Ignorance has prevailed so long only because people do not want to find out the truth
Since I started this blog, I’ve kept the content mostly light and fun in order to show the possibilities that are open to us when we commit to living a vegan and green lifestyle. But there is a deeper, more urgent motivation underlying the posts that I write here – which is to communicate that what we are currently doing to our bodies, animals, and the environment is not okay. In particular, the exploitation and abuse of animals for our own self-absorbed and insatiable need to consume at whatever cost necessary is what really gets to me. I love animals. I think they, like everything here on planet earth – with the exception of some of the ugly, man-made artifice we’ve created – are pure and extraordinary. We are not living in a way that honors the beauty and magnificence of these creatures. Instead, the majority of humans are speciesist and view animals as mere objects to use and exploit. This perspective is destructive not only to animals, but to the environment and our bodies.
I don’t know that many vegans. Most of my family and close friends are omnivores and I love them dearly. But I will say that they are ignorant – ignorant of how their food gets to their plate, and ignorant of one of the greatest travesties to ever befall life on this planet.
10 billion farm animals are slaughtered in the US every year for our mass consumption – animals who were brought into this life only to inhabit cramped, artificial surroundings, never to breath fresh air or feel the earth beneath their feet, mutilated without anesthetization, and endure a painful, violent, and often slow death.
I’m going to say a few things that may be considered bold and controversial, because although I have compassion for omnivores (after all, I was one too), what they are being complicit in is horrific and sickening. And as aforementioned, it’s urgent for us to grasp the magnitude of what is happening in factory farms.
Walk into the meat section of a supermarket, and here’s what you’ll see: styrofoam containers with reddish-brown material. What you won’t see is exactly how that steak, chicken, veal, etc. got to be there. And what do most people say? “I don’t want to know.”
It’s my belief that it’s our moral and spiritual responsibility to know exactly how our food gets to our plates. In fact, if you’re an omnivore, then I will go as far as to say that it’s your responsibility to watch Earthlings – the 2005 film that documents the abuse and exploitation of animals used for food, clothing, entertainment, and testing. If you can watch that film, and still be complacent about your consumer habits, then good luck being able to sleep at night.
The heartbreaking and disgraceful abuse shown in Earthlings does not represent isolated instances; rather, it is the industry standard. Even meat that is labeled “kosher” and “free range” come from animals that for the most part were mistreated and oppressed. As Gene Baur, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, says – the only way you can know for sure if the animals were treated humanely is to go to the farm yourself.
My path to becoming vegan
When I saw Earthlings a few years ago, I was reminded of my original impulse to gravitate towards a vegan lifestyle as a sophomore in college. I was in an African Literature class, and we were watching a West African film. One of the scenes showed a cow hanging from the ceiling, being torn apart while still breathing and moaning. This scene lasted several minutes and it shook me to my core. Prior to seeing that film, I had never really thought about how my food was produced. Why should I have? By the time I was born in the 80s, the system of factory farming was already well-entrenched in our society. Everyone at my school and in my community were omnivores, and none of us had ever been near a factory farm. Because I only saw the end product, I barely even made the connection that what I was eating much of the time came from the carcass of an animal.
Seeing that film, though, altered me forever. I went back to my dorm room and started researching how cows were slaughtered in our country – assuming that they were treated in a more gentle, humane, and respectful way – and discovered to my dismay that I was mistaken. As a person who has always felt compelled to be as kind and ethical as possible, it didn’t make any sense to me why people and organizations would choose to be so cruel and insensitive.
I stopped eating red meat right then and there, but I continued to eat some white meat and fish because I still didn’t get the extent to which chickens, turkeys, and fish were also being abused. And I also continued eating dairy, because I rationalized that dairy cows weren’t being slaughtered.
3 years later, while seeking answers to overcoming my depression and anxiety, I read Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness. I had bought it assuming that it was a regular self-help book about the power of positivity, and was surprised to find her making the case for a vegan diet and going into detail about the cruelty of factory farming.
In Freston’s book, I learned about the mistreatment of all factory farm animals including the un-anesthetized mutilation of chickens and turkeys, and the crowded cages they spend their miserable lives in. I also learned about the fact that dairy cows live out their lives in extreme confinement, must produce at least one calf per year in order to make enough milk, and that their calves are torn away from them at birth. The mothers are bereft, while their calves go on to be confined and made into veal if they are male, or to have longer but perhaps equally tragic lives as dairy cows if they are female.
While reading Quantum Wellness, I just knew that I had to become vegan. I didn’t know what would be involved – if the food would be bland and boring, I didn’t even know if I would be able to get all the nutrients I needed. The one thing I did know was that I could no longer support the well-hidden but nightmarishly epic horror that is factory farming.
