Today, busy in our everyday routine, it can be easy to miss the connection between how we live and how other lives are affected by our lifestyle. In my last two articles, I spoke about how consuming meat and diary is not good for our body and environment. But let me clarify – Veganism is not a diet, it is a compassionate lifestyle.
A compassionate lifestyle which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. And at the heart of it is, compassion, justice and respect for all sentient beings.
A social justice movement
Bonded human labour and Slavery has existed in our society for tens of thousand years now. In the early 19th century, there was a global historic social justice movement known as ‘Abolitionism’ to end slavery. Today, majority of us look down upon slavery, something which was then an extremely common practise, wondering how humans could have been so heartless to trade their fellow beings and treat them in such an inhumane manner. ‘Veganism’ is a similar social justice movement against speciesism that places an animal’s right to be left to his or her own devices as the center of justice and encourages people to follow a compassionate lifestyle.
Alongwith what one chooses to eat or not eat, chooses not to wear, chooses to forego for entertainment and chooses to purchase in terms of cosmetics and household items, advocating for veganism is about fighting against the industries that profit from the use of animals. It’s about fighting against the governments that protect the rights of those industries to use and abuse animals. Ultimately, it is about reaching a public that allows and perpetuates the abuse of animals, and educating them about speciesism.
What is speciesism?
Speciesism is the core belief in the inherent supremacy of humans. It is what justifies the confinement, torture, and murder of billions of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and research. The idea that human beings are the center of the universe and that animals are a sub-species is unethical.
Let’s look at some numbers.
India has a reputation as a vegetarian nation. But this may not be quite accurate. According to a nationwide survey, by the Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner in 2014, reveals only 29% Indians are vegetarians. Amount of meat consumed in India is certainly lesser than the global average, but not as less as we might think it to be. Also, the rapid change from an agricultural society to industrial economy and surging population in India is driving the fastest-growing poultry market in the world, as cultural norms change and eating meat becomes a status symbol.
Besides this, even though the consumption of meat in India might not be as high as compared to other countries like USA, India is one of the leading players in export of meat, especially beef. Shocked? India is one of the leading countries in production of milk and has less demand of beef within the country due to religious beliefs in certain cultures. As a result, most of the meat is exported, making India, one of the topmost exporters of beef in the world. And this is not going to change, unless we start drinking less milk.
Horrors of animal agriculture
Meat industry – Everyone knows that the meat on their plates is a result of an animal killed and slaughtered. But what most of them don’t know is that it isn’t a clean, quick death but an entire life of sufferings
Animals like cows, pigs, lambs spend most of their miserable lives in tiny gestation and farrowing crates so small that they can’t even turn around. They are impregnated repeatedly until their bodies give out and are then sent to slaughter. They are torn away from their mothers, they are branded with hot irons, dehorned, their teeth are snipped off with pliers and males are castrated – all without painkillers. After spending their short lives in cramped, crowded pens on slabs of filthy concrete, they are transported for slaughter without food and water. Those who don’t die on the way are shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun and hung up by one leg then have their throats cut before finally being dumped into tanks of scalding-hot water, which is intended to remove their hair and soften their skin. They die piece by piece.
It doesn’t even stop there. Once the cows are butchered, they are cleaned and injected with a cocktail of water, salt, preservatives and a chemical solution to enhance flavor, mask any foul ones, prolong the meat’s freshness or make it more tender. Much of this meat is then placed in airtight Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and inserted with gases to delay the aging process and make it appear fresher/redder for longer during transit and on store shelves. Many meat packagers purposefully leave off the ‘packaged on’ date, because if you saw that you wouldn’t buy it. All these processes are meant to provide more profits for the companies while worsening the health of the consumers.
Dairy industry – The dairy industry is often presented to consumers as wholesome and humane. What actually goes on at dairy farms doesn’t match up with the marketing message, though. There are no happy cows gladly providing their milk for humans to consume, as we are made to believe. Dairy cows lead miserable lives from the moment they are born.
Cows, like humans, have to be pregnant to produce milk. And the milk they produce, again like humans, is for their kids. But the dairy industry can not survive if cows mate whenever they feel like it. Hence, they are raped and artificially impregnated again and again through their whole life span. And it does not stop here. Immediately after birthing, her calf, male and female is immediately taken and dragged away, an unbelievably stressful affair for both, the calf and cow.
