Friday, June 4, 2010

A Case for Becoming a Vegan

By Dee Newman

Our attitudes, thoughts and feelings (conscious and unconscious) regarding other living sentient beings begin to form when we are very young and are primarily influenced and dominated by the fact that we are taught and encouraged to eat them at a very early age by people who we love and respect.

Even though, as children, we may, at first, refuse to eat the flesh of other animals, eventually we are coaxed and convinced by our culture and our parents (in the mistaken belief that it is necessary for good health) to consume the flesh of our fellow creatures.

Long before we are capable of truly understanding, of making an informed and conscious decision on our own, free from the bias and pressures of social and religious customs and conformity, our identities are formed and established by others for us.

And, as each year passes it becomes more and more difficult for us to find the courage to question and challenge what we have become, until, at last, in order to maintain our self-worth and sanity, the fortifications that defend out psyche become very nearly impenetrable.

Ignorance becomes our first line of defense. “Don’t tell me! You’ll spoil my dinner.”

Refusing to permit any intellectual, ethical or moral consideration to enter that part of our brain that would normally and easily recognize the injustice and cruelty of choosing to arbitrarily exercise absolute power over our fellow creatures, prevents us from understanding and identifying with the pain and suffering we inflict upon them, allowing us to cling to the false belief that we are innocent of any wrong doing that may cause our conscience discomfort.

Oh, how our “conscious does make cowards of us all.”

And if, by some miracle, our defenses are penetrated, our psyche stands ready and armed with a slue of self-justifying explanations and rationalizations for our callous indifference and morally indefensible conduct.

Being rational creatures somehow allows us to rationalize anything.

“Don’t bother me with such trivial concerns! There are far too many other problems in the world other than animal exploitation that deserve my attention, time and energy.”

There are the burgeoning effects of human over-population, the gluttonous consumption of the world’s resources, the fouling of the air, land and water, the destruction of the world’s rainforests, the depletion of the ozone layer of our atmosphere, the greenhouse effect, world hunger, homelessness, and the mass extinction of other species – just to name a few.

Yet, if we are able to put aside our prejudices, accept and overcome our feelings of shame and regret, and examine the human exploitation of our fellow creatures objectively, then we might be able to recognize that the suffering we inflict on the animals we kill and eat for food is not only morally wrong and extreme, but greatly contribute to most, if not all, of the problems listed above.

In fact, if the truth be known, the raising of animals for food is one of, if not, the primary causes of water contamination, air pollution, land degradation, the loss of biodiversity, and global warming.

The numbers of non-human animals produced and destroyed each year in the United States are incomprehensible. Hundreds of millions of cows, pigs, and sheep and nearly 10 billion chickens are cruelly raised and brutally slaughter by our nation’s animal agricultural industry annually. Although no government agency compiles the number of fish and other aquatic organisms killed for human consumption, it is estimated that, at least, another 10 billion of them are “harvested” each year.

Our vision of free-roaming happy animals living out their days on ideal lush green farms is far from reality. The overwhelming majority of animals we raise for food live miserable lives, not on storybook farms, but confined in dark, overcrowded and intensive flesh-producing factories.

The birth of Factory Farming began in the 1920’s with the discovery that vitamins A and D when added to animal feed no longer required animals to have sunlight and exercise for growth. However, it was not until the 1940’s with the development of antibiotics that the American animal agricultural industry truly began to increase productivity and reduce operating coats by implementing mechanization and industrial assembly lines.

On today’s modern factory farms, run by giant corporations and conglomerates, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy feedlots, windowless warehouses, wire cages, gestation crates, and other cruel methods of confinement.

Excluded from all laws that protect and prevent other animals (like our pets) from being severely mistreated, farm animals are subjected to and suffer from all kinds of human exploitation and abuse (including mutilation, debeaking, castration, genetic manipulation, branding and burning, just to name a few). In order to keep them alive under these inhumane and unhealthy conditions that would otherwise kill them and to fatten them up faster they are fed enormous quantities of antibiotics, drugs and hormones.

Their entire lives until the moment they die is filled with misery, pain and suffering. Once they have grown large enough to be slaughtered, they are packed into trucks and often transported hundreds of miles under extreme weather conditions to slaughterhouses. If they survive the journey, it is there, while many of them are fully conscious, that they have their throats slit. If they are fortunate (though many are not) they will have already died prior to being plunged into tanks of scalding hot water to remove hair or feathers or before their bodies are skinned or hacked into pieces.

Unfortunately, this mechanized madness of the American animal agricultural industry is concerned about only one thing – the bottom-line of maximizing output while minimizing costs. It treats farm animals as mere objects and commodities, caring little, if any, about the pain and suffering it inflicts upon them.

