The modern-day slave trade?
Last year in September, during a BBC Sunday morning live show panel discussion, Matthew Glover, vegan activist and founder of Veganuary stated the following about meat-eating:
“It’s a social justice issue. We need to move society to being more civilized. I think if you were to look in a hundred years time, people will look back at this … and they won’t be able to believe how inhumane it is…. If you think two hundred and fifty years ago if you were to have asked people in the streets whether it was okay to have a slave trade, ninety-five percent of people would have agreed and said it was acceptable…. This is a modern-day slave trade. I mean, these animals are forced….” (1).
These are not singular, isolated opinions, such characterizations seem to be common among vegan / animal-rights activist groups (2).
So is animal agriculture the modern-day slave trade? Well, it depends in part on how one defines what it means to be a “person.” So what is a person? According to the second vegan activist on the panel, Nelufar Hedayat, she says:
“We must stop eating people; persons. That is to say: cows, sheeps, goats, … For people like Matthew and I, a person is someone who is aware and sentient of itself. That includes pigs who often have, and this has been proven, intelligence far higher than we assume, and sometimes as intelligent as three, four year old human children….” (1).
So you can clearly see the line of reasoning; if animals are persons, and persons can be enslaved, then the next conclusion is that the caging and slaughter of animals against their will is slavery. It doesn’t stop there either as farmers have even been called “psychopaths” by activists (3).
What should we make of this? It is the opinion of this author that such a characterization is not necessary to promote the message of plant-based eating. Here are some points to consider:
1) People can view this as extreme
Many individuals would view this characterization as being very outlandish and extreme. In fact, a case in point are the other non-vegan panelists on the show. One of them, author and journalist Naomi Firsht responded by saying:
“To compare the slaughter of animals for food to the slave trade I think is an extreme and quite outrageous thing to say…” (1)
She also strongly objected to the idea that an animal is a person. I believe many would agree.
2) This characterization could be insulting
For the majority of people who view humanity as possessing greater intrinsic value and worth than animals, equating animal cruelty with human slavery or using terms like “this is the animal holocaust” could be insulting. Consider the heart-wrenching history of human slavery: the Roman enslavement of European tribespeople to fight in the coliseum or to spend the rest of their lives toiling away in the galleys, or the Korean women enslaved as prostitutes to their Japanese occupiers during the earlier part of the 1900’s, or the Gulags of communism, the enslavement of African people groups, and the genocide of six million Jews at the hand of the Nazi’s, and the many other horrific examples of slavery and genocide throughout history. When we view these tragedies, most would say that these are examples of: “Humans being treated like animals” and not the other way around. We say this because most would view humans as above animals. So when we characterize animal suffering in a similar way to the worst forms of human suffering, it could be viewed as insulting. Is the torture of a Jewish girl at the hands of the Nazi SS really comparable to the killing of a pig at the hands of a farmer?
3) Are animals actually persons?
Many would disagree that animals are persons. However, most would agree that animals and humans are both intrinsically valuable. I would personally argue that both were originally created to live in peace and harmony, but only humans are created in the image of the divine. In the creation order, animals and humans are different. Are animals valuable? Yes. Should animals be treated with care? Yes. Were animals originally intended to live in perfect harmony with humans, not as their food but as their companions? Yes. Are animals on the same level as humans? No. When we describe animals as persons, it conflates this creation order.
4) Most care about animal suffering
Though many people would object to terms like slavery to describe animal agriculture, or the idea that animals are persons, many would not object to the idea of compassion towards animals. Most have a natural instinct towards being kind to animals, in particular farm animals like cows, chickens, sheep and goats, and I think this natural instinct is something that can be capitalized on without using words like “slavery” and “holocaust.”
