Friday, January 6

Some off-the-top-of-my-head reasons why vegetarianism and veganism are the way to go

There are so many reasons that being vegetarian or (even better!) vegan are awesome. Here are some of the ones that jump to my mind.

Animals as sentient beings
I see animals as 'people'. Not 'humans' but 'people'. They have thoughts, feelings, memories, desires, wishes, and everything that we have. How is it ok to kill, hurt, or scare an animal but it's not ok to do it to a person? We would never do to people the things we do to animals. When it does happen, we see it as indescribably horrific. Take the holocaust for example. An absolutely sickening act of atrocity. People rounded up based on ideologies of superiority and inferiority, separated from their families, beaten, tortured, no idea where they were going or what was going to happen to them, moved in cattle trucks, exposed to the heat and freezing cold (being sprayed with hoses was the only relief given in the heat), given no food or water for the journey, people dying or being killed on the way, arriving at the destination and knowing you were going to die, the smell, the tears, the cries, but most of all, the thing that comes across most in survivors' stories of the holocaust is the fear. The absolute terror. The people losing control of their bladders and bowels, throwing up, fighting to escape, clawing the walls, screaming, or just giving up - which is nowhere near as comforting as it sounds. The reason that we see the holocaust as so sickening is because those people were treated the way we treat animals. Pigs are at least as feeling as 3 year olds. I have seen footage of pigs wetting themselves and throwing up on arrival to the slaughterhouse because they can smell the blood and hear the screams of the other pigs. But we don't question why we treat animals the way we do. We block it out. Because who could handle the realisation that they are perpetrating the holocaust but on a massive, unimaginable scale? Only those brave enough to face themselves, to face what they have done. Once you have done that, there is no way that you could possibly go back to what you were doing before.

The cycle of consume and demand
Oh wait, but you're not the one doing it. The animal was already dead and on the shelf at the supermarket. It would have died anyway, whether you ate it or not. Well actually, no. See the business industry runs on a little thing called supply and demand. Or, as I prefer to call it, consume and demand. Companies produce what they think (or know) that people will buy. When you buy an animal product, your money tells that company and that industry that you want them to do what they're doing. No, my becoming vegetarian does not mean that animals are being spared the slaughterhouse and instead being released to run free and wild in the fields. I doubt that Campbells even knows that one of their regular customers switched to Heinz because their tinned minestrone soup doesn't have chicken stock in it. I'm only one person. But my friend is also one person. The lady down the road is one person. The guy at the bank is one person. 1+1+1+1+1+1...... = a very big number and when money walks, companies listen. Look at Coles, they have recently declared that all of their pork products are now free-range bred. This is not because Coles cares about sow stalls, it's because enough of the Australian public complained about sow stalls that Coles decided it could make money from people who didn't want to support sow stalls. Then there's the companies that see niche markets. Look at all the companies, restaurants, and cafes providing quality vegetarian and vegan food. 20 years ago when my aunty went to the US, one of the only places she could get vegetarian food was Subway, now basically every eatery has vegetarian food, and vegan food is becoming increasingly common. Why? Because all the one-people are making a bigger and bigger market. Vegetarianism and veganism have powerful and far-reaching consequences. It is my opinion though, that only by removing oneself from the cycle of consume and demand permanently, can you actually make a difference. This is for a myriad of reasons which I may discuss in a future post.

Eat everything or eat nothing
Something I don't understand is why people see a distinction between companion animals and 'farm' animals (note that 'farm animals' are a myth of our society at present, consumption animals are no longer raised on 'farms' as we know them). People have no hesitation in saying that their dog, cat, horse, carpet python, has feelings and feels pain, and that it would be very wrong to kill and eat them, but then make up excuses when faced with the same questions regarding consumption animals. I believe that if it is ok to eat one animal then it's ok to eat all of them, and if it's not ok to eat one of them then it's not ok to eat all of them. I have eaten kangaroo and my mother was appalled at the idea, yet she ate lamb which I have not eaten since I was 4. It is so hypocritical to say you can't eat dogs, cats, whales, kangaroos, horses etc, but it's ok to eat pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks etc. They are no different in their level of sentience.

