My Response to “What Does a Vegan World Actually Look Like?”

In an article on Treehugger.com, Sami Grover asks “What Does a Vegan World Actually Look Like?” I found the article interesting, however not without some flaws of thought. A particular passage in the article particularly rankled me.

Would a Vegan World Be Less Cruel?
Clearly eating meat, or supporting the death that is inherent in the dairy industry, is for many people an unpleasant and cruel business. And it is also hard to deny that a vegan world would result in a lot less animals being slaughtered or abused.

Yet working on the assumption that a vegan world would eventually result in a lot less farm animals all together—with whatever farm animals remain (if any) being cared for in sanctuaries—it seems to logically follow that many of the animals that end up slaughtered now would never exist at all if vegan diets became the norm.

This doesn’t necessarily invalidate the cruelty argument—after all creating life only to take it away a few short months later for our own pleasure is, from the vegan perspective, pretty barbaric. But it does mean that—in the long run—the true choice is not between killing an animal or not, but rather giving life to, nurturing, and feeding an animal ill suited to life in the wild and then killing it, versus abstaining from that process in the first place.

Being the sort of person I am, and having freshly read the Eating Animals book I discussed in the last passage on this page, I was compelled to write a response:

“But it does mean that—in the long run—the true choice is not between killing an animal or not, but rather giving life to, nurturing, and feeding an animal ill suited to life in the wild and then killing it, versus abstaining from that process in the first place.”

The thing about it is, over 99% of animals slaughtered for food in the United States are not in a “nurturing” environment. You have chickens in a battery cage the size of a laptop (think a 13″ MacBook Pro). You have cows being brutalised on the kill floor in manners that can only be described as sadist. Furthermore, the companies that support this sort of “nurturing and feeding” of animals for our plate–fast food companies, slaughterhouses, massive ready-made meal-makers, etc–are encouraging the poorest standards of human treatment for those who work in the slaughterhouses; many of whom are illegal immigrants who have no one to turn to for fear of deportation.

Many people in America have their cats and dogs spayed or neutered in order to prevent the suffering of future generations of animals living in shelters or on the street. Is the choice to abstain from meat in an effort to prevent far greater suffering of future generations of pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys, fish (and the multitudes species of “bycatch” the fishing industry kills from sea otters to dolphins to stingrays and loads more) somehow dissimilar?

To be fair, I don’t see the world as a whole completely abstaining from meat. Not only does meat have a significant cultural importance in many world cultures, but yes, there are farmers who do farm in a more responsible way–farmers who are concerned about their animals’ welfare and who go to great lengths to ensure these animals live and die with dignity. I am in full support of farmers such as these. However, they only care for less than 1% of the animals we eat as food in America, and represent a similarly low percentage in other many other countries.

At the moment, unless other alternatives present themselves and gain more support, the best thing to do–for animal welfare, for environmental diversity, for sustainability, for our economy and for our own piece of mind–is to eat as few animals as possible, preferably none, and that the animals one does consume be animals one can assure have been raised ethically, or hunted and caught in a sustainable manner that minimises or eliminates cruelty.

For those of us choosing to abstain from meat-eating altogether, we need to ensure the foods we do eat are grown in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Organic produce is nice, but organic produce flown in from Argentina when you live in New York isn’t so great. Not everything can be obtained locally, but challenge yourself to see what you can find. There are farmers markets and box schemes that can provide you with local options. Start badgering your supermarket. This is something we should all do.

I should say that I’m not advocating for vegetarian or vegan diets, but I do feel that they are far, far better than consuming meat and animal products obtained through the factory farm methods the United States and many other countries employ.

If you’re interested on where I got my statistic on the percentage of animals raised on factory farms in the US, it came from Farm Forward, which is an excellent resource on sustainable agriculture, animal welfare and how we can eat better for us and for the world. On a related note, you may also want to read Mark Bittman’s article, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others, which brings up a few similar points to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

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