Changing Lives. Yours and Theirs

How Being a Vegan or Vegetarian Helps Animals

Veal Calves
Baby cows live a miserable existence. Farm Sanctuary

 So you are an true animal lover and you just met a new friend. S/he has been described to you by other friends as a real animal lover too and you're told you will have so much in common with this person. You shake hands and declare your love for animals as an ice breaker. You anticipate a benign and welcoming reaction, but instead, the person sizes you up and asks "Are you a vegetarian?" You are momentarily taken aback because, well, you aren't a vegetarian.

You tell your new friend no and you may just feel a chill in the air as s/he says "So you love some animals, and you eat others?"

Wow, s/he's got you there. Gene Baur, founder of of Farm Sanctuary, once said that if a person tells you they love animals but is still a carnivore, you should ask them why they are running afoul of their own personal ethics code? Many times, when an animal-rights activist wants to share the facts and truth behind animal slaughter, they are met with resistance and an “I don’t want to know, I can’t see those awful graphic videos! They make me so sad.” 

And the obvious response to that is, well, if you love animals so much and you can’t stand to see them being slaughtered, why don’t you do something about it?

Being a vegan or a vegetarian is very much an animal rights issue. If you believe that animals have basic rights, and being free from torture and murder is one of them, then you must admit that being a carnivore flies in the face of your convictions and splits your spirit in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.

It interferes with homeostasis.  It would be so simple to readjust yourself, putting you on a path toward becoming a vegetarian or, better yet, a vegan. One of the common answers to this proposition is, “Well, I’m just one person. What good is giving up meat going to do, I don’t eat that much red meat anyways.” The obvious response to that is, if more people give up eating meat, we may just reach a tipping point where vegetarians/vegans will outnumber the carnivores, making life a whole lot better for those animals you claim you love.

When someone tells a veteran animal-rights activist that they have given up red meat in the hopes of winning that activist’ approval, that someone may be in for a big surprise. Most likely, that activist will surprise you and say they prefer you give up chicken instead. Cows actually live a pretty idyllic life for the most part, until they are sent to feed lots and then the slaughterhouse. Chicken’s however, live in horrendous conditions throughout their entire lives. Believing that the lives of chickens are any less important than that of cows is not going to impress anyone. Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once famously said “When it comes to having a central nervous system, and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” She’s been widely criticized for that, but it’s the truth. Animals have a central nervous system with a functioning brain with pain receptors. To believe otherwise is being deliberately obtuse.

Paul McCartney still discusses how he and his first wife Linda became vegetarians. In Linda’s book, Linda McCartney’s Home Cooking, he writes about how they were eating a roast leg of lamb when they looked out the window where they saw lambs playing.

Paul said "It was like, the penny dropped. The light bulb lit up. We thought, we might just give this up."

Once you make that connection, it’s very difficult to continue on the same path. Many people become vegetarian first and elevate to being a vegan sometime afterwards.  Why someone becomes an ethical vegetarian, that is, someone who does not eat meat out of a belief in animal rights, is obviously doing so because animals must be killed in order to be eaten and it’s the killing to which they object. And let’s be really clear, being a vegetarian means no meat of any kind, and that includes fish and shellfish. One who eats no meat from a mammal but is still eating fish is called a pescatarian, and ethical animal-rights proponents see fish as just another animal. Being a vegetarian also means you don’t order vegetable soup at a restaurant before asking first if it is made with chicken stock (most of the time it is).

They also ask if the bread or cake was made with eggs and/or butter-it probably is 99 percent of the time.The same goes for gravies and sauces. Of course. How far one is willing to go is a personal decision, but most animal-rights devotees will eschew any foods made with any animal products. Arguments that cows are being raised for the purpose of being killed and therefore, since no one is taking cows from the wild and killing them, it’s okay to eat beef, fall short too.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) eloquently puts that argument to rest thusly: “,,,the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?... The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes..." 

So what’s the deal with being a vegan? Why’s that so important anyways? The animals aren’t killed for milk, eggs, cheese, honey, silk, butter, yogurt or gelatin.

That’s not entirely true. There is killing involved with all of those dairy and other items. There is collateral damage. Cows must lactate to produce milk. Mammals must be pregnant in order to lactate. Cows are impregnated throughout their lives and their male offspring become veal calves, which is such a horrid existence that even many carnivores avoid veal. The baby chicks of all those egg-laying eggs are shredded alive. So those who truly want to make the world a better place for animals must admit that following a vegan lifestyle is a lot more conducive to that end than is vegetarianism. But everyone must start somewhere, and following a plant-based diet, is so easy to do now with the transition foods, or “fake meat” as some people call it.

Some people embrace inertia. Changing habits that began in childhood is a difficult thing to do, so they’d prefer to just ignore the whole thing. But not only is transitioning over to a vegan lifestyle better for the animals and the planet, it’s better for your body in so many ways. It’s better for your heart, your waistline and your sense of well-being. Make an effort to be a vegan one day at a time. When you realize how much better you feel, the transition becomes much easier and  you will wonder why you didn't do it sooner.