When most of us sit down to eat supper tonight, we will not have thought at all about how the food we have chosen to eat was produced, nor will we have considered how it may be affecting our lives, let alone the future of life on this planet.

Most of us are simply unaware that the chief cause of death and disease in this country comes from the running of animal flesh through our cardiovascular system; that the epidemics of heart and kidney disease, cancer and osteoporosis, just to name a few, are the direct result of eating and drinking the flesh and bodily secretions of other animals.

For example, every 45 seconds a person dies of a heart attack in the United States. And yet, the risk of having a heart attack can be reduced by 90% simply by eliminating meat, dairy products and eggs from our diet.

Few of us know that in the Quarter-Pounder we had for lunch today was a piece of the world’s tropical rainforests. Nor, do we realize that the ecological crisis of deforestation, topsoil erosion, ozone depletion, mass extinctions and the toxic defilement of our air, land, and water are directly related to and primarily caused by our continuing support of the obscenely wasteful and inhumane American animal agricultural system.

Throughout the world each year more than 60 million people die of starvation (a child every 2 seconds). They could easily be fed by the grains and soybeans the United States now feed to the billions of cows, pigs, and chickens we have created by artificial breeding.

It takes, for example, a 100 times as much water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of wheat.

Livestock consumes 80% of all the corn grown in the United States and 95% of all the oats.

Nearly 60% of the U.S. agricultural land is used to produce beef.

Though an acre of land can only produce 165 pounds of beef, it can grow 20,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.

The amount of fossil fuel wasted each year in the United States to produce a meat-centered diet is astronomical.

The United States would not have to import a single barrel of foreign oil if less 20 % of our population became vegans.

Even if we continue to disregard any and all ethical and moral arguments against the rearing and eating of other animals, for just purely economic reasons alone the rationale and incentives to immediately begin phasing out the obscenely wasteful production of animal flesh for human consumption in countries like the United States and Great Britain are abundantly clear and obvious.

Great Britain now imports enormous quantities of vegetable protein to feed to cows, pigs, and chickens creating a huge burden on the nation’s balance of payments and increasing its dependence on foreign suppliers.

Economically, the production and consumption of non-human animals in the Untied States is, also, fiscally irresponsible. The nation’s most valuable export and its best resource to pay for costly imports like foreign oil is soybeans. Though it now produces three quarters of the world’s soybeans, more than 95% of the crop is fed to farm animals.

The case for radically changing our eating habits is obvious.

But, should we only eat vegetables?

Why not fish?

Since fish are not, for the most part, reared by the commercial fishing industry, they are not made to suffer until they are caught and killed. You would think that the ecological arguments, therefore, against eating intensely reared animals does not apply to fish.

However, the death of a commercially caught fish is much more prolonged than that of a cow, a pig, a sheep, or a chicken. Since fish have gills and cannot breath out of water, once they are caught they die a slow and agonizing death of suffocation.

Large modern fishing fleets with giant ships equipped with state-of-the-art-fish-finding sonar that systematically trawl fishing grounds with fine-gauge fishing nets catch everything in their path, including dolphins and other marine mammals, trapping and drowning them. These ships are enormous floating factories – containing huge fish processing, packing, and freezing plants.

In short, the fish don’t stand a chance.

This practice of extensive and intensive commercial fishing of the world’s oceans has rapidly and dramatically depleted a number of once abundant species of fish (from the herrings of Northern Europe to the California sardines).

Ninety percent of the ocean’s predator fish, such as tuna, marlin, cod, swordfish, halibut, skate and flounder, have all but been fish out. Scientists believe the depletion of these predator species have begun to caused a shift in the ecosystems of the world’s oceans. Smaller, plankton-feeding fish and jellyfish have already begun to rapidly increase in numbers.

In addition to the over-fishing and disruption of the world’s ocean ecology by the commercial fishing industry, there have been serious consequences for humans, as well. Throughout the world small coastal villages that have lived by fishing for centuries are now finding their traditional source of food and income disappearing.

Furthermore, the world wide environmental degradation of our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans continues to deteriorate. Each year coal-fired power plants and chemical facilities produce and release hundreds of tons of mercury into our atmosphere, which eventually rains down upon the Earth poisoning the fresh water and oceans of the world.

As the price of oil continues to rise, coal becomes a very economically attractive source of energy, especially in those countries where it is abundant and inexpensive like the United States and China. Presently, 75% of China’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants. In the next eight years, China is expected to build another 560 of them.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the most common source of mercury exposure for U. S. citizens is the eating of tuna fish. Although tuna does not contain the highest concentrations of mercury, Americans consume far greater amounts of tuna than they do of other more mercury-contaminated fish.