What's wrong with eggs and dairy?
When I talk about veganism, people always say 'but what's wrong with eggs and dairy? No one died!'. Well, first of all, 50% of chickens and cows are male. Where are they? At hatcheries on the chicks' first day of life, they are sexed and the males are thrown into rubbish bags where they are either crushed or suffocated. Or, they are minced alive. I wish I was making that up for dramatic effect. Male calves (or lambs, or kids, depending on the type of milk being produced but for the purposes of simplicity I will refer to cows here) are separated from their mothers at birth or shortly afterwards. This causes extreme distress in the cow and the calf. They are then kept in substandard conditions while they await their slaughter. Female mammals need to be pregnant in order to produce milk. Calves are born all the time but they are not needed on the 'farm', they are the unwanted by-products of the dairy industry. They are called Bobby calves and Animals Australia currently have a big campaign aiming to draw attention to their plight. RSPCA Australia are also campaigning for better conditions for these little babies and their mothers. The calves are trucked long distances without food or water and then slaughtered for veal, rennet, leather, and other by-products.

And what of the females lucky enough to avoid slaughter at birth? Well, for chickens (and other birds but, as for dairy, I will focus on chickens for simplicity), it means that first their beaks will be burnt off by being held against a hot plate. This is very painful and sometimes the person doing it burns the chicken's tongue off. Sometimes they die from the shock of being 'de-beaked'. Their beaks are removed because the conditions in which they are kept creates mental and emotional problems and the chickens will peck each other to death. They then have 3 possible futures. Firstly, they could be destined to be 'battery hens', crammed into tiny cages in sheds which are hot, so full of ammonia that it is hard to breathe and the chicken's airways get burnt, and almost perpetually lit with artificial lighting. They will be unable to scratch the ground or build a nest (which research shows is a necessity for chickens rather than a luxury), will have to fight for food and water, and may have to share a cage with dead cage-mates for days. They often develop diseases, sores, and ammonia burns. Secondly, they could be 'barn hens', crammed into sheds and having to endure many of the same conditions as battery hens: heat, near-constant artificial light, ammonia, dead 'barn'-mates, disease, sores, and burns. They will, however, have slightly more room and if they're lucky, their 'grower' may reach the bare minimum standard of care set by RSPCA Australia and be deemed RSPCA approved. Thirdly, they could be 'free-range hens'. These hens will have the same conditions as 'barn-hens' but will also have an outdoor area available. There is no minimum size this 'yard' must be for eggs to be marketed as 'free-range', though to be RSPCA Australia approved, certain conditions must be met. At 1 year of age, all of the surviving hens will be sent to slaughter because they are deemed no longer productive. Chickens can live for 15 years as pets and continue laying for at least 10.

As for cows, they are likely to be branded or ear-tagged with no anaesthetic, have their tails docked with no anaesthetic, and either be raised in a shed or in a muddy paddock. They do not eat grass, they are fed grain with supplements which have been known to include beef and other animal products. The cows are not given room to move around as moving burns energy that could be turned into milk. They are restrained on a 'rape rack' and forcibly impregnated, then forced to endure pregnancy and birth after pregnancy and birth until their uterus literally comes out of them or they are deemed no longer productive at around 4-6 years of age and sent to slaughter. Cows have a life expectancy of 15 years if kept as pets. As well as this, dairy cows also have to endure birth induction and frequent mastitis, and anyone who has given birth or breastfed knows how awful that is! They often develop lameness and/or osteoporosis due to leeching of minerals through pregnancy and milk production.

