Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Part 4 – Veganism

("Non-Vegan 'Food' & Child Pornography: A former victim of child sexual abuse makes a screaming plea for help")
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Link to part 3 of 5: http://allsentientsfeelpain.blogspot.com/2009/12/part-3-animal-suffering-and-human_8603.html


We can't currently all be vegans in this world. First and foremost, Indigenous peoples who live as gatherers/hunters, or as herders of sheep or goats or cattle, would have to give these practices up to go vegan. This would drastically alter their cultures and societies as they currently exist; and so veganism should not be imposed on foragers or herders from the outside. As for the rest of humanity, we should all be vegan. But some people don't have the choice to go vegan under the present circumstances. Some people are extremely impoverished and living in nations devastated by capitalist-imperialism. These people tend to eat vegan almost all of the time, by default, because in most countries meat and other animal products are more expensive than vegan food, and growing crops is cheaper than owning animals. But if someone is so poor that they are struggling to get enough food day-to-day, who the hell am I to tell them what to eat? If they can somehow get their hands on eggs or meat or dairy, then bon appetite.
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For these people, veganism won't be an accessible choice until they are no longer so desperately poor. In 'Western' nations a vegan diet is comparable in price to an omnivore diet, and so veganism is not inaccessible for most poor people. Many of my vegan friends live below the poverty line and report spending less money on groceries as a vegan than they did as an omnivore. But for extremely poor people who rely on soup-kitchens, food banks, and shelters for their meals, veganism is not an accessible choice. And for people living in a ghetto where the only place in their neighborhood to buy groceries after their eleven hour work day is a convenience store, veganism would not be impossible but would be genuinely difficult (as if these people's lives weren't difficult enough already).
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Animal rights activists should therefore care about abolishing poverty. To do so, we'll need to replace capitalism with an anarchist-socialist economy (such as Parecon); it's the only way we'll ever end poverty and make veganism accessible to all. A decent life for humans and animals depends on this. On the flip side, anyone who cares about global poverty should care about animal rights. It's funny how veganism is slandered as a privileged lifestyle choice when a diet centered on meat and other animal products is a key feature of 'Western' privilege which most people in this world don't have. And these eating patterns contribute to hunger for hundreds of millions of people:

"In all, the raising of livestock takes up more than two-thirds of agricultural land, and one third of the total land area. [...L]ivestock are increasingly being fed with grains and cereals that could have been directly consumed by humans or were grown on land that could have been used to grow food rather than [livestock] feed. The developing world's undernourished millions are now in direct competition with the developed world's livestock – and they are losing." (Vegan Society. "The Environment: Land". 06 Aug 09. http://www.vegansociety.com/environment/land)

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And let's not forget that the United Nations stated that factory farming is a bigger contributor to climate change than automobiles (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options". Rome, 2006).
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We have been raised in societies which teach us that because animals are not as smart as humans, that the ordeals they experience are less painful for them than our ordeals are for us. But this is logically inconsistent with our other beliefs. We know that children aren't as smart as adults, and that babies are the least smart of all. But do we believe they experience less pain from their ordeals? Of course not. Quite the opposite; we realize that traumas experienced by children or babies tend to cause more suffering than for adults, both during the experience and in the years to come. Their lack of intellectual sophistication, and underdeveloped frontal cortex, means they have fewer resources to make sense of their traumas and self-soothe their painful emotions. Why is it that we believe lower intellect means a lower capacity to suffer? Do we think that the 'mentally retarded' suffered less in the Nazi's concentration camps than people of average intelligence? Did geniuses suffer most of all?
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Pigs have been shown to be not only smarter than dogs, but about as smart as three year old humans. If lack of intelligence is reason enough to murder a creature for food, then why not eat babies and toddlers? Ok, their adult parents would be upset by this. So why not eat baby orphans?
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Another thought experiment: Imagine if aliens with far superior intellectual capacities came to Earth and decided to imprison us in factory farms, murder us for meat, and impregnate women to rob us of milk. All because they believe humans are so dumb that our suffering doesn't matter. Would they be right? Would this be fair? Would they care?
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And regardless of intelligence, keep in mind that farmed animals experience physical pain every bit as intensely as humans do. They also are wired in their brains to experience emotional pain such as fear, depression, rage, loneliness, and to experience emotional pleasure such as happiness, excitement, tranquility, love. Farmed animals live in conditions that impose emotional pain on them and deprive them of emotional pleasure.
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Amazingly, many non-vegans are self-proclaimed 'animal-lovers'. They are morally outraged by things like dog fighting, 'crush' pornography (small animals being stomped to death), the killing of certain animals like dolphins or seals, and the abuse of animal companions (like cats or dogs) by individuals. They are not, however, morally outraged by the abuse of animals for 'food'. But what these people have to realize is that we cannot as a society believe it is ok to imprison and murder certain animals for 'food' without numbing our hearts towards all animals. As long as we exploit animals for 'food', the mentality that causes other forms of animal abuse will continue.
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Feminist point out that the Madonna/whore split, or the good-woman/bitch split, is a pillar of female oppression and puts all girls/women at risk of male-violence. All girls/women have their status degraded by the male perception that some females are whores or bitches and therefore unworthy of the respect that decent girls/women deserve. It's the same thing for animals. We can't say that some animals are for eating and some animals are for treating with respect, because all animals have their status impacted by the treatment of farmed animals, laboratory animals, and 'game' (sport-hunting) animals.
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I have met people who care about animals but are cynical, who believe that there is no point in going vegan because it will not end the farming of them for 'food'. I have several rebuttals towards this mentality:

