By Camille Bello
The biggest catastrophes that we have witnessed rarely come from information that is secret or hidden. Quite the contrary, they come from information that is right in front of us, but that we consciously decide to ignore because the chances are it will be hard to handle.
Ignoring the truth at our peril is a common thing we humans do. Some willfully blind themselves to that never-ending cough after years of smoking, others ignore the endless business trips of their spouse during weekends and Hollywood ignores whispers of abuse and rape stretching back decades. This conscious avoidance, researcher Margaret Heffernan, has found to be “a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large”.
Actually, willful blindness is such an everyday mechanism that there’s a legal concept to address it: “you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see”.
In the spirit of hindering this insisting behaviour of overlooking the injustices of this world, I plan to shine a light and carefully explain one of them in the next lines. I beg you not to run now, and to hold your fingers from blinding yourself from this screen, instead, I trust you will be brave enough to challenge your vulnerability, to confront and hopefully to act upon the next lines.
I have never been an animal lover myself. I do like them. I even grew up in a farm surrounded by them. But I am really not the typical puppy lover. However, I’ve been a vegetarian for almost three years now. I don’t know why but I just woke up one day without the desire to eat a muscle for lunch. Nevertheless, during this journey, I have discovered some of the benefits of a plant-based diet, which are extensive and not at all as boring as some might think.
Taking the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industry as an example in one small paragraph each without turning your stomach might be a hard task to do, but I will try.
This is what you can learn from a quick Youtube video.
The vast majority of the modern pork industry works as follows. Pigs are locked in narrow metal stalls barely larger than their own bodies, where they develop open sores and scrapes. Soon after birth piglets are castrated by workers who rip out their testicles and then chop off their tails. Many of them die from botched mutilations. Pigs raised for meat typically live five to six months, a fraction of their natural lifespan. Once pigs have reached market weight they are sent to the slaughter house where they are knocked in the head with a steel rod, hung upside down and have their throats slit. Improper stunning condemns many pigs to having their throats slit while they are fully conscious, others are even scolded alive in the hair removal tanks.
In most hatcheries, workers sort the male chicks from the females, because male chicks don’t lay eggs, and don’t grow quickly enough to be raised for meat. Thus they are killed within hours and typically thrown into giant grinding machines while still alive. Another method is to drop them into trash bags to be smothered or suffocated. Female chicks are moved into cages where they spend the rest of their lives tightly confined, most of them never see sunlight or breathe fresh air. This confined space takes its toll, often leading to severe feather loss and open wounds enmeshed in cage wire.
What about the dairy industry? Well, cows produce milk for the same reasons humans do, to nourish their offspring. For a cow to produce milk she has to give birth, so they are artificially impregnated. To do this, a human will shove his arm into the cow’s anus and then inject her vagina with bull semen. This practice is commonly known as the ‘rape rack’. Like humans, they give birth after 9 months. However, calves on dairy farms are dragged from their mothers and killed so that we can drink their milk instead. It is widely reported that cow mothers appear to grieve for days after this abuse happens before continuing to be impregnated milk-making machines for about seven years straight until they drop from exhaustion, become profitless and are sent to the slaughterhouses.
It is straight from these cruel cycles that most of us feed our families and ourselves. I will let you imagine or research the horrors I have omitted; where the conditions themselves would probably make one think twice the before buying a piece of processed meat. What I have stated above barely scratches the surface.
Animals endure ruthless treatment and they cannot imagine; they happily wait for their throats to be slit. People still believe veganism to be extreme but in my opinion, the real extremism is the way in which we intensively farm meat.
The fact that puppies are seen as cute but piglets are not is really fascinating, especially because it points to an innate, if inert, human sympathy for our fellow earthlings. But somehow over the last 70 years in particular, we have allowed the modern meat and dairy industry to become one of the cruelest systems imaginable. Many people think that something human and natural happens between slaughterhouses, carefully-branded packaging and the plate. It is not their fault though; the industry has managed to make us believe so, and preaches that we need meat to get our protein. The good news is that when we eat plant-based protein, we avoid saturated fats, bad cholesterol, stress hormones, animal cruelty and can still get the protein we need.
Besides a healthier lifestyle, veganism is really about compassion. It is about being against cruelty and about aligning your core values with your actions. Animals are not here “for us”, they are not here to become our property or to be slaughtered and harmed. They are here for their own reasons, just like us. And while some of them were bred for our consumption, brutality should not be the norm.
All exploitation is a form of abuse. So next time you eat a little piece of meat or an animal byproduct, remind yourself it is also the result of a vicious cycle of cruelty.
Camille Bello is a freelance writer, journalist and translator based in France
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