In my previous post on animal agriculture, I argued that we should reduce or eliminate consumption of factory farmed animal products on the idea that animals are enduring unacceptable levels of abuse and suffering. In this second post, I want to share some reflections I have had on the topic of eating meat and society. Two personal stories come to mind.
The first story features a lobster, and my father. Several years ago, I caught a lobster from the local beach and decided to cook it for dinner with my family—yes, I am not a vegan because I still eat some seafood; I will explain later. I decided I wanted to dispatch the lobster with a knife before placing it into the steamer pot to minimize suffering. My father objected, perhaps turned off from the thought of the violent act. But I thought it would be better for the lobster. After attempting to kill the lobster, I remember seeing my father exhibit a look of guilt and sorrow.
The second story involves a rat, and a close friend and neighbor. A friend’s mother asked me to dispose of a living rat that was snared by a trap in their backyard. Undaunted by the situation, I went over to help them out. I placed the rat into a bucket, concluding that the easiest method to kill it would be to drown it. As I executed the plan, my friend’s mother was clearly distressed by the experience, and my friend, even more so. He retreated indoors, unable to witness the act. I will never forget the look on his face after I returned inside: a look of horror and trauma, as if he had just witnessed a murder.
Why did my father and my friend react in the same distressed manner to the death of these creatures, but have no problem consuming factory-farmed meat on a daily basis? I think their reactions show that they are not necessarily hypocrites, but rather individuals reacting consistently with a society unexposed to the truth. The situation exposes the gap between the reality of intensive animal agriculture and what little knowledge we have as consumers. I believe society possesses an inherent empathy that is not expressed to its full capacity. We do care for the welfare and treatment of animals, even the insignificant ones considered food or pest. It is just that powerful forces of society, industry, and instinctive behavior are preventing us from expressing our true empathetic nature.
Since learning about animal agriculture, I have often thought about the morality of eating meat. What I have come to realize is that common moral arguments for or against eating meat can be confusing, and occasionally even flawed. Sometimes the best explanation is the simple, honest one.
The ethical reason why I do not consume factory-farmed animals is because the extent of suffering and cruelty is unacceptable to me. I want others to do the same because I believe the extent of suffering and cruelty would also be unacceptable to most other people if they knew the things I know now.
Know this simple explanation and you will understand why many vegans behave the way they do.
We should greatly reduce or stop eating factory-farmed animals, but should we also extend that rule to wild animals or all animal species? As human beings, it is easy to adopt the behaviors of other people, especially ones that are widely shared in society. As much as I agree with existing ideologies on vegetarianism or veganism, I chose a different path.
I don’t oppose vegan ideology, but I believe there can be an additional ideology based on knowledge, one that celebrates the natural cycles of life on this planet—that can include the consumption of animals, but never without complete respect and understanding of the life that was taken. Thus, my present diet can include animals I am willing to kill myself. As you already may know, I am obviously against consuming intensive farmed animal products. I am also obliged to continue to educate myself on the food I eat, regardless if it is a plant or animal, and the effect it has on myself, the environment, and all species on this planet.
As we look back in history, society is dominated by a majority opinion that is not always good or right. Intensive animal agriculture is one of those topics that warrants serious discussion today. While it is our natural behavior to conform with the majority, it is the collective few who deviate and improve the world. As individuals, we need to be critical and willing to listen to different perspectives. At the end of the day, many of us continue our ways because we fear change. We are afraid of what friends, family members, society will think of us, what we imagine our lives to be like with the absence of meat, how our identity will change. Combined with habit and social acceptance, we remain stubborn in our current ways.
Not everyone will agree with my ideas, but I hope that this post will get people to think. Any individual change towards a more empathetic world will be deemed a success, not for me, but for the living whole that is all of us.