Animal biologist Daniel Weary has proven that like us humans, cows are emotionally sensitive and when separated they often cry out in search of one another. As if the trauma of separation wasn’t enough, female cows are then hooked up to milking machines which are significantly more uncomfortable than the natural act of suckling their young. And in order to meet the demand of a greedy milk-obsessed nation, these cows are selectively bred and drugged.
Due to cramped factory conditions and high-consumer demand, antibiotics and bovine growth hormone are used excessively in dairy farming as a means of fighting infection and increasing milk production. Once drugged, these cows bloat and produce up to ten times the amount of milk than they would naturally. The females are destined to follow in their mother’s footsteps, while the males face early slaughter for the veal industry. When these cows are spent, and cannot produce milk any more, dairy farmers brand these cows useless and send them to slaughterhouses only for their meat to be packaged and sold as hamburgers or pet food.
All the women out there, Imagine being repeatedly dosed with high levels of antibiotics and growth hormones, raped, compelled to give birth, only to have your child instantly removed from your care. Incomprehensible, isn’t it? Don’t you think, being a vegan is also a part of being a feminist?
Egg industry – Many people believe that there is no harm in eating eggs as there is no life in them. The reality, though, is that layer hens are given no more room or mercy than the animals raised for meat. Layer hens are the female chickens who spend their entire lives laying eggs for commercial purposes. Raising chickens for their eggs isn’t as wholesome a practice as the egg industry wants you to believe. In fact, the suffering and mistreatment of layer hens make it one of the cruelest types of farming in the food industry.
Hens are then shoved into tiny wire ‘battery’ cages, about the size of a file drawer with several other hens, unable to lift a single wing. Each hen gets about half a sq. ft of space. The birds are crammed so closely together that although normally clean animals, they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. These cages are stacked one upon the other, due to which the faeces from the upper cages drip down on the birds in the lower cages. The stench of ammonia and faeces hangs heavy in the air, and disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds.
Many birds die, and survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cage mates, who are sometimes left to rot. To prevent the birds from attacking each other, a large portion of their beaks are cut off with a burning-hot blade within hours or days of birth. No painkillers are used. Birds are in pain both during and after the procedure. Chicks, who often have a hard time eating and drinking after their beaks are mutilated, can suffer from hunger and dehydration because their food and water intake is greatly reduced for several weeks after the procedure.
Male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders, called ‘macerators,’ while they are still alive.
After about two years in these conditions, the hens’ bodies are exhausted, and their egg production drops. These ‘spent’ hens are shipped to slaughterhouses. By the time they are sent to slaughter, roughly 30 percent of them are suffering from broken bones resulting from neglect, osteoporosis, and rough treatment. Their emaciated bodies are so damaged that their flesh can generally be used only for companion animal food. Their entire lives are like being under the ‘Cruciatus curse’ from the Harry Potters wizarding world. Being tortured till death.
Chicken industry – Chickens raised for their flesh are called ‘broiler’ chickens. They are typically confined to massive, windowless sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds each, where intense crowding and confinement lead to outbreaks of disease. Not only are they the most-killed animals for the purposes of feeding humans, but more chickens are killed for food every year than all other land animals put together. They’re bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly that their legs and organs can’t keep up, making heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities common. Many become crippled under their own weight and eventually die because they can’t reach the water nozzles. When they are only 6 or 7 weeks old, they’re crammed into cages and trucked to slaughter.
Workers rush through the sheds, grabbing multiple birds by their legs and slinging them into crates for transport. Every year, tens of millions suffer broken wings and legs from the rough handling, and some hemorrhage to death. The journey to the slaughterhouse may be hundreds of miles long, but chickens are given no food or water. After this nightmarish journey, the bewildered chickens are dumped out of the crates, and workers violently grab them and force their legs into shackles so that they are hanging upside-down, breaking many birds’ legs in the process. Once in the shackles, the upside-down birds are dragged through an electrified water bath meant to paralyze them, not render them unconscious. This means that chickens are still completely conscious when their throats are cut, and many are literally scalded to death in the feather removal tanks after missing the throat cutter.
