I’ll admit that I’ve been pondering this post for quite some time and have been strangely reluctant to post it, but I think it’s time. I have described myself as a plant-based eater for almost 3 years now and have consumed almost no animal products during that time, except for the notable week in Iceland, where plants are scarce and sheep are plentiful and my gut took a real beating. But I digress. Over the last 3 years I have described the plant-based lifestyle as “vegan without the moral outrage”. And I really did try to embrace the philosophy that I changed my diet for my own health and well-being but that I had a totally laissez faire attitude to how you live your life. But now I have to admit that I’ve changed my mind and I’m picking up my plant-based flag and planting it firmly in the vegan camp.
Why? Well, there are three reasons and don’t worry, I’ll elaborate.
- Your decision to continue to eat animals, drink their milk and eat eggs effects me. More specifically, you are costing me money.
- Your decision to continue to eat animals, drink their milk and eat eggs effects the planet I live on in very profound ways.
- I am an essentially non-violent human and the industries that bring you meats, milk and eggs are inherently violent and inhumane.
I very cognitively worded the first two points to make it clear that everyone makes a decision each day about what food to put in their mouth. Sometimes the decision making process is dominated by external expediencies like money, time, convenience, etc. But that does not change the essential truth that nothing goes into your mouth without your choice, conscious or not. This point is eloquently stated by Dr. Melanie Joy:
Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism, as “carn” means “flesh” or “of the flesh” and “ism” refers to a belief system.
Because carnism is invisible, people rarely realize that eating animals is a choice, rather than a given. In meat-eating cultures around the world, people typically don’t think about why they eat certain animals but not others, or why they eat any animals at all. But when eating animals is not a necessity, which is the case for many people in the world today, then it is a choice – and choices always stem from beliefs.
As long as we remain unaware of how carnism impacts us, we will be unable to make our food choices freely – because without awareness, there is no free choice.
So how does your carnism cost me money? Well, as you may be aware, there is a bit of healthcare crisis in the United States and in many industrialized nations. While our own problems in the US are not as simple as the food we eat (no doubt we have figured out a way to pay the most for the least amount of care, but that’s a topic for another day), our health care problems are most definitely exacerbated by our diet. Virtually all of the “diseases of affluence” such as vascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer are caused by the foods we eat. I’ll not be goaded into the argument that diet prevents unnecessary death, because, as we know, all men must die eventually. While it would be impossible to crunch the numbers, I know, as do most of you, that if I could wave a magic wand and make the animals for food industries disappear overnight, the health of this nation would improve within a month. In the meantime, carnists eat their animals, they get sick and my insurance rates go up as our health care now consumes over 17% of our gross domestic product.
How does your choice of food effect my planet? Unless you are a dedicated and gullible devotee of Fox news (or, as it happens, a friend of my father), you know that there is a phenomenon called climate change occurring. Briefly stated, human “activities” are causing an accumulation of “green house gasses” in the atmosphere (mainly carbon dioxide, but also methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone), which causes more heat to be retained within the atmosphere, which is slowly warming the planet. Think of the greenhouse gasses as a blanket. Sometimes your blanket is too thin and threadbare, and you get cold (ice age). Sometimes it’s too thick and you get all hot and sweaty (now) and sometimes it’s just right (pretty much most of the time). Well, right now our blanket is thick and getting thicker. We all know that our cars (particularly here in the US) spew out tons of carbon dioxide, but it turns out that food production from cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and turkeys has a larger effect on the atmosphere each year than all of the transportation activities combined. As demand for pasture land increases, forests — those mighty scrubbers of carbon dioxide — are burned to make room for more flatulent and belching animals. We are going in the wrong direction on this and every time you eat a hamburger, a steak, a chicken or a pork chop you’ve directly contributed to the problem.
The food industry is inherently violent and inhumane. I am at a loss to understand how someone can describe them self as an “animal lover” and have such fondness for a dog, a cat or a horse, and yet think nothing of the violence and cruelty that was inflicted to bring you your burger, brat, plate of wings, glass of milk or omelet. And, as noted above, just because you choose to not consider this doesn’t mean that you are not choosing. It just means that you chose ignorance. To quote Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol the Ghost of Christmas Present:
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him
in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but
the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lieof such enormous magnitude.
‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless thewriting be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching outits hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.And abide the end.’
So that’s it. I’m a vegan. Don’t worry, I won’t point and laugh when you eat meat, dairy or eggs. But I may, from time to time, encourage you to probe your own beliefs a bit deeper than you have, because I don’t think any of us really want to perpetuate a system that takes our money, makes us sick, poisons our planet and tortures animals. At least, I hope that’s true.