“Recognize meat for what it really is: the antibiotic- and pesticide-laden corpse of a tortured animal.”
~ Ingrid Newkirk
“Being vegan is easy. Are there social pressures that encourage you to continue to eat, wear, and use animal products? Of course there are. But in a patriarchal, racist, and homophobic society, there are social pressures to participate and engage in sexism, racism, and homophobia. At some point, you have to decide who you are and what matters morally to you. And once you decide that you regard victimizing vulnerable nonhumans is not morally acceptable, it is easy to go and stay vegan”
~ Gary L. Francione
Our treatment of animals is morally appalling! We ought to change radically the way we live and our attitude toward animals. But what am I precisely talking about here? Considering our stage of intellectual and technological development, we could carry on with our lives without having to exploit and kill other beings. And yet, we shoot animals for fun, raise them in cages, crack their skulls, cut their bodies into pieces, boil them alive, drain their blood, package their body parts, ship the packages to supermarkets where they are sold and labeled with hypocritical euphemisms such as beef, pork, drumsticks, eggs, and so on. The reality is that people buy the mutilated body parts of cows, the cut up flesh of pigs, the cut-off legs of chickens, and the unfertilized reproductive cycles of chickens. These animal parts are fried, broiled, roasted and eaten, coagulated blood, skin, veins, nerves, and all, nothing gets wasted.
Animal females, cows for example, are forced to become pregnant. Hormones and other chemical supplements are injected into their bodies. Their babies are taken away from them and killed; their cut-up bodies are labeled and sold as veal. Chefs make a dish called “veal scaloppini” and not “thin slices of baby cow flesh,” which is really what it is. The cows, now engorged with milk that will never be given to their babies since they were killed and sold as “veal,” are hooked up to machines that squeeze their breasts and steal their milk. When the cows are completely drained and no longer produce milk, they are sent to be slaughtered. Their milk, which by the way contains pus and blood, is drunk straight up or used in recipes, pus, blood and all. But if you think about it, the milk produced by a human mother is meant for her baby; similarly, the milk produced by a cow is meant for cow babies, not for humans, and certainly not for human adults. At any rate, this is the kind of cruelty behind your glass of milk. Also milk is turned into cheese. The way this works is to add to the milk an enzyme contained in animal intestines (rennet) to turn the milk into a firm glob of fat that we call “cheese,” the same fat, by the way, responsible for atherosclerosis, diabetes, and obesity.
Many people like to have breakfast with unfertilized reproductive cycles of chickens (eggs) fried in animal lard or in the hardened artery-clogging fat of breast-squeezed animal milk, which we call butter, with a side of fried slices of swine abdomen fat. But have you ever asked yourself what really happens in egg farms? Since male chicks are not profitable to the industry because they cannot lay eggs, every year, 200 million baby chicks are ground up alive. Workers separate male chicks from females and toss the males into a chute where they are ground up alive in a meat grinder into a bloody pulp that is fed back to chickens. The industry calls this practice “instantaneous euthanasia.”
For Thanksgiving dinner, millions of Americans have turkey. But are these people aware of how they are able to have such a large number of turkeys? Turkeys naturally do not reproduce that quickly. This means that they are artificially inseminated. By “artificially” I mean that there are people whose job is to masturbate turkeys, collect the semen, and then inject it into female turkeys (Try bringing up this as a topic next Thanksgiving dinner.).
But, as if this were not enough, animals and insects are used not only as food. Animals are used for every single purpose of our bodies and, sadly, for every aspect of our lives. We cover car seats with the skin of killed animals. We wash our bodies with products containing animal parts or by-products. We even use animal skin strips around our waists as belts and around our wrists as bracelets, or animal skin to make shoes or purses or wallets. We kill birds and use their feathers to fill up pillows and winter coats when it is absolutely unnecessary since we can use synthetic material instead. We use animal fur to make brushes and clothes, their boiled bones to make Jell-O or soap, their fat to make lotions, glue, paint, or to put on our skin as lotion. Vanilla, raspberry and strawberry ice cream flavors are enhanced by castoreum. Castoreum is the anal secretions of beavers! And the chewing gum you are chewing right now may contain lanolin, an oily, sweaty secretion found on the outside of sheep’s wool. Lanolin is also used in skin lotions.