  1. Being an ally means demonstrating solidarity. Refusing to eat the corpses of murdered creatures, or 'food' which has been stolen from their tortured bodies, is the bare minimum a human can do to show solidarity with non-human animals. You cannot be an ally to animals if you aren't at least choosing to do this much.
  2. By being a vegan, your very existence is animal rights propaganda. This is true even if you are not outspoken. You make visible the invisibility of animal oppression. You challenge the belief that it is ok to harm animals for the purpose of acquiring food. You challenge the belief that animal suffering is unimportant. You demonstrate that life can be healthy and delicious without eating eggs, meat, or dairy. You influence people to rethink what they have been taught since birth. You inspire people to widen their reach of compassion to include animals. In other words, you become part of a movement to change the consciousness of humanity. Slowly but surely, people will join us. And every new vegan is additional propaganda for animal rights. As the percentage of vegans grow, so will the exposure of non-vegans to animal rights ideas. Once there are enough of us, people who had not yet been motivated to go vegan out of compassion will do so to avoid the social disapproval that might result if they didn't. A generation or two later, and caring about animal rights will become just another cultural norm.
  3. The profit motive in food production and the media means that billions of dollars are mobilized in propaganda which shape people's desires for dairy, meat, and eggs, and which teach us to accept the exploitation and murder of animals for 'food'. And so as long as we live in a capitalist and quasi-democratic society, the counter-propaganda by vegans may not be enough to influence the majority of the population to become vegan. But the more vegans there are at the dawn of the revolution's victory, the easier it will be for us to convince the rest of the population to make a democratic transition to veganism. So in the meantime it is important that we increase the number of vegans as much as possible.
  4. Each individual vegan prevents dozens of animals every year from experiencing the horrors of exploitation and murder. The standard estimate is 100 animals per year (http://www.goveg.com/factoryFarming.asp); the more conservative estimate is 50 animals per year (http://www.chooseveg.com/vegetarians-save-lives.asp).

It should go without saying, but let me make it clear that my comparison of non-vegans to child porn watchers is only directed towards those who choose to be non-vegan. The people living in circumstances that I described a few paragraphs ago – Indigenous foragers and herders, the extremely poor, etc. – don't really have a choice. There's also probably other circumstances that I forgot to mention which would make veganism an inaccessible choice (already I'm realising I didn't mention people living in war zones). I'm not going to sit here and try to list every possible circumstance that would make veganism inaccessible. Although you will likely try to deny the truth to yourself, you know in your heart whether or not your being a non-vegan is due to a lack of choice or a lack of willingness to make a change. Most people living in Canada, or in countries of comparable prosperity, could start being vegan today if they wanted. So odds are that veganism is a choice you could make. Meaning my child-porn-watching comparison probably applies to you. No offense.

Link to part 5 of 5: http://allsentientsfeelpain.blogspot.com/2009/12/part-5-conclusion_9176.html (The conclusion is very short - just one paragraph!)

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