Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We are not lions

In an attempt to defend meat-eating, there are those who say it’s perfectly natural for us to kill and consume other animals, and since we’re at the top of the food chain, everything and anything (or anyone) is on the menu.

These people often cite lions, tigers and bears (oh my) to back up their beliefs that humans are supposed to eat flesh, because other animals eat flesh. I can see where they’re coming from because I thought the very same thing when I was very young.

“Bears are omnivores and so are we,” I once told my then vegetarian sister. “Get the bears to stop eating meat and I’ll stop eating meat.” I thought I was so clever!

Lions kill antelopes, wolves kill deer and bears kill fish. They’re animals and we’re animals. So what’s the big deal? What’s the difference?

The difference is we are not lions, wolves or bears. We’re human beings: a different kind of animal; a MORAL animal. Lions and other carnivores don’t have morals, nor do they have a choice. If they don’t kill other animals they’ll die. They can’t survive on fruits, grains and vegetables. It’s the same for omnivores. But we can. We have other options.

Maybe once, a long time ago, we had to eat animals to survive (humans also ate other humans NOT so long ago) but we’ve learned so much since then. Today we work with lasers, communicate instantly with people on the other side of the planet and send robots to other planets. We’re in the 21st century now, not the Stone Age. We don’t need to eat animals anymore.

Some readers might say: “Yes, but we’re omnivores too!” Are we? I’m not so sure. Our physiology seems to indicate we are not, and the health implications (not to mention the environmental consequences) of consuming animal products suggest it would be wiser for all of us if we gave up meat.

And just because we can do something, like eating someone else’s flesh, doesn’t mean we should. Our bodies can also handle cocaine, heroine and crystal meth in moderate amounts, but I don’t know anyone promoting widespread psychoactive drug use.

So meat advocates can use predators to try and make their meat-eating arguments if they like but I’m more inspired by the gorillas, elephants and rhinoceroses. These amazing animals are just as strong as lions (if not stronger) and they’re all vegans. They manage to survive without killing and eating the bodies of other animals and they do just fine.

But I don’t object to predatory animals killing other animals (even though I feel bad for the victims) because, as I wrote earlier, they have no choice; it’s either do or die. Humans on the other hand do have a choice. And that’s what it all comes down to: a moral choice.

We know that killing, unless absolutely necessary, is wrong. We also know that causing unnecessary suffering to others is cruel. That’s why we have laws. If we didn’t, society couldn’t function. So we’re taught from an early age about right and wrong, do unto others, and so on for the betterment of society and the good of its members.

We’re praised when we perform acts of kindness and punished when we commit acts of violence. We’re also encouraged to work together to strengthen our communities, protect the weak and vulnerable, and help the sick and elderly. We don’t live by the law of the jungle because we don’t live in the jungle.

We can’t be part of a moral community, and reap the benefits of that community on one hand, and then justify killing and eating animals “because other animals do it.” There are no rules in nature; it’s survival of the fittest. But WE don’t live like that. If we did, there would be no law enforcement agencies, no hospitals, no charitable organizations, no social services, no mercy and no compassion.

If you want to reject civilized society and all its rules, living “red in claw and tooth” and killing what you eat go right ahead. But leave behind all the protections and benefits that come from living in a civilized society, including all those fancy gadgets. Wild animals don’t have cars, kerosene generators or high-powered rifles and neither should you.

Either we live like human beings, and accept all the rights and responsibilities that come with that, or we live like animals. It’s one or the other. We can’t have it both ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The sanctity of life

I’m reading the newspaper the other day when I come across the following headlines:

Innocent bystander shot in the head and killed while pumping gas.

12-year-old girl found raped, murdered.

I mention them to a number of people and their responses are typical:

What a shame. How could somebody do such a thing? What a waste of a life!

They all feel bad for the victims whose lives have ended so abruptly, brutally and needlessly, and their hearts go out to the grieving families, unable to imagine the suffering they’re going through.

They try their best to make sense out of such senseless violence. Some get angry. One person wonders how some people can have so little respect for another’s life. Another asks, “What’s wrong with this world?”

