At the tender age of 11, I decided to turn vegetarian as I came to believe that killing animals for the sake of palate pleasure and basic convenience in the face of a death-free alternative was morally wrong. Like many, I was at first naïve to believe that this action would fulfill my moral obligations to non-human animals. I continued to consume eggs, dairy and use non-cruelty free products but as I got older my mind ventured to the works of Gary Francione, the founder of the abolitionist approach to animal rights. I came to discover that vegetarianism is rooted in a fundamentally flawed logic; that most vegetarians actually inflict as much harm on animals as the average omnivore as those animals bred to produce the by-products that vegetarians so avidly consume lead a torturous existence at the hands of their exploiters, inevitably ending up in the same slaughterhouse as their beef counterparts. Their exhausted bodies are ruthlessly used and abused to produce the desired goods while their young are stolen from them and slaughtered, their lives cut short by the relentless cruelty inflicted upon their fragile forms by their oppressors.
Thus, while the intentions of the vegetarian are often well meaning their fatal flaw lies in their failure to inform themselves of the harsh realities of those animals exploited for their by-products, most pointedly the lives of animal mothers whose reproductive capacities are capitalized on with unmerciful persistence.
The Dairy Industry
I don’t know if you have ever been met with the agonizing cries of a cow whose young has just been taken away from her; if you have been kept awake all night by her constant, helpless moans; such a sight is beyond words. One inevitable lesson I have learned from growing up on a beef farm is that cows are deeply maternal animals, extremely protective of their young and inconsolably distraught when their babies are taken away. I am still haunted by a recent instance on my dad’s beef farm as one of his newborn calves was diagnosed with B.V.D, a highly contagious viral disorder which would have endangered the lives of the flock if he was not put to sleep. The separation of mother and son led lead to days upon days of invariable howling, the mourning cow’s cries becoming hoarse and disjointed as the passage of time took its toll upon her vocal chords. If she was to spot me in the distance, as I stepped outside to put out some washing or walk the dog, she would frantically gallop towards me from her field, as if imploring; bellowing as if crying out for a lost sense of justice, one I could not give her. The whole house shook with the constant, relentless din of her anguished cries, my brother complaining that he could not sleep or concentrate on his studies, only to resort to a solemn silence as I informed him of the pretext for this animal’s distress.
She appeared to seek protection, some form of help from her human counterparts, whom she was so wholly dependent upon. But the majority of my shameful species merely perceives her in terms of her net value, her economic advantageousness, or else find themselves in denial of the painful reality of her existence, her suffering a dim abstract echo, drowned out by society’s attempt at normalising, habituating themselves to the notion that the seasoned “products” they consume once breathed life, once suffered the agonising pangs of losing their children, of relentless abuses, of slaughter and subjugation.
Not only are dairy cows sent to slaughter at between four and five years of age, when their milk supplies have been exhausted by intensive daily milking regimes but on top of that, they are sentenced to a life characterized by the regular trauma of losing their babies, intensive milking (biologically manipulated to produce over 30 times as much milk as is natural for them), and extreme exhaustion as a result. Their calves are taken away immediately after birth and most are confined to minuscule crates (if male), immersed in their own feces, and are subsequently transported often thousands of miles to slaughter for veal in harrowing conditions, without food or water. Their lives become the personification of hell on Earth; the lyrics from Alice in Chain’s “Man in A Box” with its ominous, choking guitar riffs do not cease to come to mind. Thus, the dairy industry fuels the veal industry, promoting the ruthless slaughter of young calves still traumatized and grief stricken by the loss of their mother. Female calves are forced to join the same vicious cycle as their exhausted mothers, the perpetual chain of exhaustion, grief, and slaughter which constitutes the existence of the dairy cow persisting without mercy.
In the case of chicken eggs which vegetarians often consume in great quantities as a substitute for meat, life is no more blissful for the hens that produce these “products” than for that of the dairy cow. The laying hen is subjected to a brutal existence, being bred to produce over 300 eggs a year compared to wild hens which produce 15 to 20 eggs annually. The removal of her eggs initiates a cycle of distress and discomfort as the hen frantically attempts to produce more, to temporarily restore her emotional equilibrium, an evolutionary compulsion thwarted by the coercive force of humankind. Her beak, comprised of a dense network of sensory nerves, is severed at birth with a metal blade and without pain relief, this process is undergone as a means of preventing pecking amongst hens, a behaviour fueled by the crowded, noisy and distressing conditions hens are forced to endure. Moreover, beak mutilations often lead to a lifetime of pain and agony for hens. The laying hen is slaughtered at between one and two years of age when her egg productions decline, although she can live as long as seven years. All of her male chicks are slaughtered at birth by gas or metal blades as they are deemed useless from the perspective of the egg industry. Thus, although broiler hens are killed prematurely, laying hens may in actuality lead a far more hellish existence as they are not only killed but are also subjected to a greater degree of torture and suffering.
The vegetarian ethos is often aligned with the animal welfare or “welfarist” approach whose theory is based on the reduction of animal suffering rather than the rejection of all suffering as fundamentally wrong. Although on the surface there appears to be logic in the utilitarian notion that “less suffering” is better than more, when dissected this logic becomes increasingly flawed. The incentive of decreasing pain is made exclusive to nonhuman animals and would be deemed morally reprehensible in the context of human animals; Gary Francione repeatedly returns to the example of human chattel slavery, asserting that if a slave driver treats his slaves “nicely” or beats them less often it is no less morally justifiable as a practice; rather it is the branding of individuals as property or economic commodities that is wrong. Below is a list of reasons why the welfarist approach doesn’t work
The Problems of the Welfarist Approach
- It promotes “happy exploitation” and is inherently speciesist (discrimination on the basis of species) – it would never be accepted as morally justifiable to reduce a form of discrimination or to do it nicely in the case of humans e.g., rape/slavery/racism-should we reduce the number of racist remarks we make or is it just plain wrong?
- It legitimizes the use of animals as resources; that it is okay to consume animals or their by-products as long as we exploit them “nicely”- This cements the image of animals as economic commodities albeit better treated economic commodities. This, in turn, decreases public guilt and concern for animals->Increases sales->increases suffering
- A long toilsome process to implement welfare regulations (incremental changes that take decades). These “regulations” are easy to violate
- Welfare Laws are only implemented if there is an economic gain for exploiters.
I would like to now reassert that while the conditions of dairy cows and laying hens are horrific to say the very least, the real underlying issue is not treatment but rather use, the above descriptions merely debunking some of the myths hailed by the vegetarian community concerning the so-called “humanity” of the dairy and egg industries. The basic message I wish to articulate is that it is morally unjustifiable to exploit animals regardless of how they are treated in the process; that the notion of “humane slaughter” is inherently paradoxical. If our moral principles are to be aligned with our actions, if we believe it is ethically wrong to murder animals for reasons of pleasure, habit or convenience than veganism is the only morally sound way to put our words into action. The only way to reject the legal definition of animals as our property, our chattel slaves is to go vegan. The word itself invariably brings shudders down the very spine of society but we must build new positive associations, attach novel superlatives to the term in order to rouse society out of its perpetual state of stupor when it comes to the shadowy existence of the animal, the billions of silenced subjects-of-a-life whose rights have been denied for the sake of mere palate pleasure, to excite open-mindedness, a willingness to challenge the status quo; to reposition the vegan other into the very heart of a more just society.
Please see the following links for additional information on vegetarianism and veganism