this critique appears to be consistent with condemning white or Western privilege and the growing inequality between the world’s haves and have nots and yet is rooted in the very same kind of prejudice in which human privilege is used to systematically victimize other animals. This means we ignore the fact that humans are animals too, and we certainly aren’t the only animals that suffer or that have lives that matter to us. Another variation on the first world critique is the false dilemma that human interests compete with other animals when in fact the 99% of animals we harm are those we eat for reasons of pleasure, not out of necessity or competition to protect important human interests. In short, animals don’t need us to tear ourselves away from solving our own human problems to help them. No, they just need us to leave them alone and stop buying them, which will result in them no longer being bred in the first place. Problem solved for the 99%.
Finally, many other social justice issues have their roots in the first world too, like justice for sweatshop laborers, battered women and date rape victims or gay rights and gay marriage, hate crime, bullying and equal pay for women. But notice how advocates for these causes are rarely criticized as first world. On the contrary, they are often lauded for their brave work to expose and fight against these injustices. If anything deserves to be critiqued as a first world issue, it is ironically the same one these critics defend: the Western animal-based diet which has been relentlessly marketed beyond the West by those who profit from spreading chronic disease, exacerbating world hunger, political instability, ecological degradation and, of course, a massive scall of animal suffering around the globe. Yes, what’s truly first world is our pathological obsession with promoting animal agriculture around the globe. And the only thing the so-called progressives can think of criticizing is farmed animal advocates while ignoring their actual abusers and the connection between human and animal oppression.