Insects are eaten straight up by many cultures or utilized in many foods people consume daily. Candies are colored using the secretions of various insect or crushed bugs. Another insect product that many people consume daily without giving it any thought is insect vomit. Commercially, the acidic vomit of bees is known as “honey.” But think about this: honey is bees’ food. Humans steal it from the bees. Obviously, the stolen honey, which is stolen food, must be replaced. It is, therefore, replaced with high fructose corn syrup. However, since corn syrup is not the bee’s natural food, the consumption of the same is believed to be the cause of the death of millions of colonies worldwide. Just think about it. There are animal parts and animal by-products everywhere—in your toothpaste, in your breakfast, in your pockets, around your necks, in your cars, animals, animals, and more animals. In other words, one day does not go by without humans using the dead bodies of animals and their by-products.
But animals are not only killed, eaten, and used, but also tortured while alive. Every minute, every day, hundreds of animals are killed in laboratories in the United States. Millions of animals are used in experiments and die every year. Many animals die after being administered drugs or cosmetics. The government requires testing on animals before products are sold to people. But consider that many natural cosmetic products on the market are not required to be tested on animals. Ask yourself, why do we need to test toothpaste or mascara on animals when we can produce and use only natural cosmetics that do not require animal testing at all? And since humans “need” these products, why don’t they test them on humans? There is more: In a recent experiment, baboons were strapped down and had special helmets cemented to their skulls. Then, a pneumatic device delivered calibrated blows to determine the strength of the helmet. The blows continued until the skull of the baboons were fractured, resulting in the death of the baboons. Dogs are driven to the point of insanity by electric shocks so that scientists can study the effect of insanity. Cats are deprived of sleep until they die to study sleep deprivation. Elephants were given LSD to study its effects. Mice had their legs cut off to study how they walk on their stumps. Polar bears were drowned in vats filled with oil to study the effects of oil spills in Polar Regions. Cats were blinded, castrated, and rendered deaf to study their sexual developments under these incapacities. Other cats are placed in small rooms heated up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and left there until they die. This process produces a musk in the cats’ genitals, which is scraped off and used in the production of perfume, making the scent last longer.
To return to the question of eating meat, if asked “Why do you eat meat?” most people would not even consider it as an intelligible question. It is a complicated question. One’s diet, like many other aspects of life, traditions, beliefs, and customs, is normally embraced or not embraced—but seldom considered or questioned. So, the first reason people eat meat is simply that people were taught to do so by their parents, their parents were taught by their parents, and so on.
Some may say that they really enjoy eating meat. But, I often wonder whether people really enjoy eating meat. I am convinced that not too many people would really eat a slab of animal flesh unless it has been coated in spices and sauces and then cooked. What people really like when they eat a piece of animal flesh is mostly spices. I am willing to bet that most people would not “enjoy” the taste of raw flesh—that’s what meat is. However, people enjoy all sorts of things, but the question is whether they enjoy them because it is written in their DNA, so to speak, or because they have learned and adapted to enjoying certain things. For example, humans enjoy sweet food because every single cell in the human body runs on sugar. It does not seem to me that people enjoy smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating meat because the human body requires them. On the contrary, I think that many people passively embrace the commodities offered by today’s society with open arms just because they are offered to them. If we consider smoking as an example, is it really enjoyable to breathe smoke and nicotine into one’s lungs? Perhaps I fail to get the virtue of smoking, but that seems to me a clear indication that some people are told what to enjoy, and then they tell themselves they should enjoy certain things, and eventually become accustomed to those things. In other words, it seems clear that human beings in many of their practices learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The important point here is that just because one enjoys something, does not make it moral. One can enjoy, for example, gratuitously lying to people, but that is obviously immoral. Similarly, you may “enjoy” your steak or chicken dish, but have you ever considered that your few minutes of enjoyment gave those animals a miserable life ended by a brutal death?
Another reason people eat meat is that, they say, it is “natural.” By natural, it is meant that human beings are somehow “designed” to eat animals as if it were a “law of nature” or the cycle of life. I think that these people are misinformed, and mistake natural with social. Many social practices are immoral and unnatural, but nonetheless practiced. Consider this thought experiment. Think about a cow, a pig, a chicken, a lamb in their natural environment, grazing happily. You are walking by the countryside and see these animals. I argue that you would find none of them appetizing. Think of a chicken scurrying on the grass in front of you. Think of her neck bobbing back and forth, her fluffy plumage and her skinny legs, and her sound “coo, coo, coo.” Next think about a pig enjoying a mud bath grunting happily. Think of a cow, placid large animal, chewing grass with her big mouth sliding from side to side saying “moo, moo” to her cow friends. And what about a lamb? Think about a little lamb eating grass saying “mee, mee” to you while you caress her fluffy fur. Now, these, and other, features and behaviors of these creatures strike one as cute or funny, or both, but not appetizing. That is to say, as you caress a lamb or a cow you would never see them as food, your interaction with these creatures will not make you hungry.