Fish (kittens of the sea)
As has already been discussed above, fish are sentient, complex life forms and therefore endure all the sufferings that other animals do. What's more, imagine being dragged underwater and being held there. Your lungs start to burn, you feel that overwhelming urge to swim to the surface and take a big breath. But you can't! You struggle to free yourself, but you can't. The burning in your lungs is unbearable and you are panicking, you start to lose strength in your limbs but you haven't given up, you're still fighting. Things are starting to get foggy, your brain isn't working properly anymore, you are consumed by the pain your body is feeling, you are the pain that is shooting through you. You pass out. You die. This is what happens to fish on land, except sometimes they also have their throat ripped out by a metal pole. Even if caught for 'sport' and then thrown back in, they will probably die as a result of their injuries or shock. There is oxygen in water but our lungs can't access it. Fish can't access the oxygen in air, only in water. They are drowned en mass for human consumption. And when I say en mass, I mean en mass. One catch may be a million fish, and nets have no distinction between fish species, many are killed only to be thrown back in the sea. Over-fishing is having a devastating effect on our oceans and threatening the survival of millions of people who actually will die if they don't have fish for dinner. The 'oceans' episode of Human Planet illustrated this quite well (warning: also contains footage of whale hunting! I skipped that bit!). Commercial fishing wreaks havoc on our entire ecosystem. The loss of individuals on this scale destabilizes the whole ecosystem. As Bradley Trevor Greive so wisely wrote in his beautiful 2002 book 'Priceless: the vanishing beauty of a fragile planet', "it's the equivalent of removing structural columns from a skyscraper. One might not seem to matter; two might also have little effect. As we continue removing columns, we notice some cracks and the ominous instability, but still, from a distance, the change and impending disaster are imperceptible. But rest assured, the more columns you lose the closer you come to the inevitable collapse of the entire structure, from which there will be no survivors." But the fact remains that unfortunately, people just don't seem to care about fish. Fish are not sexy. Well, so some believe. PETA have an amusing campaign against fish-hunting whereby they re-name fish 'sea kittens'. I love it and now refer to fish as sea kittens. I think my partner, Jeff, only thinks I'm slightly weird.

Factory farms
I have already pretty much covered factory farms in my discussion on the ills of the egg and dairy industries and for those species the same is pretty much true for animals raised for meat. Sheep don't fair too badly in Australia, only a few wool producers keep their sheep in sheds. However, sheep still suffer from mulesling, tail docking, castration, and ear-tagging without anaesthetic. They also suffer from lameness, injury, pregnancy complications, and exposure to weather. Pigs are kept in atrocious conditions and again, Animals Australia have a stunning campaign about this. One big one at the moment is their Lucy radio ad. The torture that pigs go through is one of the most sickening things I have confronted in my entire life and I gave up pork products long before I became vegetarian (I also refused to eat lamb or veal from age 4 because
'it's bad to kill babies'). Ear-tagging, tail docking, tooth clipping, branding, and castration all without anaesthetic, tiny cages, no stimulation, no room to move, no sunlight, no wind, no foraging for food, no building of nests, no raising of babies or being raised by a mother, forced pregnancies, disease, filth, death, electric prods... These animals are much smarter than dogs. Is it any wonder that they chew bars, bang their heads on walls, rock back and forth, and kill each other? I actually feel so sick thinking about the whole thing that I have to stop writing about it. Even 'free-range' pork is usually only 'free-bred' which means that mothers are allowed to make nests and raise their babies outside as they ought to, but when weaned the babies go back to the factory sheds. Even if they are wholly raised free-range, everyone ends up in the same place in the end...

