Why should I care? – 2: Animals (and veganism)

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July 6, 2017 by What Is A Name After All?

Ever since I can remember, I loved animals and that eventually and inevitably led me to look more into animal rights. For many many years, I didn’t change my eating habits while I still felt like I loved and wanted to protect animals. Eventually, though, I realized how contradictory this was and started to make changes in my diet having veganism as the ending point. Liking animals was what prompted me into this path, however, I don’t think that liking animals should be a necessary requirement to care for their well being.

As I’ve mentioned before several times, I don’t prescribe or subscribe the aggressive vegan propaganda that we see sometimes – I feel like it actually does more harm than good. Making people feel like they are bad people will generally lead to a defensive attitude and not make people consider what you are saying. I don’t think I was a bad person before because I ate animals – it was the way I was raised and even if I had heard about veganism, I was just in a different place than I am now, had different concerns and priorities.

But I do like talking about it, I think it is only beneficial to discuss these matters. Even if the reader has no interest in veganism there is no reason not to read the reasons why I think it is important. And unlike a lot of vegans that get annoyed when people ask why or other common questions, I do feel like it is a positive thing that people are curious and that we answer these questions. I remember very clearly asking a vegetarian friend questions like “Do you miss meat?”, “Why did you decide to become a vegetarian?” and saying that I could never do it. So when people ask me these kind of questions I understand that they are intrigued, maybe they never met someone who didn’t eat meat, maybe they never considered it before, so it is a good thing to clarify and answer honestly.

So, anyway, I’ll answer some of the most important questions that people have asked me so far.

1. Humans have been eating animals for ages and animals in the wild also eat each other so it is natural.

The “this is okay because it is how it has always been” argument is fallacious and History has proven it to be wrong many times. Anyone can agree that just because slavery existed for centuries, it doesn’t mean that it is acceptable or “normal”. Every human rights movement has faced some level of scepticism because when people are used to a certain reality it can be hard to let go of what is the habit. But the fact that something has been practised for a long time is not a good enough reason to consider it acceptable. 

When we study History and look at past habits and rituals, we feel astonished at how barbaric some of them were and the same will happen in the future when people look back at bullfights, slaughterhouses and animal testing. These are unnecessary practices that create immense pain and suffering which people only accept because they are perceived as normal, cultural or necessary. But we can and should reevaluate everything that we justify with “this is how it has always been” because if that’s the main reason something is done then it can easily be changed. History shows us that the Humankind is capable of growth and we don’t have to uncritically keep doing the same things over and over again just because our ancestors did it. Many times, tradition is just used as an excuse to sustain outdated practices.

In terms of animals eating animals, we should distinguish human action from what happens in the wild. Animals act by instinct and that’s why no animal, out of its own conscience, is going to decide to go vegetarian. We, as humans, on the contrary, have the amazing gift of free will and we get to make choices that aren’t so constrained by natural predispositions. Furthermore, in nature, the food chain works in a self-organizing manner – predators hunt for prey as they need to and the prey have defence mechanisms to try to survive predators. When there is a food shortage, animals will move or the population will decline.

With humans it is completely different: animals are bred for the sole purpose of being eaten, most of them don’t even get to have any sort of life because they are crammed in miniscule spaces and none of them has any chance of survival. Land is being destroyed, water and air polluted and biodiversity decreased. People compare humans eating meat to animals eating other animals but human action is significantly more cruel, firstly because humans have choice so killing animals could be avoided, and secondly because in 99.9% of the cases the animals that end up being eaten have a miserable life from the beginning to the end.

2. Eating animals is natural because humans are omnivores.

It always makes me very uncomfortable when vegans say that humans are naturally herbivores because when someone transitions to veganism there needs to be an active concern about nutrition and monitoring vitamins to make sure that there is no deficiency and every nutrient is at an acceptable level. The diet needs to be varied and include foods from every food group and vitamin B12 needs to be taken as a supplement as B12 deficiency can be quite alarming and cause neurological damage.

So maybe humans aren’t “naturally” vegan, but that doesn’t mean for a second that they can’t or they shouldn’t be. The concern about what is “natural” is anachronistic in the 21st century. Most of our daily lives are not ruled by what is natural but by what is cultural. Humans aren’t “naturally” monogamous, it isn’t natural to wear clothes and even less to care about fashion, or to speak languages or to write blogs.

People worry about veganism not being natural because they are worried it may have some harmful health consequences but at the same time people are eating way more meat than the human body needs or that is desirable, they are eating animals that humans have been domesticating for centuries, who most times are fed GMO rations and injected hormones to grow faster and with this they are destroying natural environments and ecosystems to have land to put all these animals and to cultivate plants to feed them. 

So if veganism isn’t “natural” neither is anything else in our lives but that doesn’t mean it is not beneficial. A big privilege of being human is that we can transcend what is natural and create something better. If veganism isn’t natural neither are processed foods, GMO foods or eating the quantity of meat that an average human does. Veganism, contrarily to a lot of unnatural practices humans have, is sustainable for the planet and, with a balanced diet, means a healthy, happier life.

3. I understand not wanting to eat dogs or cats but I just can’t care that much about pigs or cows.

Viewing cats and dogs as pets and pigs and cows as food is merely a social construct. Pigs and cows have great levels of intelligence, are able to learn and to connect with humans – they are simply more convenient for the meat industry than the animals that we consider pets, although in some cultures eating dogs and cats is a common practice.

But more than that, all animals are sentient beings, which means they feel fear, pain, loneliness and despair. By this, what I’m trying to say is that it shouldn’t matter so much what’s the animal’s level of intelligence, how cute they are or how much they can relate to people, just the fact that they can suffer. Being more or less intelligent does not justify treating a person better of worse so if a living being has feelings and we are willingly causing it pain, I think this situation is problematic. As humans, we have so many possibilities and potential, we can make choices, have morals and values. At the same time, what differentiates us from other animals fills us with responsibility and makes every choice morally charged and to be omnivore means to chose to cause avoidable pain just because it is tasty and it is what we’ve always done.

 

More on veganism:

Beyond Carnism and Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices, by Melanie Joy

Best Speech You Will Ever Hear, by Gary Yourofsky

The dark side of slaughterhouses

Cowspiracy: on the environmental impact of animal farming

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