Now, if eating meat is “natural” as meat eaters always like to believe, why is it that your reaction to watching a chicken wobbling along the grass makes you smile rather than making your mouth watering? Why is it that when you see a ripe fruit your natural instinct is to want to eat it but when you see a lamb you want to pet her? And if you are still not convinced, think of children’s reaction to animals and fruit. Why is it that small children naturally want to play with animals instead of jumping on them to take a bite of their flesh? The answer I think is easy—animals are not our food, fruits and plants are our food. Animals are creatures with desires just like us; and just like us, they have a strong desire to thrive and not to be imprisoned and killed to become food or shoes or purses. Now reverse this thought experiment. Put yourself in a predator’s shoes. Imagine you are a lion or a wolf. Would you not find it natural to see a lamb as appetizing if you were a wolf? And if you were a lion, would you not find a pineapple a useless object but a gazelle a delicious meal?
Next think about this thought experiment: a friend invites you over for dinner. He promised you a succulent meat-based dinner. As you are ready to sit at the table, your friend reveals to you that he has roasted a whole dog for you—that is what’s for dinner! If you were brought up in the West, you would be shocked, to say the least, by your friend’s meal choice. But now ask yourself, why is it wrong to eat a dog, or a cat for that matter, but OK to eat a cow or a pig or a turkey? Why is it OK to eat pig but not OK to eat dog? Why is it OK to eat a bird but not OK to eat a cat? This reflection should make one pause. Once you put aside your emotions, you’ll realize that there is no rational justification for eating one animal rather than another.
The fact that dogs are not meals in this part of the world is purely accidental, a socio-geographical accident.
Many people use the argument that since certain animals eat other animals, it is normal or natural for us to eat animals, as well. However, carnivores do not have a choice; nature designed them to eat the flesh of other animals and they cannot survive solely on plant food. Also, it does not seem to be a fair analogy because humans and carnivore animals obtain their food in quite different ways. Carnivores do not walk into supermarkets, buy steaks or sausages, and then season and cook them like we do. They catch their food or eat the flesh of dead animals they find on the ground. Besides, they eat the whole animal, flesh, hair, eyes, blood, and bones, nerves, right there on the spot. On the other hand, people buy meat in supermarkets. The meat has been conveniently cut, cleaned, and packaged for them; it is taken home, seasoned to taste, cooked and eaten. Secondly, although humans are animals, they are different kinds of animals in that (1) they are capable of appreciating morality in a way that non-human animals obviously cannot, and (2) unlike most animals, humans can survive on an exclusive vegan diet. What this means is that eating meat is something humans have learned to do but is not necessary.
Another argument to justify animal exploitation is that it is a human tradition. Throughout the centuries, humans always have exploited animals. But why continue a tradition if it is immoral? Think about slavery. For millennia, slavery was a legitimate practice. At one point in history, many people realized the absurdity of slavery and fought to abolish it, realizing that they had been wrong. Slavery shows that many traditions or practices in human history often are unethical. Thus, the argument that humans have always eaten meat is fallacious and historically inaccurate because it is not true that humans always have eaten meat. The important point here is this: with hindsight, we all recognize the wrong of slavery. But back in those times, many people did not see the wrong in it. Now, think about what people do to animals. How can we be sure that we are ethically warranted to use them as property, kill them, eat them, wear them, etc? How can we be sure that we are not wrong, just like the people in the past were wrong for condoning slavery?
Another argument I have heard over the years is from religious people who maintain that eating animals is not wrong because their respective religious leaders, as well as their respective religious texts, promote the consumption of meat. Now, while it is true that certain passages in religious texts recount stories of people eating animals or God offering animals as food or even animal sacrifice, no religion that I know of prescribes consumption of meat. Or to put it the other way around, no religion teaches people that a vegan diet is not proper or is irreligious. To take a passage from the Bible as an example, it would seem that the ideal diet recommended by God to humans in the Garden of Eden before the fall is a vegan diet. Here’s what Genesis 1:29-30 says:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Granted, there are many other passages in the Bible that clearly acknowledge consumption of meat. However, we must consider that most religious texts were written in times prior to globalization when supermarkets did not exist, and when people did not have much choice in the way of food, and knew very little about nutrition. But the important point to me is this: the message of various religions is peace and love. The message of veganism is love and compassion for all sentient creatures. Conversely, the meat-eating world is about pain, cruelty, and profit. So, it would seem to me that given these premises, and considering that nowadays we can survive well on an exclusive vegan diet, God would support a vegan diet rather than a meat and dairy one.
Yet another argument is that eating meat and animal products is essential for good health. For example, people argue that we should consume dairy products because they are rich in calcium or meat because it is rich in proteins. In other words, there is this wide-spread idea among people that animal products are essential for healthy living. I must say that it is baffling to learn how many people still believe these propositions. Science has been very clear about the danger of consuming animal products—that is, they are unhealthful. It is interesting to notice that the United States population has one of the highest consumption of meat and dairy products, and it is also one of the sickest populations in the world. The rate of obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and more in the U.S. has been growing exponentially. People insist on consuming animal products despite scientific research has decisively shown that the meat-and-dairy diet increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis formation, cancer, and so on, and that a vegan diet not only lowers, but also in most cases reverses those conditions. In short, science is very positive about the benefits of a vegan diet and the deleterious consequences of the Standard American Diet, whose acronym, SAD, speaks for itself.
One of the reasons this false idea that animal products are healthful continues to resonate among people—even though science shows the opposite—is in part due to mass media influence upon society. People have been exposed to media since very early in their lives. Thus, most of our everyday practices and beliefs are inculcated in us by the media. But this paper is not about the negative influence of the media upon people; in fact, I do not even intend to argue that the media is intrinsically bad. My point is that often, most of what people say, enjoy, and do is due to the powerful influence of the media. Consequently, one should put a question mark in front of what they think, say, believe, and enjoy.
One of the many examples of how the media influence society is a marketing tool called “Unique Positioning” (UP) or “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP). UP or USP is used in advertisements by making a unique proposition to the consumer that highlights only a product’s specific benefit that no other product can offer, but often neglects to reveal the negative aspects of that product. For example, a pharmaceutical company may advertise a unique painkiller that can make your headache disappear faster than any other painkiller can, but not tell you that this painkiller is likely to cause high blood pressure and other undesirable side effects. In the case of food, the aim of UP or USP is to make a cognitive association in consumers’ minds, connecting one product with a specific benefit or benefits by drumming the message as consistently and as frequently as possible. For example, when I say “calcium” you think of “dairy,” when I say “protein” you think of “meat,” when I say “Omega-3 fats” you think of “fish.” But the truth is that Omega-3s, calcium, proteins, and other important nutrients are found in plants in the amount required by the body. Animal products are advertized as having more of these nutrients than vegetables, which is superficially true. However, what is not told to the public is that more is not necessarily better. The quantity of nutrients in vegetables is more than enough for good health. Think about horses, elephants, bulls, and gorillas. They all are incredibly strong and all they eat is fruits and grass. It is true that meat and dairy products contain important nutrients, but the negative consequences of a meat and dairy diet outweigh the benefits. Nowadays, it is no longer a matter of debate. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that shows a link between the consumption of animal products and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and other such conditions.
Finally, our treatment of animals should make us reflect upon the purpose of our life on this planet. The way history has unfolded makes us care about only our immediate surroundings. The world has been conquered and nature dominated by humans. In so doing, humans have killed not only other humans but also animals and destroyed the environment. So, I believe that changing our attitude toward animals, i.e., acknowledging that they are not our property and our food, is a way to reconnect with nature and the rest of the world. It is also a way to consider that humans are guests on earth, and not hosts. And since we pride ourselves in having the capacity of reason, which allows us to create, among other things, sophisticated ethical systems, we should accept this fact and use that capacity to realize that exploiting other sentient beings is unnecessary and therefore unethical.
In the foregoing, I have described only some of the absurdities and the evil that humans unnecessarily inflict upon animals. There are many other horrific examples. My hope is that these examples suffice to strike a chord with people to make them realize that human exploitation of animals is no more justified than the exploitation of other people. My hope is that people realize the moral necessity to end what I call the world’s greatest injustice, which, in practical terms, means to stop eating animal flesh, to cease using animal by-products, and to shun all products obtained through animal testing.