Every so often, some news organization will report on some atrocity another country commits by eating dogs or cats, or locking them up in crowded, dirty conditions. While horrible, why is this reported on as if it’s a unique travesty? These torturous conditions are imparted upon billions of livestock every day here in the United States .
What makes a dog or a cat different from a cow, pig or chicken? They’re all sentient beings with a capacity for affection and intelligence. It’s xenophobic to interpret another country’s eating of a different animal as more reprehensible than our own. The confinement of animals in cages for any reason is appalling, and the eating of any flesh is barbaric.
Recently, I was watching “Parks and Recreation,” where Ron Swanson is in charge of the annual employee appreciation picnic. To feed the crowd, he brings a pig, Tom, to slaughter. He announces his intentions, and everyone is repulsed because the pig is cute. He accurately counters that everyone is disconnected with nature’s, or the modern West’s, circle of life. We are oblivious to the horrific process animals go through to reach our plate, and Swanson, the resident carnivore, ironically reminds the cast that some living thing has to be killed to feed them. Because they saw and personified the animal, it was deemed worthy to save. If given a voice, or treated as a living thing, it becomes more difficult to justify its death.
This scene brings up an important point: Is there a “humane” way to kill animals? We have laws saying pets can’t be abused, but the livestock industry has an incredibly low standard by which the animals are treated. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) consist of animals kept in dirty, confined spaces, far from the beautiful pastoral landscapes shown on product labels. They view animals as commodities, exploited for profit, where they are pumped with hormones to grow unnaturally fast and large. CAFOs also produce concentrated wastes that pollute the air, water and land. Living near these factory farms has been linked to respiratory problems and those living nearby might avoid going outside because of foul odors. To prevent this information from reaching the media, some states have Ag-Gag laws that prevent activists from documenting animal cruelty.
The life of a pet is taken only when their suffering is too great for us to watch, and rightly so. Their lives are mourned, as a member of a family who loved them unconditionally, and we celebrate our time we had with them. Meanwhile, a cow or a pig receives no such honor. Who did they ever hurt to deserve murder? All they want is food, water, sunshine and maybe a puddle of mud. Why should we end their peaceful lives for our own selfish, destructive choice to eat their flesh?
Even before I became vegan, I knew I wouldn’t be able to kill livestock myself to eat it. If I gave you a knife and put you in a room with a big pig named Pete, would you be able to slit its throat? Or push aside nursing calves for their mothers’ milk? It’s these sorts of moral dilemmas that create a cognitive dissonance in the mind. To be aware of the slaughter means grappling with thoughts like, “This bacon tastes delicious, but I am clearly supporting a system of inherent suffering.” How does the mind remedy this? Well, we can be brainwashed into thinking livestock are not sentient animals, they’re just our food. The big industries do this by eliminating our connection to our food’s circle of life, presenting the consumer with a faceless, lifeless hunk of meat in place of the living being it came from. And, we can make ourselves feel better by juxtaposing ourselves against “those people” who eat dogs or horses. They’re not civilized, we say, but we’re classy because we eat pig flesh and drink milk from a cow.
The larger powers of government and big meat companies have normalized our violent and unsustainable system of eating animals. The only thing we can do as consumers is not eat animals, since our current government is clearly not concerned with the environment or saving animals’ lives. If you aren’t motivated to change, and instead seek to criticize other countries for their animal consumption, look no further than your own plate.
All animal lives should be respected — not stolen for their muscle tissue. Because of this, no system of animal consumption can be regarded as safe or ethical.
Nicholas Walker is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering.