This post was very hard for me to write – I hope you get something out of it!
Welcome back to the Why Vegan? series! This is the second post (here’s the first!) of a 3 part series about the top 3 reasons to go vegan. While people choose this lifestyle for all kinds of personal reasons, there are 3 that seem to always stand out as primary motivators for people to go and remain vegan: health, the animals, and the environment. From my own personal experiences and talking with others, it’s common to gain a lot of knowledge in one of these areas, become super inspired to go vegan, and then learn even more about the other 2. This is definitely what happened with me! My main goal with this series is to share a just a taste of what I’ve learned about each of these 3 reasons, to talk a little bit about how to discuss these issues with others, and mostly to share some great resources for you to learn more yourself, so that however you choose to live, you can say that you’re well informed.
I won’t be able to go into every single little detail on the topic today, but I am going to share the general, overarching ideas behind the animal ethics component of veganism, my personal experiences, and most importantly some valuable resources that I’ve learned so much from, so that you can choose how to learn more for yourself.
Today, we’re talking about the ethical side of veganism. This is one is SO close to my heart. When I went vegan, ethics weren’t a huge part of it for me, as I was primarily motivated by health, at first. But now I can honestly say, the ethics are most definitely tied with the health component for me. I can hardly stand to even think too long about what these poor animals are going through every second of every day. It’s so disgusting and wrong and I can’t wait for the day that it stops.
I know this is a touchy subject, but please stick with me. Choosing to ignore this side of things doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and it definitely doesn’t make it right, humane, or sensible in any way whatsoever. I don’t want to come off as condescending AT ALL. I used to want to block this out of my mind, to hope that it wasn’t as bad as rumors I’d heard. But as soon as you get this information and see what’s really going on, you feel amazing making a change and knowing you’re living in line with your compassionate values, and literally saving lives every day.
Today I want to talk about why the whole business of raising animals to kill and eat them doesn’t make logical sense, and why we need to work to protect these sweet, innocent animals. Throughout this 3 part series my goal is to empower you with knowledge I wish I had come to sooner, and to give you some resources about each topic. There will be links all throughout the post, and a lot at the bottom, too. Whether you’re a reader or prefer documentaries, there’s a good mix, especially when it comes to the ethical side.
First, let’s really break down how these animals are treated. It makes me SO angry, cry, and sick to my stomach, every time I even think about it, but it’s so important to know. Animals that are in the worst of the worst factory farms are confined in ridiculously small spaces, literally living in their own shit (which also gets all over the meat, FYI). Chickens given antibiotics and hormones to grow at such rapid rates that their legs can’t even support their body weight. Male chicks, which can’t lay eggs, are literally thrown in the trash, alive. Beaks are clipped, male calves are castrated with no attempts to numb the pain. And that’s just before they’re killed. There’s often faulty equipment in these factories, which leads to animals being savagely and painfully injured and left to die. Sadly many believe that animals on dairy farms have a better life, but it’s still a horrible existence. Mother cows are artificially inseminated over and over and over, forced to give birth and have their babies immediately taken from them. Once the mothers are no longer “useful” for milk, they’re sent to slaughter. The calves, if they’re male, are confined in tiny pens and used for veal, slaughtered very young. The girls are taken from their mothers and raised to have the same sad fate as their mothers. These animals are being stripped from their families, used for their own milk that humans do NOT need, then they’re treated like wasted goods when they’re no longer useful. The cows are hung from their feet and their throats are slit. Usually the cows are still conscious after this is done, screaming and still moving for several minutes after. Slaughter house workers have come out with chilling stories of what goes on inside, and that’s why it’s all kept so secret. What I’ve touched on is hardly even scratching the surface. If people knew what was going on, nobody would support it.
Male chicks are thrown away, alive
There’s also a misconception that “grass-fed” or “free-range” products are better. Sadly, this is not the case. The image of happy cows and chickens frolicking in lush green grass is sold hard by the media, to suppress any guilt one might feel about killing and eating these animals. For the animals though, it’s hardly a happy existence. The USDA doesn’t specify how much time these animals get outside, or how much space, so they’re almost always still confined in tiny spaces for the majority of the day. They’re still castrated without painkillers, and pigs on organic farms often have their ears and tails cut off. At the end of their lives, they’re likely still conscious when their throats are slit. Hardly a picture perfect, happy life.
I haven’t even touched on the exploitation of animals for things like clothing and beauty products. I never even knew before just how much animals are used and abused for our benefit for things like cosmetics, leather, and fur. Animal testing for human products doesn’t make much sense – why would we trust something having a specific effect on rats to have the same effect on humans? It’s just not okay that we’re literally using these animals in any way we want, so that we can have some makeup or hair product. Animals are not our property to abuse for our benefit. Our science and technology has evolved SO much that we no longer need to test on animals. If there’s a product that we’re so worried about using that we need to test it on animals first, maybe we should just find an alternative altogether. This one is tricky, because animal products are in SO many things. You’re never going to be a perfect, 100% vegan, but you can absolutely do your very best to minimize your support of these products and industries by ensuring that you buy cruelty free from this day forward. It’s quite easy to check online and see whether something contains animal products or was tested on animals, and it’s easy to look up brands that don’t do those things.
