In a world buckling under economic recession, in a country of violence and crime and poverty, how can anyone find the time to care about the treatment of animals? The simple answer is: we have no choice. The very fabric of our humanity is being torn apart by the brutality and horrors being perpetrated, and no-one, I believe, wants that on their conscience.
If you are reading this and don’t know what I mean by “the treatment of animals” then feel ashamed. In the internet age, no-one can be excused their ignorance.
If you have some inkling of my meaning, and you still eat meat or use pharmaceutical products tested on animals, then take this moment to be filled with the horror of what you are condoning, of who your money is enriching.
I am no tie-dyed hippie. I tend to side with Cartman on that subject — hippies, new-agers, reiki masters, some of the biggest idiots the scarce oxygen supply on this earth is being wasted on. And it’s sad that the animal rights movement has been tainted as having anything to do with hippies and smoking dope. Like many other compassionate causes, it has been painted as anti-capitalist, bleeding heart naivete. Which is unfair and — if one were the cynical sort — appears to be a deliberate tactic on the part of those with the most to lose to discredit it.
Be under no illusion: the vast majority of meat you are eating, be it beef, veal, chicken or fish is produced in conditions that are so horrific they are hidden from the public. Organically fed doesn’t mean “treated well” either, so don’t try that line. And don’t also the try that line that chickens are stupid or fish don’t feel pain. In both cases there is clear evidence to the contrary. Human babies are pretty stupid too, but no-one is burning their fingernails off to stop them scratching each other.
Animal testing continues. The beauty products industry has done all the other animal testers a huge favour by turning the lack of animal testing into a marketing gimmick. Right now, in laboratories around the world, there are animals being electrocuted, burned, cut up and tortured in order to test household products and drugs. You might argue that if this leads to the development of a new cancer treatment it’s a necessary sacrifice. Even this is nonsense on further investigation (would you take a drug because it worked on a rat?) but leaving that aside, how about a new toothpaste? Would you knowingly allow a puppy to be confined to a tiny cage for months on end to develop a new way to clean your teeth?
It’s easy to argue that humans are omnivores and eating meat is natural. But what does “natural” mean? When was the last time you enjoyed the warm, tasty contents of a freshly slaughtered sheep ripped apart with your bare teeth? The reality is we don’t eat any “natural” meat products. We cook them, we spice them, we put them on bread and in pies. There is nothing “natural” about how we consume meat.
Neither is there anything natural about the drugs injected into animals to grow them larger, to make them produce eggs and milk more often, to make them reproduce. We are as far from the mythical hunter on the plains of Africa with his spear tracking an impala as we could possibly be. So far, in fact, that most people would shudder to see even that supposedly natural human event taking place. It’s brutal enough to watch a lion killing and eating a buck, so much so that many people flinch at the sight. Do you feel hungry when you see the blood and entrails strewn across the Bushveld?
We have evolved away from creatures that live in this way. We rely not on our muscles and teeth for food, but on our technology. We eat impala in fine restaurants, accompanied by fancy sounding French sauces. The argument for what is “natural” has long ceased to be meaningful.
There is no health benefit to eating meat: quite the contrary in fact. You can get proteins from grains and vegetables. Hindus have lived for thousands of years on a vegetarian diet just fine. And if you’re worried about taste, when was the last bland Indian meal you ate? Many of the ingredients that give your favourite meat or fish dishes their wonderful taste are plants anyway.
Even if you want to hold to the idea that eating meat is a fundamental human privilege, how can you accept the cruelty that goes into getting it to your table? The “Farmer Brown” ads we saw as kids misrepresent chicken farming in the way German paintings of Hitler misrepresented the death camps. All these pictures of smiling cows and happy pigs have infiltrated the media to the point that we cannot conceive of the truth. Children’s books still have quaint farmyards circa 1750 where the farmer wakes up at dawn to milk his beloved cows.
The meat companies and the testing laboratories go to insane lengths to ensure the true images don’t get out. The film Earthlings has done much to get the truth out there, but people shy away. Once these images are in your mind, it’s hard to get them out. So best to keep feasting on the meat and not think to hard about it.
Tolstoy said “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will remain battlefields”. Violence toward fellow humans is horrible enough, but violence against creatures who cannot defend themselves and cannot have done us any wrong is not only cruelty, it’s evil.
Do yourself a favour, if not a kindness:
Watch Earthlings online: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6361872964130308142#
Support the Naked Yoga project: http://www.nakedyoga.co.za
Becoming a vegetarian is not simply a health choice, and it’s not a diet for hippies. It’s a way to keep your humanity, our humanity, in tact.
DISCLOSURE: I am personally involved in the Naked Yoga project, and in campaigning for animal rights.