We should, therefore, avoid eating fish, if not out of a concern for their suffering, out of concern for the well being of ourselves and the planet on which we live.

Becoming a vegan is not a great sacrifice. In fact, it is rather easy, far less expensive and significantly healthier for both the Earth’s and our physical wellbeing.

But, more importantly, becoming a vegan allows us to maintain our integrity. It is the moral actualization of the Golden Rule – of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, of allowing the needs and interests of other sentient beings to be paramount to our mere wants and desires.

Becoming a vegan will not solve all the world's problems. It will not completely prevent us from participating in all forms of nonhuman animal exploitation that pervades every aspect of our lives. But, if the majority of us would just simply stop eating them the amount of pain and suffering we cause to other animals would diminish dramatically.

Unfortunately, it seems, in our greed and relentless quest to conquer the Earth, we have become so estranged from her diversity, complexity and beauty – from that which truly gives us life (the mountains, rivers, forests and seas) – that we are no longer able to hear, see, feel, taste, or smell in the fried chicken, fish, and burgers we devour each and every day the pain and pitiful cries of the creatures we consume.

For some reason, as the calves are crated, the trees fall, the Earth erodes, and the poisons accumulate, we continue to go about our daily lives – careless, cruel and insidiously oblivious to all the pain and suffering we inflict upon our fellow creatures. If not drunk in our cabin, we are, at least, asleep at the wheel, continuing to make choices that not only catastrophically affect our own lives and the lives of billions of other sentient beings, but the life of the entire Earth.


mythopolis said...

Dee, I do love you as a long-standing friend. But, this is so extreme. It makes me think about a lot of things, though. I actually wish I was a vegan quite often. I have no qualms about eating a piece of a cow, it is the way I grew up. My position doesn't have so much to do with animals (like myself) eating animals. My issue is to whether it makes any sense in the global picture.

I do think we could make better use of land than allotting acres to feed a cow. That is a bit stupid. So, I have no issues about that. I think the modern approaches to 'meat' are disgusting, even though I eat meat. So, what is the global alternative here? Do you have some ideas here? I don't mean that in any derisive way. I think ultimately, we will all be Vegans. Right now, we are dealing with over-population, and starvation. And who am I to tell them what to eat?

Dee Newman said...


Please believe me when I say – I judge no one but myself.

As you know all food comes from photosynthesis – the process by which green plants and certain microorganisms produce simple carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, using the energy that chlorophyll absorbs from the sun.

When Gandhi said, “live simply so other may simply live,” he recognized that in order for life to survive on this planet the reasoning beings (humans) must adhere to this principle.

As far back as I can remember, food has been an issue of concern in my life, revolving around the consumption of the other sentient creatures with whom we share this planet. Over the years speaking with other folks I have learned that most everyone at a very early age (at first) when they realized that the burger they were eating was from a cow had similar misgivings. For some reason (perhaps, it was the obvious hypocrisy of espousing a moral standard without actually observing it) my mind was never able to justify the “malice of no thought.”

When you and I were born the human population on Earth was approaching 2 billion people. It took 3.2 million years for us as a species to evolve and increase to that number from “Lucy,” the first hominid. Today, in just the last 60 years the human population on Earth has more than tripled to nearly 7 billion of us while other species continue to decline in numbers and become extinct. All life is connected in a magnificent web. If humans are to survive an increasing number of us must become aware of the catastrophic significance of our actions and “change our ways.”

I recognize that I am a moral creature. I can reason. I have the ability to choose. Morality cannot be arbitrary. My integrity will not allow me to knowingly disregard my moral responsibilities. It demands that I be a part of the solution and not the problem.

Perhaps, I’m cursed. Perhaps, it would be easier to live a life oblivious to the truth and the consequences of my actions.

Love, Dee

mythopolis said...

Well, as you say, each generation passes on kinds of history. And you learn to be a certain way before you are even old enough to be introspective about it. I grew up with meat-and-three. Today, I still eat meat, but not as much as once upon a time. So, maybe that is some kind of progress. After seeing Food, Inc, I practically lost all appetite whatsoever. It is just as you say regarding is such a disgusting, revolting thing to look in the face. Certainly, we as a kind, have got to figure out how to change all this. Dysfunctionality of all kinds gets handed down to each new generation. Whether it has to do with food, or has to do with prejudices of many kinds, abuse of self or others. It is all a big tangled mess, and media itself has become a big part of the problem. That is really sad, in that, the potential of mass media could turn many things around. Instead, it has been a tool for perpetuating the status quo. That's why blogs such as yours are important. They reflect and point to a higher sensibility. It is hard to read or think about sometimes, but I am sooo thankful to know that I am not the only person who is getting pissed off about things. Thanks for taking a stand. So, keep it comin'!