At the risk of throwing up and having nightmares tonight, I will briefly talk about the horror that is the slaughterhouse. Animals are withheld food and water prior to transportation to slaughter. Transportation, as well as causing great stress and fear to the animals, also means being exposed to the elements and having truck exhaust blown in your face the whole way (which could be hours). Once there, the animals are 'herded' out into holding pens where they can hear the machinery and the screams of the other animals, and can smell the blood. They are not stupid. Usually, animals such as sheep, cows, and pigs are shut into a small box-like enclosure where a bolt is fired into their head supposedly rendering them unconscious, though anecdotal evidence from slaughterhouse workers would suggest otherwise. They are then suspended from the ceiling by their legs and move along a conveyor belt where their throats are slit. They move further along the conveyor belt and are then 'processed', which often means that they are cut open and have their organs removed while still moving (and no, it's not just electrical impulses that happen after death). Pigs are also plunged into boiling water to remove the hairs on their bodies, again, anecdotal evidence suggests that many pigs are still fully conscious when this happens and are drowned. Bolt-stunning is not compulsory in Australia and many slaughterhouses kill their animals without even pretending that they are unconscious. Birds suffer a slightly different fate, they are suspended from the roof by their legs, often having their legs, wings, and other bones broken in the process, and dipped into water that has an electrical current running through it. They are electrocuted. This, apparently, also renders them unconscious and they then have their throats slit, are plucked and processed. One of the things I vividly remember reading about chicken 'processing' was that the chickens are spun around very fast after their throats are cut so that all the blood drains out because the blood discolours the meat. They then have their insides sucked out through their bum and are hosed down because they are consequently covered in blood and faeces. I thought, I'm glad I don't eat meat that was once hosed down because it was covered in faeces. For more information about slaughterhouses than your soul can take, just google it and some reputable sources will come up.

More and more people are becoming vegetarian or vegan for health reasons. Vegetarian and vegan diets typically contain less saturated fat, though chips and deep-fried chocolate are vegetarian! Also, the vast majority of people in Western countries eat way too much protein, which can cause shorter life expectancy, cancer, obesity, and heart problems. The hormones present in meat and dairy products may also increase the likelihood of developing cancer and are believed to be linked to the early onset of puberty in girls. While we're speaking of milk, I should also discuss how gross it is when you really think about it. Would you drink human breast milk? I think most people would say no or only to try it, not to make a habit out of it. Why then, do we drink the milk of another animal? That is actually really gross when you think about it. Not to mention the fact that mammals produce milk because it is high in energy for their growing babies and strengthens their immune systems. Human babies need human milk and once they don't need that anymore, they don't need milk anymore! Humans do not require the milk of another animal to maintain bone density. That is absolutely absurd. What an evolutionary dead-end we would be if that were true. Osteoporosis is due to a lack of exercise and a poor diet, not a lack of dairy. I have found that since I became vegetarian, I put more thought into what I'm putting into my body and hence have a much healthier diet than I did before. If you are eating a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, it would include high fibre foods. These cleanse your *ahem* insides and reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer or dying in an Elvis-like fashion. Lots of fibre also makes your farts mostly ninja-like which can be both face-saving and lots of fun!

The havoc that fishing and farming is wreaking on our environment is becoming widely recognised. Farming destroys forests, the habitats of native animals, and in some countries, rainforests (which don't grow back I might add!). Farming and hunting also decrease biodiversity and therefore destabilize the whole ecosystem, of which we are a part! Farming of hooved animals damages the plants and soil and results in erosion. When one pasture is ruined, they are simply moved to another one. Something that is of concern in Australia in particular, is the amount of water that it takes to 'grow' 1kg of meat compared to 1kg of grain. 'Growing' animals is just simply not sustainable, it is a waste of resources and time because the produce is so small compared to the input. 'Farm' animals are notoriously gassy, cows in particular due to their multiple stomachs. This is because they have lots of bacteria in their gut to digest cellulose, which humans cannot digest. The gasses they produce are believed to greatly contribute to accelerated global warming and climate change. Finally, It has long been accepted that the planet can only support a certain amount of life, and this number never changes, the only thing that changes are the numbers of individuals within each species. For example, back when there were less people, there were more trees. There are now less fish in the sea, but there are more people, There are more cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, turkeys, etc, but there are less dugongs, howler monkeys, elephants, Leadbeater's possums...

Just some things to think about next time you really want to eat that schnitzel, burger, nugget, egg, or piece of cheese. What is the cost? How much is it worth? Do you really want it? Do you need it?

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