On Valentine’s Day, I had a booth at the Kaw Valley Seed Fair. Thanks to Judy and Michael Carman and my family who all contributed many hours, we gave away hundreds of samples of delicious gluten-free vegan food, and planted many seeds!
It was a fabulous event, but I can’t stop thinking about several youngish adults (one of whom had been vegan.) They told me with earnest conviction that they now ate animals and no longer found it uncomfortable because they had “made peace” with killing them.
Just let those words sink in for a moment.
Amidst floods of people wanting to sample our food and get information, I failed to ask these individuals one very important question:
“How do you know that your current view justifying eating animals (or their bodily secretions) is truly consistent with your core values about justice, compassion and nonviolence; how do you know that you have not just become desensitized to culturally condoned injustices and violence (and thus, without realizing it, have adopted the dominant cultural ideology of the oppressors)?”
Cross-cultural anthropology gives insight to the immense pressure humans experience when we attempt to vary from traditions or social norms. We are all profoundly impacted by this. I have certainly felt this myself as a vegan for nearly a quarter century. I often wonder how I would have managed all these years, had I not been fortunate enough to connect with some extraordinary and inspiring vegans myself!
It might be presumptuous of me to assume this… but these young people who are now “at peace with killing” probably consider themselves to be on the forefront of embracing social justice and environmental justice, abhor “isms” like racism, heterocentrism, classism, sexism, etc., but haven’t yet made the connection of those “isms” to speciesism. Like me, they probably seek to promote non-violence and expand its embrace as widely as possible.
History shows that those who care deeply about trying to do what is right can have blind spots to other injustices. The World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 voted to exclude women from participating and made female delegates sit separately upstairs. Likewise today, some who endorse civil rights for people of color are actively working to withhold those same rights from those who don’t fit our culture’s traditional sexual binary.
It is not possible to feed seven billion humans on this planet a diet based upon meat or dairy — and have a livable planet for long.
Eating animals is NOT necessary for our survival and contributes enormously to human disability. (Cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, some cancers and kidney disease, amongst others, all increase as populations eat more animal foods.) Animal agriculture wastes resources, and destabilizes the very environment we all depend upon to survive. Even the best example of supposedly sustainable animal farming — Polyface Farms — is not capable of sustaining all the animals it raises without importing feed grown elsewhere!
Few recognize that the alternatives to industrial production of meat, dairy and eggs are even more classist (but attractive to those who can afford to pay more in order to let their conscience go back to sleep.) It takes more land, water and energy to provide the same calories eating animals as opposed to just eating the plants (they would eat) directly. YET EVEN MORE LAND is required using “grass-fed” systems as the animals grow more slowly and live longer (emitting more methane too!) before humans kill and eat them. (Some alfalfa used for grass-fed animals also comes from drought-stricken California — further stressing aquifers because alfalfa requires lots of water!)
But most problematic, small farms claiming to be “humane” further our societal desensitization. It used to be that when people recognized the similarity of animals they love (dogs and cats) to animals they eat, they tended to feel disgust at eating meat. But now those with personal relationships with these small “humane farms” increasingly tell me that they see no problem with eating dogs and cats either! Interestingly, this is consistent with theories that suggested compassion for animals grew as people moved to cities, because those living on small farms were desensitized and viewed their very survival as dependent upon enslaving and killing animals. Growing up on a farm can make it hard to see the injustice of exploiting other beings, whose interest in living their own lives is quite obviously like ours!
Non-industrial animal farming diverts people who might be ripe to open their hearts and shun the violence altogether, to embracing and ignoring violence when specific rituals are practiced. (“We kill them with such respect.”) It reinforces a hierarchical exploitative paradigm (the status quo) which is actively perpetuating every major challenge currently facing humanity.
Yes, you can cherry pick instances where animal agriculture does not use tons of water, cause devastating pollution, consume excessive energy and contribute to global food insecurity. But those exceptions evaporate as soon as more than a tiny number of humans try to do it. And while people struggling to find enough to eat may enhance their survival by eating animals, that does not justify those of us with abundant food options deliberately exploiting other beings, tearing their families and social groups apart, or ending their lives prematurely, simply for our pleasure.
Pythagoras, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Louisa May Alcott, The Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, and many other great minds all suggested that as we evolve morally, humanity will come to abhor barbaric and violent traditions that allow us to turn a blind eye to injustices against other sentient beings.
So let’s keep moving forward.