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 additional reflections I have had on this topic. Two personal stories come to mind.
The first story features a lobster, and my father. Many years ago, I caught a lobster from the local beach and decided to cook it for dinner with my family. 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 least violent 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 of what happens in a factory farm. 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 more empathetic nature.
I think the best reason for not eating intensively farmed animal products 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 plant-based advocates behave the way they do.
While I largely agree with mainstream ideologies, I believe there can be an additional ideology that accepts the existence of suffering to a certain extent—that can include the consumption of some animals without causing unreasonable cruelty or exploitation, and always with complete understanding of the life that was taken and the context in which the animal was killed. Rather than “everyone avoid all animal products solely based on one philosophical statement with zero exceptions”, it is “use or non-use of specific products are determined each by its own reasons”. This approach accepts that there can be some level of suffering, though significantly less than there is currently.
For example, people should avoid farmed animal products simply because they entail unacceptable levels of cruelty and suffering, while oysters and mussels can be acceptable from an ethical standpoint if the farming and/or harvesting process is done sustainably. Under veganism, as it is practiced today, palm oil use is debatable, while under this new framework, palm oil should be avoided due to its environmental impacts. This approach is both broader and more restrictive in a sense that some use of animal products can be acceptable, but can restrict the use of plant products depending on specific reasons.
More likely than not, you, the one reading this, have not pondered these questions on meat consumption. And after reading this, you will dismiss these ideas and go on with your day without making any changes to your life. But I implore you that this is a topic worth a deeper look because it is directly related to our choices. Take five minutes to look up a video on how a cow is bled to death, or how a pig is rendered unconscious when it gets lowered into a pit of carbon dioxide. Or spend more time and watch Dominion, which I linked in my previous animal agriculture post. Yes, these videos are not pleasant to watch, but learning about this process is important, no matter how painful it is. If you eat animal products, then you should be a witness to what you paid to happen.
All animals should have certain rights. For example, a duck should have the right to swim in a pond and fly, as opposed to living its entire life in a dark warehouse without ever seeing a pond. A pig should have the right to roam freely and scavenge for food, as opposed to living its entire life in a dark warehouse between steel bars. Regardless of whether an animal is wild or domesticated, they should have the right to live naturally, free from human caused abuse.
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.