Although I’ve been vegan for several years and have done things like pamphleting for Mercy for Animals and donating money to Farm Sanctuary, I often feel unable to affect change and influence others. People generally seem to admire me for my convictions, but they are still so set in their ways and their attachment to consuming animal products, that they’re unwilling to truly acknowledge what’s really going on. Even though I knew Earthlings would be a really difficult film to watch and didn’t want to see it alone, I wasn’t able to get anyone to watch it with me. After all, who wants to watch a movie that exposes the hidden shadow of our country? They’d rather watch upbeat romantic comedies or films that glorify violence – not a film that dwells on the torment of helpless beings at the hands of ignorant sadists who have control over them.
Factory farms and the Holocaust
In the film Earthlings, Joaquin Phoenix (the narrator) draws parallels between what we’re doing to animals and the holocaust, because in both instances, there were vast numbers of sentient beings languishing under the control of prejudiced and ignorant people. I’ve mentioned this parallel to people before in conversations, and almost everyone is offended when they hear me say this. How could possibly I compare the extermination of 6 million humans to the slaughtering of mere animals? But as Earthlings points out, to say that humans and animals can’t be compared to one another is a speciesist view. This view presupposes that not only are we superior to animals because of our intelligence, but that we can treat them despicably while using them for our own selfish ends, without giving any thought to the moral consequences. Is this really true, or is it just a spell that our culture is under – not unlike the one that brainwashed Nazi Germany? I hope that one day not too far in the future, we will be able to look back on factory farming with the same crystal clear hindsight most of us now have about slavery, segregation, and the Holocaust. I pray that we’ll be able to look back and fully grasp that the way we oppressed and slaughtered over 10 billion farm animals per year (in the U.S. alone) was completely and utterly wrong.
Animal consumption is making us miserable too
Human beings aren’t meant to digest vast amounts of animals products – we’re built primarily to be herbivores. The over-consumption of animal products in our culture is the leading culprit behind the diseases of our time such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and I believe it’s also the cause of many psychological issues.
I’ve talked before on this blog about how becoming vegan helped me overcome my weight struggles. But I think the most remarkable shift that I experienced after becoming vegan was that my depression suddenly lifted. I suffered from at times crippling anxiety and depression for most of my life up until I became vegan, and although anxiety is something I continued to struggle with afterwards, I never again had the same depression. When I became vegan, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Life suddenly seemed brighter and more 3-dimensional, and I felt connected to a source greater than myself.
How did this happen and why? I’ve contemplated this phenomenon many times, and arrived at the conclusion that we really are what we eat. When we ingest animals that have suffered and had miserable lives, then we ingest their pain as well. It’s their silent and invisible agony that is weighing us down and causing us to turn to antidepressants. And I think it’s also this extremely low, negative energy that’s the primary cause of aggression, hatred, and cruelty. As Leo Tolstoy said, “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.”
Factory farms and the planet
CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide from the livestock industry are destroying the environment and posing dangerous risks to our survival as a species. Animal agriculture puts a huge strain on our water resources, is the leading contributor to water pollution and dead zones in our ocean, and accounts for more CO2 omissions than all forms of transportation in the world combined. Earthlings also captures some of the ways animal agriculture is pillaging the environment and ecosystems through chilling and deeply disturbing footage.
Conclusion: what we do to animals, we do to ourselves
I think most individuals consider themselves to be good people, and many will say that they’re spiritual or religious. But spirituality, in my opinion, acknowledges the idea that we are connected in seen and unseen ways to everything in the cosmos and on this planet. If we continue to support an industry that is causing an unimaginable amount of pain and suffering to helpless beings who can’t talk or fight back, then we’re dismissing the basic tenet of spirituality – that we are all one.
Factory farms are far from us, closed off from the outside world, and highly secretive. The people running these corporations don’t want us to know what’s going on, just as I’m sure that they’re not even willing to admit the truth to themselves. Since Mercy for Animals‘ series of groundbreaking investigations into factory farming conditions, factory farm companies have successfully advocated for laws that prevent hidden photography.
Watching Earthlings, one sees that how we treat animals is the unconscious part of our culture that we’re not willing to look at. On the surface, everything seems wholesome and normal, but do a little digging and you will behold the worst nightmare you could possibly conceive of. If we can’t collectively find the courage to examine this aspect of our society, then I think it’s only inevitable that we will self-destruct.
Can we stop the destruction and misery caused by factory farming? I believe that we can, but only if we’re willing to look at the darkness we’ve helped to perpetuate. We must be able to look unflinchingly into the eyes of an animal, confused and in pain, and truly grasp what they’re going through because of us.
The word compassion comes from the latin words com – “with” and pati “to suffer.” In its truest sense, it means “to suffer with.” To save our selves and the planet, we must be willing to suffer with the animals. We must see that their pain is our pain. We will then find the courage and determination to rebel against the corruption of factory farming, as well as to find a more humane and respectful way to coexist with animals and our planet. And this, in turn, will save ourselves.