Although other animals cannot necessarily be expected to uphold ethical standards, this is not true for human beings. Since animal products are both unnecessary for us and harmful to animals, and since there is widespread agreement that inflicting unnecessary harm is wrong, we have a moral obligation to be vegan.
A more specific answer to this question is that we are not physiologically designed to eat other animals. Amongst other differences, carnivores have sharp teeth that can bite through skin or strong muscles to slaughter their prey and eat them whole, entrails and all. Fresh blood and raw flesh make them salivate and kill to satisfy their hunger. When we humans contemplate things such as fresh blood, raw flesh and entrails, there is a sickening guttural reaction.
Imagine catching a deer without weapons (no guns, arrows, spears, knives, or similar items – just your flat teeth, dull nails, and hands) and then eating this animal whole, fresh and raw. Does that sound or feel natural to you?
Unfortunately we do live in a world where some animals prey on others. While these animals don’t have a choice (they must either kill or starve to death), we should be grateful that we do have a choice as to whether to participate in these acts of violence; acts which are, for us, entirely unnecessary.
Most people find genuine pleasure in the experience of harvesting fruit and vegetables, but few would find it enjoyable to watch an animal being killed. If you don’t share this perspective, try watching any one of the myriad of videos exposing the reality of animal slaughter.
From a purely scientific perspective, animals (including humans) process information with neural networks. But plants process information hormonally, which is orders of magnitude slower than neural network processing. Given the extraordinarily slow information processing rate that occurs in plants (hundreds of billions of times slower than in animals), it is unreasonable to believe that plants are capable of actually experiencing pain, which is an evolutionary adaptation intended to provide animals with cues to escape danger, something plants are incapable of doing.
That said, we should be concerned with the essential role plants play with regard to the ecosystem and environment. Vegan choices actually do more to protect plant life than eating an animal based diet, which wastes vast quantities of plant food and other natural resources such as fresh water.
It is impossible to live on this earth without doing some damage, but becoming vegan is the first step towards significantly reducing that damage. Animals are net consumers, not producers. This means that every animal raised for his/her flesh, eggs, milk, hair, skin or byproducts consumes more food and resources than he or she produces. For example, it can take up to 16 pounds of grain (plant material) along with 2500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.
As you can see, while vegans may directly eat more plants than the average non-vegan, the damage to plant life caused by the production of animal products is far, far greater than that caused by eating vegan.
There is already enough food to feed the world many times over. The reason so many people are starving has to do with political injustice and instability, access to resources, and other factors including the amount of food that is fed to “livestock” instead of people.
Millions of tons of grain are fed to farmed animals and kept in grain stockpiles instead of being fed to the people who grow it. The same developing nations where people are starving grow the grain that is exported to wealthier nations to be fed to livestock.
If we started growing more fruit, vegetables and grain as opposed to raising animals for food and clothing, world hunger would be greatly reduced!
1.5 acres can provide 37,000 lbs. of plant-based food, and only 375 lbs. of meat.
Just as you don’t need to be a human rights activist to avoid contributing to human rights violations, you don’t need to be an animal activist to be a vegan. Being vegan is simply a matter of changing your habits to conform to values of justice and compassion that are no limited to human animals but include, as true justice should, all animals. While becoming vegan may take some additional time in the learning phase, it is no more time consuming than having a good habit replace a bad habit. You can still focus your time on other important issues while simply leaving animals alone.
Every animal, both human and non-human, has the inherent right to freedom from unnecessary harm.
Veganism is not the end of all harm. It is the beginning.
Right this moment you may not have the power to stop a woman from being stoned to death or children from being forced into slavery, but you are empowered to stop your own participation in the harm that is caused by the production of all things non-vegan.
You don’t have to be an animal activist to be a vegan. Of course, like other social justice issues, the more outspoken you are for veganism or against animal exploitation, the more pushback you’ll generally receive. But there are many vegans who refuse to debate the issue with others, preferring to simply disarm questions or comments with a polite statement that they care about animals.