However, the one thing that nobody says, not even one of them, is, “Well, at least they had a good life up until then.” Could you imagine if someone did? What would the others think of that person? At best, he or she would be accused of being some kind of cold-blooded monster!

“How could you say such a horrible thing?” they’d ask. They’d be shocked, disgusted and angered. They’d probably find such a remark repugnant, offensive and insensitive. And rightly so.

That’s because most of us have a reverence for life; we believe it to be sacred. We also believe that everyone should have a chance to live out his or her life; to grow up into adulthood, get married, have children and pursue a career; whatever they want to do. To have that life cut short by an unnecessary act of violence is both terrible and tragic.

Yet people say this all the time when it comes to the animals, don’t they? “Well, at least they had a good life up until then,” as if a couple of months (or for cows, a couple of years) of not being tortured justifies a violent and horrific end.

But that’s the whole idea behind “free-range” and “certified humane” animal products; that it’s okay to butcher animals as long as they’ve had a good life (and it’s us humans, not the animals, who determines what a good life is and when it should end).

Thanks to the countless undercover investigations and You Tube videos, the public is now more aware than ever before of what happens in today’s factory farms. Still, most people see nothing wrong with eating other farmed animals as long as they’re treated “okay” (up until the time their throats are slit anyways). And this is exactly what the industry wants you to think.

“Free-range” and “certified humane” labels were invented for one reason: to sell animal flesh, eggs and milk products to so-called “conscientious” consumers. But make no mistake: this new breed of animal exploiter is no more concerned with animal welfare than the animal exploiters over at the factory farm.

They do understand one thing though. People care about animals, even if they won’t stop eating them (and of course, no animal farmer wants you to stop eating them), so they’ve come up with an innovative marketing strategy to relieve the customer’s guilt: free range and certified humane animal products.

The customer feels good because he thinks the animals aren’t suffering (or not suffering as much). The exploiters feel good because they’re able to sell their flesh, milk and eggs at a higher price. The only ones who aren’t feeling so good are the animals because, well, they’re dead!

These so-called “happy” animals (how else do you get happy meat?) are still mutilated, abused and slaughtered. Chickens still have their beaks burned off; cows still have their horns cut off and pigs still have their… well, they’re still castrated. All of this is done without anesthetic and in the end they are all mercilessly, painfully and brutally killed.

They’re still treated like machines (the industry prefers “production units”) instead of sentient beings who have interests of their own. These “happy” animals are slaves, plain and simple. Since when is slavery humane? Who ever heard of a happy slave?

Well, here’s a newsflash for you: there’s no such thing as happy meat and there’s no such thing as humane slaughter. If you wouldn’t do it to another human being, it’s not humane.

Approximately 145 million animals are slaughtered on a daily basis (that’s over 50 BILLION a year) because we like the taste of them. That’s the only reason. So we try to justify our eating habits and ease our guilt by convincing ourselves, or letting the exploiters do it for us, that certain kinds of slaughter are acceptable; even desirable. They are not.

Whether these animals are “humanely-raised” or reared in an intensive confinement facility, they are ALL OF THEM slaughtered. They don’t retire; they aren’t sent out to pasture; no old folks home for them. The only place they go to is the slaughterhouse.

Over 50 billion lives every year. What a waste of life. No wonder there’s so much violence in the world. Isn’t it about time we made the connection, that as long as we engage in any act of violence, we will never be free of violence?

The French poet, Alphonse Lamartine, said, “Do not raise your hand against your brother, and do not spill the blood of any living creatures who live on the earth, neither human beings nor pets nor wild animals nor birds. In the depth of your soul some divine voice stops you from spilling this blood. There is life in it. You cannot return this life.”

And that’s what we’re talking about here: life. Someone else’s life. In fact, 50 billion someone elses each and every year. Their lives are not ours to take. These animals, given the choice, would rather live than die. Their life has value to them just as yours does to you.

We need to start practicing what we preach. We need to start respecting the sanctity of life. We need to go vegan.