The issue ultimately comes back to a concept referred to as speciesism. This is the phenomenon that leads people to happily treat cats and dogs as members of the family, while supporting the cruel treatment and slaughtering of cows, pigs, chickens, and so many others. We’re socialized to see some animals as companions, and led to believe that others are just for eating, that they have no feelings and shouldn’t be seen in the same light as our animal friends. It has been proven that these animals are sentient beings, they feel pain, just like us. Pigs have been studied and are proven to be as intelligent as a 3 year old human. They’re playful, have personalities, and want to be with their families. How are these animals different from beloved pets? Just because we’re detached and haven’t personally bonded with an animal doesn’t mean that animal has no will to live. Think about walking up to a baby pig or cow and interacting with it. It definitely wouldn’t be your first instinct to lock it up for the rest of it’s life, then kill it as cruelly and painfully as possible.
I genuinely believe in my heart that humans are compassionate beings; we aren’t built to kill. When we see a baby pig, we say, “awww.” We don’t start salivating and feel a desire to slit it’s throat. That’s what real carnivores in the wild feel. They see these animals as prey, as a meal. We are naturally inclined to see them as friends, companions, all of which have feelings and a will to live. I think this is the main issue that people have when it comes to staying blissfully ignorant. People choose to block it out of their minds, try not to think about the agony these animals are going through every second of every day, until their lives are literally cut short. I used to do that, too! And it’s not our fault. We’re socially brainwashed into thinking that this is okay, that it’s “natural.” It doesn’t help that words like “veal” or “bacon” are used rather than what these products really are. If there was a photo of the original animal on your packages of ribs or bacon, or if it was labeled “baby cow” or “pig flesh” I highly doubt people would so happily purchase it. Transparency with what we’re actually supporting needs to become more commonplace. I truly believe people don’t want animals treated this way, but there’s such a big disconnect with these processes and the general public. So many people just have NO idea what’s going on.
Next I want to address some comments or arguments you might get when it comes to ethics. It’s good to have some talking points when discussing this topic, as it can get emotionally charged very quickly. My advice is to always try to stay calm and come from a place of understanding. Remember that you weren’t born vegan, and we aren’t all perfect. Most people don’t know this information and how bad it truly is, and most people are genuinely good and don’t want to cause animals harm. It’s about spreading this information in a positive way so that others will be informed, too!
“I kill my own meat, so it’s okay and way better than factory farming.”
- I understand the argument that animal agriculture is many people’s way of life, their career and way of supporting their family, and I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how to attack that problem, but I think we could find a solution, because there is no way to “humanely” kill an animal that wants to live. Even saying “humanely kill” is such an oxymoron. Think about walking up to your friend/brother/sister/parents and saying, “Hey I’m just going to humanely kill you, I’ll make it really quick and painless, and like you’ve had a great life, so that’s cool, right?” No. Just like humans, these animals want to live. They want to be with their families, and they can feel pain. I get that people are genuinely doing their best to not support factory farms and to avoid hormones and antibiotics. Regardless, meat still has cholesterol, saturated fat, and contributes to heart disease and other horrible illnesses, whether it’s in a factory farm or a family-owned farm. The bottom line is these are still animals that have a desire and a right to live, rather than being exploited and murdered for someone’s dining enjoyment.
“I’m an animal lover.”
- This is a statement I hear A LOT. And to be honest, I almost never respond to it right then, because it can come off as combative, and that’s never my goal or intention. But really, break down this statement – are you an animal lover, or a cat/dog lover? Because if you were a true lover of all animals, you sure as hell would’t be cutting one up and putting it in your mouth every night. So this can definitely be a talking point to bring up if you feel comfortable with somebody – I just wanted to mention it because I feel like there’s some confusion in what being an “animal lover” really means.
Here are some great resources if you want to learn more:
- The best speech you’ll ever hear
- Here’s a slightly comical (not really, still awful) video of people trying to justify slaughtering animals when it’s compared to the holocaust
At the end of the day, the animal ethics side of veganism is the most sensitive to discuss. Some want to ignore it because they know in their heart that it’s not right. Others will swear up and down they don’t care about animals, and have no problem killing and eating them. Honestly, I will never understand that, and I’d challenge them to watch Earthlings, then get back to me). But those aren’t the people I’m reaching out to. Some people will never go vegan, and that’s something we need to accept. But we can live without killing animals, there’s no excuse to be doing it. We are killing OURSELVES by killing and eating them. It might make a tiny bit of sense if animal products were some miracle food for humans, but they’re literally awful, which is even more motivation to stop slaughtering animals for food.
So for those that do have this little tug in your heart, looking for a way to change but maybe not knowing how to begin, I just want you to know that you will be doing so much good for these sweet, innocent animals when you do make the change, even if you aren’t 100% vegan. You are literally saving animals’ lives every day when you choose this lifestyle. Let them be your motivation!