More and more, as information about veganism becomes more widespread, vegans are finding that their friends and family are much more supportive and accepting than they used to be. When we set an example of being kind and gentle, we are able to use conversations about veganism as opportunities to inform and discuss instead of arguing.
It is also worth noting that the abolitionists who fought to free human slaves may have been seen as extreme, yet no one would fault them today for speaking out.
If you are outspoken, some people may see you as extreme and some friendships may fade, but true friends will respect your desire to better yourself and the world. You can also make use of the myriad of vegan meet-up groups, social networking sites and support groups online to connect to others who have the same core ethic as you.
For those who are truly concerned about the possibility of feeling isolated, we suggest that you ask yourself what is more important to you: being accepted by a society that doesn’t share your values, or living according to your principles?
It is completely possible to be vegan and give shelter to companion animals. Ideally, all animals would not be dependent on humans and would be able to live out their lives naturally, but many domesticated and injured animals are unable to do this. Giving sanctuary to a companion animal in need is completely supported by the vegan ethic.
However, buying an animal (including those seen as ‘pets’) perpetuates the belief that animals are commodities, and any animal breeding (whether intentional or otherwise) contributes to the overpopulation of domesticated animals who are living unnatural lives by definition. For this reason, spaying and neutering animals (or taking other, adequate steps toward ensuring that they’re not able to reproduce, such as separating females from males) is also an important issue.
If you’re looking for a companion animal to share your life with, there are millions of homeless animals being killed in “shelters” every year who would love to be part of a caring family.
And thankfully for those of us who love them, it is also possible for cats and dogs to enjoy a healthy vegan diet alongside you. Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters are naturally vegan animals, and there are many of them in shelters as well.
If you found out that the leather you own was made from human skin (like the items that were made from holocaust victims’ bodies) would you simply use it until it wore out? If you believe it’s wrong to use animals as commodities, would you feel comfortable profiting from the sale of your non-vegan clothing and bedding? If you knew that the lambs had been sold for meat and the mothers deprived of raising their young, would you feel comfortable giving someone clothing made from the hair robbed from the backs of sheep?
There is a good deal of debate in the vegan community over what to do with non-vegan clothing, bedding etc. after becoming vegan. Often people go with the easiest and most socially acceptable option, rather than the choice that respects the lives of the animals that were taken or harmed. Allowing their continued circulation in the market perpetuates the perception that animals are resources, rather than acknowledging the reality that these items are made from someone’s skin or hair, a mother’s milk, or feathers taken from a dead bird’s body. They were never ours to take in the first place.
Common practices for obtaining wool and silk are cruel and cost the life of both animal and insect. Even if the wool or silk is obtained without “harming the animals” they are still kept as commodities and bred at excessive rates using land and resources to fuel these unnecessary practices. There are a number of natural fibers being used today and more being discovered each year that can be used instead of participating in this cycle of abuse.
No. Many vegetarians still wear leather, wool and silk along with eating dairy, eggs, honey, and other items from the same industry that produces meat. All of these animal products cause unnecessary harm, which we are obligated to avoid if we are to live consistently with our values.
• Milk and other Dairy Products: Production of dairy requires female cows to be repeatedly impregnated, so that lactation will occur. But mothers and babies cannot be allowed to stay together, or there will be no milk to take. Female calves born of this breeding cycle become the next generation of dairy slaves, following their mothers into a lifetime of repeated forced insemination, resulting in annual mourning for their stolen infants. While these girls are milked dry by mechanized systems, their male sons and brothers are sold for their tender flesh (known as veal), with a small few kept aside to be used for the same artificial insemination endured by their sisters and mothers. To learn more.