Isn’t it horrible? Do you have goosebumps on your hands? I am sure you do because compassion is one of our core belief system and we love animals, at least some if not all.
And the industry knows that people love animals, and so they make every effort to keep us from finding out what goes in those windowless factory farms. Instead they bombard us with lies in the form of happy cow and chicken ads and visuals of cows grazing in a huge field with her calf on her side.
Many people think that animals are slaughtered after living their full lives. But that’s not true. They are slaughtered as soon as their meat is good enough to be sold or their bodies are spent and can not produce anymore milk or eggs.
The meat paradox
Have you ever thought why do we eat a pig, wear a cow and love a dog? Why do we feel sick at the thought of eating a dog, but hungry at the thought of eating a pig or cow or chicken? Or how we can feel so outraged about whaling while continuing to enjoy fish and chips? Why do some animals appear to deserve our concern and consideration and others so much less so when anatomically as well as emotionally they are all the same?
“There is an invisible and dominant belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals and love others. A belief system that is against our core values of compassion and justice. And the primary tool of this system is ‘psychic numbing’ which is a psychological process by which we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we numb ourselves. In and of itself, it is not evil. It is adaptive or beneficial when it helps us to cope with violence.”
Another important mechanism I personally feel is ‘Convenience’, ‘greed’ and ‘culture’. We first discarded all wildlife or animals who could potentially harm humans when they are tried to be domesticated in huge numbers. The rest we categorized them into categories like – pests, pets and meat. Now which animal is classified in which category stems from our cultural and religious influences whereas convenience and greed get factored in along the way. The same animal can be classified in different categories in different parts of the world based on socio-economic factors.
Let’s take an example of a rabbit. You may see wild rabbits running around, or you may have friends who keep rabbits as pets. Some people eat rabbits. And in still other situations rabbits are used for scientific or cosmetic research. What’s right and wrong in the way we treat animals?
“One thing that enables us to negotiate these sort of difficult questions is that we have category systems in our head so we can put a rabbit in the pet category. We can put it in the meat category. We can put it in the pest category. And then we treat them completely, completely differently,”Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.
Another example is that of dogs. Dogs in India and America are classified as pets, but around 25 million dogs are slaughtered for food every year in South east Asia. Similarly, cow meat or beef is what an American eats at least once or maybe twice a day but it is illegal in India to do so.
Also some other factors influencing the classification might have been how dogs and cats are smaller and more manageable to keep at home whereas animals like cows and pigs are big, hence much more difficult for everyone to be kept at home and much more useful commercially as they can be milked and reared for meat. A cruel and unjust definition of balance of these human emotions of greed and convenience (for the consumers as well as for the sellers) influenced by culture and religion has led to segregation ofanimals as we know today in our respective parts of the world. And somehow through the years systematically with lot of players involved, we have managed to rationalize this and ingrain it deep into ourselves forgetting that all animals have something incredibly important in common. They are all sentient beings with emotions, who can feel pain, just like us.
Today, we have not only managed to disassociate but very conveniently also differentiate between them just like we have managed to differentiate between our own kind based on race, caste, money, sex etc.
Human victims of Factory Farming
Slaughterhouses are sinister places. Making a living from killing helpless animals must surely take its toll on anyone with an ounce of compassion. There have been many undercover investigations into factory farming over the years, many of which expose the inhumane conditions in which animals are forced to live on these farms. But the animals aren’t the only ones subjected to cruelty. The people working there are also severely impacted physically and mentally by industrial animal agriculture.
This industry employs the most vulnerable people in the society, as who else would be willing to spend their entire days amidst animal blood and carcass? Factory farms depend on these vulnerable types of employees because they are thankful for the work and, as a result, unlikely to unionize, will endure horrible working conditions, long hours (sometimes 10-hour days or more) and be satisfied with very little pay.
The longer the employees work at factory farms, the more likely they are to be injured. An employee who works at a factory farm for five years has a 50% chance of being injured at the workplace. This could range from contracting diseases from handling the animal carcasses to severe injuries from using the line equipment.
During an average workday, employees inhale anything from ammonia to hydrogen sulfide, plus a number of other airborne bacteria. The air quality is so bad in these farms that 70% of farm workers experience some sort of respiratory issue. There are also long-term injuries to the employees’ hands, arms, shoulders and backs due to the physical and repetitive nature of the work.
You would think that an occupation with such a high injury and illness rate would offer adequate healthcare to their employees. Unfortunately, many of these workers go without healthcare or cannot find proper transportation or time off to get them to a doctor. Most workers are afraid of reporting these conditions because they want to keep their jobs. Labor laws are also not taken too seriously in the factory farming industry. While no employees under 18 years old are ‘officially’ hired, investigations have shown workers as young as 15-years-old employed by these farms.
Many stories of slaughterhouse workers are emerging which gives us an insight into how their minds and bodies are affected by their everyday work.
Unsurprisingly, many workers develop addictions, drinking problems and anxiety issues related to their work. One worker explained that the key to getting through the role was ‘disassociation’ and to become ‘numb to death and suffering’. But this disassociation psychology at work was also making many of them violent outside work. In fact, researchers have found a connection between numerous after work fights instigated by slaughterhouse workers and the killing and dismembering of animals all day at work. They are increasingly feeling the weight of killing helpless, emotional beings.
You can and must read the detailed article on ‘Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker’ by BBC
Do animals feel pain?
Mammals share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, perceptions, and emotions, all of which are integrated into the experience of pain, says Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist and author. Many of us have pets, and we all know they feel pain, they express it in their own ways which we understand. Then why do you think cows, pigs, turkeys,fish and chicken are any different? They not only feel pain but all other emotions as well. They form relationships. Cows and pigs are as smart as dogs if not more.
Don’t plants feel pain?
No. Plants respond to stimuli, for example by turning towards the light or closing over a fly but they have no brain or central nervous system, which means they can’t feel anything. Regardless, going vegan is by far our best bet. We have to eat, it’s a matter of survival. And eating plants directly, rather than feeding them to animals and then killing those animals for their flesh requires far fewer plants and doesn’t hurt animals, who, we already can see feel pain. So if you worry about plants welfare, going vegan is your best option.
What about organic, free range meat and ethical / humane slaughter?
Animals on organic and ‘free-range’ farms endure the same cruel mutilations such as debeaking, dehorning, and castration without painkillers. Also, they, too, are artificially impregnated every year, and their calves are taken from them soon after birth. Cows on organic farms often aren’t given antibiotics even when they’re sick or when their udders become infected, something that happens often because medicated animals lose their “organic” status.
There is no such thing as humane/ethical slaughter. The words humane/ethical and slaughter are completely contradictory and can’t coexist in the same sentence. However quick the process is, cutting short the life a living being by killing it can never be humane! It is like giving a person a luxurious life for half a year and then killing him, because he has had enough freedom and enjoyment. Isn’t it extremely messed up?
What has been happening since human beings began to breed, raise, and kill animals has been a continual genocide. This genocide has been going on for thousands of years without a pause. In fact, it is increasing with human population growth and industrialisation.
But it needs to stop now, and you can be a big part of this social justice movement with us against using animals for our own selfish needs, which our future generations are going to look back down upon, just like we look down upon slavery, sati system etc. And every small step matters in this long fight.
So do not hesitate to take your first step, how much ever small and insignificant it might feel in the moment.
Despite there being plenty of sound ethical arguments in favour of veganism, people’s moral compasses vary enormously, and while some people are unaware of many of the facts about how meat is produced, and how animals are treated, others are well aware but choose to turn a blind eye. This is something people do with many potentially troubling issues in the world, from the destruction of the environment to poverty to racism, sexism and patriarchy. Why? Because as long as something directly does not affect us ‘Ignorance is bliss’. But as veganism grows in popularity around the world, there is the distinct possibility that the compassion vegan ethics promotes in relation to animals might produce benefits for humanity and the planet as a whole.
We live in hope that slowly more and more people will adopt Veganism – A compassionate lifestyle.
Lastly, if you found this series of articles about veganism eye-opening, please share it with a friend. And have that friend share it, too. The more people who know the truth behind the meat industry, the more lives are changed by the power of knowledge, choice and informed action. We can change the cycle by starving it. Don’t give this industry any more money; they are poisoning animals, us, and our world!
Original article published on my personal blog byvd.in