‘Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined. They are individuals in their own right.’
– Jane Goodall
Last night I had a new nightmare. I was trapped in a maze of metal bars as men with dead eyes prodded me through dark tunnels and narrow passageways. Some were even outright cruel, kicking and shouting at us, and clearly enjoying the squeals of pain they induced. I knew they didn’t see us as alive or capable of feeling. To them, we were just another commodity on an endless production line, albeit a little more annoying because we had to be kept alive long enough for our body parts to ripen for consumption. I tried, again and again, with increasing desperation, to escape this prison, to move towards the distant light of the outdoors, of freedom. But each time I was caught, shackled, and my broken, placed back into the relentless cycle, before finally realising with the deepest despondency that there was no hope of escape. What was this hell where all traces of compassion and humanity had been abandoned? I remember asking myself. What had happened here to allow people to become so cold and evil?
And then I realised. I was an animal in a factory farm. The hell I was experiencing is a reality for millions of sentient beings on Earth. Right now, on a truly shocking scale, we are imprisoning animals in disgusting conditions, torturing, raping, traumatising, and murdering them in the concentration camps we call factory farms and slaughterhouses. Imagine what humanity must look like from their perspective. It’s a truly terrifying thought. There is overwhelming evidence that we don’t need to eat meat to thrive. In fact, animal products are a leading cause of health crisis we are experiencing, as well as being a major contributor to the environmental degradation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions destroying our planet. We can’t live in denial of this reality any longer. (More in-depth discussions of the evidence to come)
As of yet, I haven’t written much on this issue despite being a vegan for years and vegetarian for many more, but I felt compelled to speak up today. Their suffering is more important than my social discomfort at upsetting a few people. I didn’t come here to please people or uphold the status quo. But if you eat meat, I want to inspire rather than shame you. I grew up eating it too. We are born into a culture where it has been normalised for humans to consume the decaying carcasses and excretions of other animals. We are even convinced it’s necessary. But rather than accepting this immoral and untrue belief, we can begin to question it, search for our own evidence, and change our individual habits for the better. I encourage you to take an honest look at your plate and dare to ask ‘who am I eating?’. When you contemplate the pain and suffering infused in the cells of the piece of flesh you’re about to put into your body, it becomes less appetising.
It hurts to look at how we treat animals. The truth is ugly and dark and depressing. You probably don’t want to go there, and I get that. Delving into our collective and personal shadows is not something we’re encouraged to do. It brings up uncomfortable feelings of shame and guilt and anger that we want to run from or bury. But if we are brave enough to face this pain, we can use it to motivate us into creating positive change. As a consumer, you have the opportunity to make more compassionate choices everytime you purchase food (or anything). Stop subscribing to the myth that it won’t make a difference whether or not you do the right thing. And remember, if you decide to keep your eyes closed and continue as you are, you’re still making a choice. Adopting more ethical ways of living is far easier and more empowering than we’ve been conditioned to believe.
If this offends you or you feel compelled to reject it, try expanding beyond your subjective position and try to see the situation objectively for a few moments. If you condemn other cultures for eating cats or dogs, then ask yourself, how is eating pigs or chickens or cows any different? Removing the filter of the anthropocentrism that lies at the heart of many problems we’re facing doesn’t always happen overnight, but if we strive towards it, in time the truth will present itself. And once you’ve witnessed it, there’s often no going back.
You might also find yourself protesting ‘this doesn’t happen here’ or ‘it only happens in other countries’. If this is you, I challenge you to watch this. And even if the particular animals you’re eating have not been raised in so-called ‘factory farms’, is it still morally acceptable for them to be slaughtered simply to satisfy your taste buds? It doesn’t take much observation to realise that animals are sentient beings, they experience pleasure and pain, and it is not our right to inflict suffering upon them, or to take their lives. Make the compassionate choice and go vegan.
(Cover trotter illustration: Jensine Eckwall)