• Eggs: As only female chicks are capable of laying eggs, those identified as male are considered a ‘waste product’ that must be disposed of using the most cost-effective methods available. What this often means is that 50% of all chicks born in hatcheries are ground alive or thrown into trashcans and smothered. Many chicks end up incorrectly sexed, meaning that males are sold as females and end up filling farm sanctuaries when their owners discover that they are actually roosters. Hens raised for meat and egg laying generally come from the same hatcheries. The hens that make it out alive are de-beaked; an extremely painful process.
• Honey: Many bees are killed during the extraction of honey. But even prior to this, they are forced to live in unnatural and unhealthy hive structures so that we can take their winter reserve of food (honey) and be shipped around the country to pollinate crops (edging out the natural species that would normally do so).
No matter their “quality of life,” unnecessary harm is always involved when we exploit another animal’s reproductive system, flesh (meat), skin (leather), or regurgitated food (honey). Thankfully, there are good vegan alternatives to all of these.
Using free-range, cage-free, organic, grass-fed, local or "humanely raised” animal products may seem like a better option. But these terms have been developed by marketing professionals to put a positive spin on an industry whose primary purpose is unethical, regardless of the scale or specific practices of “production.”
Not only are the terms themselves highly misleading, they are irrelevant to the fundamental issue of the right of sentient beings not to be exploited. No matter the relative ’quality of life‘ an animal is given while in captivity, they are still unnecessarily imprisoned, terrified, harmed and ultimately killed.
In other words, kicking and beating animals because you enjoy doing so is not okay. Dehorning and castrating animals (without anesthetic) because it makes them easier to manage is okay. This definition of “high standards” in animal welfare explains why industry can legitimately make such ludicrous claims in the face of cruelty so severe that most of us refuse to even look at it.
While it is better than no concern about harm whatsoever, welfare measures give consumers a false sense of security that animals are treated well in captivity, confinement, and slaughter. This mistaken (but prevailing) belief has led to increased consumer confidence in animal products, while diverting discussion from the main issue, which is that all uses of animal products are inherently harmful and unnecessary.
If someone caused us to reproduce for the purpose of using our offspring as unpaid labor, then attempted to justify this by claiming that they intentionally bred our children specifically for slavery, would we consider it justified? No, we wouldn’t. In fact, their answer would likely (and should) cause us to feel outrage.
Even if a person believes that humans are more important than animals, the fact that animals’ lives are important to them is sufficient reason to avoid unnecessarily harming them.
If the world’s entire human population goes vegan, it will likely be a gradual process, beginning with the reduction of farmed animal populations, just by our ceasing to breed them into existence.
As it is, farmed animals are already overrunning the planet. We intentionally breed over 50 billion animals into existence each year, and at any given time, there are over 20 billion farmed animals in the world; almost three times the human population. These animals are displacing natural species, emitting huge amounts of waste, using huge amounts of natural resources, and polluting our waterways.
The only chance we have of finding a solution to this problem is for each one of us to be willing to veganize the choices we make in our everyday lives. This alone will make it possible for us to phase out the forced breeding of animals and ultimately free the planet from this unnatural burden.
aving economic access to fresh fruits and vegetables should be the right of every human being, but it’s true that for some, it is seemingly unaffordable. While it is completely possible to be vegan even on a tight budget, as many people are, the food inequality that is prevalent in our country and across the globe is worth noting.
We must recognize though that a large part of the reason meat and dairy is so cheap (and vegetables and fruit more expensive) is because of gigantic subsidies that the meat and dairy industry receives from the government. If these subsidies were funneled towards sustainable plant based agriculture, animal products would be unaffordable for the vast majority of the population, and we would have access to inexpensive fruits, vegetables and grains instead.
The natural high cost of animal products and low cost of vegan alternatives is grossly inverted only because our current political and social systems are set up to make it so. By becoming vegan you become part of the growing movement of people fighting not only for animal rights, but also for food equality.
Also see: How can we grow enough fruits and vegetable to feed everyone?
Header image: Filming for Liberation