This is a guest blog, in fact a reblog, from my vegan cyber-friend David Ashton, who on his ‘Snowbranches‘ Buddhist blog writes mostly about living with compassion.
Mindful Blindness: A Rant Against Speciesism
A twinge of sadness:
The meat department
Warning! This is a rant.
As you may have noticed, I love you all dearly. The last thing I want to do is cause you pain. Because this is a rant, I’m not taking aim at anyone in particular, but if you stand too close, you may get thwacked, I may hit a nerve, or even step on your beliefs. No hard feelings if you bail out at any time.
You could think of this as an address to the jury on behalf of a group of sentient beings facing the death penalty that can’t speak for themselves.
I’ve been a vegetarian for the past six years, and in total, about 15 of my 62 years, but have only been phasing eggs and dairy out of my diet for the past six months or so [as at 2011].
I am grateful to Peter Singer’s classic book Animal Liberation for helping to crystallize my thoughts on the subject. I have drawn freely from his ideas.
Speciesism, like cannibalism, slavery, religious persecution, racism and sexism, is the imposing of the will of a powerful group upon a weaker group – in this case, by humans upon other sentient species. We take it so much for granted that it often goes unnoticed. But it’s everywhere – not just on our dinner plates and covering our feet, but also at the rodeos, circuses, bullfights, hunting and fishing trips, the fur trade and clothing stores. Last but not least, the worst atrocities are hidden behind the walls of the factory farms and slaughterhouses.
The idea of animal liberation isn’t new. Plato and Pythagoras were vegetarians for ethical reasons. So was Leonardo Da Vinci. He would buy caged birds sold at the marketplace for food and then set them free. Edison and Einstein were another couple of smart guys that decided they didn’t need meat and stopped eating it.
The amount of suffering we inflict on animals is staggering. Of course, physical pain causes suffering – branding, de-horning, castrating, tail docking, de-beaking – all without anaesthetic.
But so does the psychological pain caused by frustrating the natural instincts to run, to root around, snuggle with a mother or an offspring, socialize normally, exercise and play. It’s not uncommon for pigs in factory farms to literally go insane, making endless repetitive movements and biting their own tails and their cage bars. Pigs are as intelligent and affectionate as dogs, but the idea of subjecting puppies to the same cruelty we bestow on pigs, and then killing and eating them, is unthinkable.
So why do we eat animals? What benefit can we possibly get that outweighs the suffering and killing?
I like the taste. You can make some really delicious veggie meals – avocados, ginger, oranges, roasted nuts, garlic – the combinations are endless. My dad used to say “hunger makes the best sauce”. I think eating with a glad heart makes things taste pretty good too.
They are dead already or I didn’t kill them. Every time you take a chicken home from the store, another chicken has to be killed to take its place on the shelf. By eating them, we are causing their deaths. Like the starfish story posted over at Jomon’s lovely blog nothing to attain, every little bit of meat not eaten makes a difference.
I need my protein. True, but you can get it from plants. Beans and grains provide all the essential amino acids our bodies require. End of story. If you don’t believe me (I’ve got a degree in nutritional biochemistry), ask the vegetarian Olympic athletes. If vegan Carl Lewis can win nine gold medals, surely I can drag my sorry ass to work and back without eating meat. The omega unsaturated fatty acids found in fish oil are abundant in flax seeds. The only thing lacking in a vegan diet is vitamin B12, which you can take as a supplement.
Our bodies are designed to eat meat – we have canine teeth. True, but we are also designed to eat plants – we have molars. Unlike other animals, we have the ability to choose our foods. We tell our bodies what to eat, not the other way around. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
You are killing plants. As far as we know, plants don’t experience pain. As Alan Watts said, “cows scream louder than carrots.” Besides, it takes about ten pounds of plants to produce one pound of beef. So if you eat a pound of beef, ten pounds of plants are killed as well. Maybe in a perfect world, we will live on fruit and nuts and grains and no plants will be killed.
You may want to skip over the next paragraph. It’s a little unkind.
I eat meat mindfully. This one really gets me, and I’m sorry if I’m talking about you. Nothing personal, but I don’t care how many prayers you say, how many candles or sticks of incense you light, or how “in the moment” you are; and I don’t care what the Buddhist sutras say, or what the Buddha said – the animal on your plate was still killed, and another will be killed to take its place. Maybe the smells and bells and chanting will make you feel better or change your karma, but that’s not the point. If it is the point, then I’ve missed it. The same reasoning would justify the death penalty, killing in battle and all manner of atrocities. How can you be mindful and in the moment, and not hear the screams from the abbatoir?
I only eat meat from animals raised and killed compassionately. Good for you. I mean it. But if you go to all that trouble to eat something you don’t need, why not just stop?
What about eggs and dairy? I’m finally 100% vegan – no eggs or dairy or honey, leather, wool or silk – but it took quite a while.
[This post originally read: Ouch. This is where I get hit by my own flailing. There is plenty of suffering associated with the milk and egg industry, but my diet is still only 95% vegan, for interpersonal reasons. You know the old saying, “take my advice – I’m not using it.” Besides, if they only allowed perfect people to rant, it would be awfully quiet.]
What can I do? Lots. Here are a few suggestions. Start by cutting dead critters out of your diet. If you eat eggs, make sure they are free range. If you eat dairy, make sure the cheese doesn’t contain rennet and the yogurt doesn’t contain gelatin. Consider giving up leather and silk. Consider only using detergents, shampoos and cosmetics that are labelled ‘not tested on animals’. Learn about this stuff. Check out blogs like vegan.com and organizations like PETA. And of course, spread the word. If you’re looking for company, I posted a list of some famous veggies here.
Here’s something to consider: If all the land in North America now used to raise and feed animals were used to grow crops, it would produce enough food to eliminate hunger on the entire planet.
If you managed to read this to the end, my heart gives you a big hug! Thank you.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
If you’re up for it, watch the trailer for the award-winning documentary Earthlings, but be prepared to weep (seriously!). You can watch the trailer and the entire movie here.
I also recommend seeing the documentary Forks over Knives about the health benefits of a plant-based diet and unrefined foods.