Last month, I told you all about the contest — “Calling All Herbivores: Tell Us Why It’s Unethical to Eat Meat” — hosted by the FABULOUS animal rights blog Our Hen House in response to The New York Times‘ contest “Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat.”
Asking readers to submit an essay in 600 words or less, Our Hen House published the essays from winner Alan W. Peck and the 4 runners-up (Ashley Capps, Joanna Strittmatter, Britt LoSacco and Loren Fry). You should seriously go check out their essays. They’re passionate, articulate and funny. In short, really good.
While I didn’t win (waaah), I still wanted to share my essay with all of you. While I tweaked it a bit (hindsight truly is 20/20), here is my contest entry arguing why it’s unethical to eat meat:
As a vegan feminist, combating oppression and advocating choice constitute the cornerstone of my activism. People should choose what’s right for them, including what to put in their bodies.
But what does it say about us as a society when the majority of people contribute to the senseless slaughter and torture of ten billion animals annually by eating meat? Is it ethical to kill innocent animals or exploit them for our entertainment?
No it’s not, especially if people have a choice.
I have awesome friends who eat meat and awesome friends who don’t. Eating meat certainly doesn’t mean you lack compassion. But every choice a vegan makes — what food to eat, what clothing to wear, what to slather on skin — stems from a philosophy of empathy, mercy and kindness towards animals and the planet. Predicated on compassionate consumption, vegans align actions with beliefs.
Whether people love animals or not (how could you not??), most people eating meat still don’t want animals to suffer. Yet they disconnect the pain animals feel with enjoyment they gain. People either don’t know or don’t think about what animals endured to end up on their plate.
Factory farms, the overwhelming majority of today’s farms, cram animals into filthy, stench-filled, windowless warehouses. Chickens’ beaks are seared off to prevent them from pecking. Hens lay eggs on less than half a square foot of space. Dairy cows and pigs are kept perpetually pregnant, forcibly inseminated on rape racks in order to continually produce milk and produce litters. Sows are kept in gestation crates so tight they can’t turn around. Piglets’ tails are chopped off. All baby animals are wrenched from their mothers. In fisheries, fish suffer pollution and overcrowding. Fish have their gills sliced off before being tossed into a tank of water, where they bleed to death. Animals on factory farms are tortured, often becoming violent, cannibalistic and despondent, all before suffering an excruciating death.
Language shapes perception and identity. People don’t call animals they eat by their actual name but by constructed “food” titles. Cows become beef, calves are veal, pigs called pork — disassociating animals from their existence and transforming them into objects. Laws mandate animals are property. This paradigm makes it easier to abuse or objectify their bodies without guilt or remorse.
Society views eating meat as “natural,” which has historically been used to justify abhorrent practices like slavery, racism and sexism. While not everyone may be able to eat vegan due to health problems, lack of access to non-meat food sources (such as Indigenous communities in the Arctic) or financial constraints, humans don’t need meat. Most of us can obtain all the nutrients we need from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes. In her fascinating book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Dr. Melanie Joy, with her coinage of the term “carnism,” argues eating meat is every bit a choice as not eating meat. Society reinforces that it’s a choice we don’t see.
Food intertwines with culture and tradition, a defense meat-eaters argue for their lifestyle. But people don’t need to abandon their heritage or customs. You can embrace your heritage while substituting vegan/vegetarian ingredients.
Utilizing speciesism, some people proclaim superiority over animals as a justification to eat them. Myths abound that some animals are stupid (chickens), dirty (pigs) or ugly (turkeys) so it’s okay if they become food. Although food taboos in various cultures and religions prohibit eating certain animals like pigs (Islam, Judaism) or cows (Hinduism). Most people don’t want to eat animals they bond with — why the thought of eating dogs disgusts most Americans.
But all animals lead emotional lives. In his beautiful book When Elephants Weep, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson discusses how animals belong to families, communicate, grieve lost loved ones, and utilize tools. Animals experience and exhibit the full scope of emotions ranging from anger to altruism.
What we put in our bodies is a personal decision. But what I keep struggling with is how can people choose to contribute to an oppressive system that harms so many? We can choose another way. We can strive towards compassion instead.