5) We already have enough to appeal to the reason and hearts of people
Plant-based eating already has compelling arguments that can appeal to the reason and touch the heart of the skeptic. We do not need extreme characterizations. Instead of using terms like “slavery”, “holocaust” and “psychopaths” we can simply tell them how animals are being treated in animal agriculture. Some of these facts include:
animals are cooped up so tight that sometimes chickens do not even have enough room to spread their wings. Such unnaturally tight quarters breeds extreme stress and fosters the spread of disease
the beaks of chicks are cut off leaving them in pain for weeks
cows are often impregnated by a fisting method that is unnatural and grotesque
cows are kept constantly pregnant and are genetically manipulated to produce up to ten times more milk than is natural for them
cows are often over milked to the point that they get mastitis
animals are fed unnatural diets making them extremely large, sometimes to the point they cannot even carry their own weight. Their legs break and they become crippled as a result
animals are often separated from their offspring at birth leaving both in great distress
in order to kill piglets, workers will grab them and chuck them to the ground repeatedly
instead of ushering chickens into cages for transport, they are instead grabbed and thrown roughly into the cages. This process often requires multiple tries before the chickens finally make it into the cage suffering tremendous trauma during the process
workers will often strangle chickens to death by literally twisting their necks
even when using the stun gun, animals are often still alive and thus are left in excruciating pain
And this type of suffering is inflicted on millions and billions of animals every year. In the United States alone, 32 million cows and 112 million pigs are killed each year for food. The number of chicken deaths is an astronomical 8.5 billion annually in the United States alone (4). When this information is shared with people, most people will “get it.”
We can also show people the horrific pictures and videos that are readily available to the public. These are enough to get the point across that animals face unnecessary and extreme cruelty. Many hearts will be touched by these images and descriptions and will give up on animal products. The images and videos speak for themselves without needing us to use the “slavery” and “holocaust” characterizations. It seems to this author that if these images and videos themselves do not move the heart enough to motivate change, then very little else will.
On top of the animal cruelty arguments, we can share the multitude of health, environmental and humanitarian benefits of plant-based eating. Such examples include:
it’s been shown to reverse heart disease, our leading killer (3 - 10)
reversal of type 2 diabetes (11 - 12)
components of animal proteins are metabolized by our gut microbiome into TMAO’s which accelerates atherosclerosis (13)
prevention of various chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease, etc (14 - 18)
plant-based people can potentially live up to a decade longer (19)
processed meat causes cancer. Red meat probably causes cancer (20)
plant-based diets are usually associated with healthier weights (15)
often superior for weight loss (21)
its preferable for cultivating a healthier gut microbiome (22 - 24)
plant-based diets are associated with less water and land use, and lower emissions of greenhouse gases and thus is better for the environment (25 - 28)
if every single american became plant-based, we could feed all America and an additional 350 million people. This would solve world hunger in South america, Africa and parts of Asia (29)
There is enough to support the idea that most people should be going plant-based.
The evidence for the tremendous suffering of animals at the hand of the meat industry is compelling.
The evidence that disease is rampant in animal agriculture is compelling.
The evidence that plant-based eating is healthier is compelling.
The evidence that it is better for the planet is compelling.
The evidence that plant-based eating could be a giant step forward in solving world hunger is compelling.
If none of this evidence touches the heart and compels the soul towards plant-based eating, then no amount of exaggerated language will. Exaggerated language and characterizations may close the potentially open heart towards the plight of animals. This would be most unfortunate. I encourage those in the vegan movement to tone down the rhetoric and unnecessary characterizations and just stick with presenting facts, images and data instead. If these can’t convert, nothing else will.
For those who have been turned off from plant-based eating because of extreme forms of vegan activism, this author would still encourage everyone to consider the evidence. There is extremism in most movements and ideologies. But the truth of the matter is that animal cruelty is very real. We all need to ask ourselves: Is it really necessary for billions of animals to suffer and perish so we can consume food that is unnecessary and in fact, detrimental to our health and that of the planet?
We encourage all to choose a more compassionate way of living.
You can watch the full BBC segment here
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