(Author’s note: Veeg recently hosted a screening of the film “Earthlings” with our Meetup group at the local library. One of our members wrote to me expressing concern that we would screen such a disturbing, violent, unpleasant film. Out of the response and subsequent conversation came the seeds of this article.)
You probably remember the day that you learned how horribly animals are treated when we use them for food, clothing, testing, entertainment and just about anything else. Ever since then you haven’t been able to eat animals. You might not buy leather or animal tested makeup either. That’s all very good. But for some reason you think that it’s not appropriate to show the people you care about the things you learned that made you make these choices.
You told me that it’s not right to make someone witness animal suffering any more than it’s right to make them watch a person being raped.
I appreciate the care you took to share your opinion with me on letting the knowledge of these horrors into the minds of people we care about. I totally agree that once you get these horrible images into your mind, if you are a caring person, it’s hard to get them out. When I watch a commercial for cheeseburgers, or sit down to eat with people ordering steak or bacon or any animal product, I do indeed see images of slavery, torture, fear and slaughter. And, yes, it’s painful.
But I take another perspective.
I submit that slavery, torture, rape and murder happen to innocent beings in the United States at the rate of 5.8 Billion a year right now. For every human eating the Standard American Diet, about 19 animals live not just a day of horrible treatment at the hands of someone else, but their entire lifetime from birth, through a short and often painful life, to death in a horrible environment.
You wouldn’t wish images of these things on people. I don’t wish the reality of these things on animals.
It doesn’t take much of a step in logic to say that these animals live painful lives and die young because people are paying others to cause that suffering for the sake of a desired taste of food. My friends are paying to cause that suffering. Your friends are paying to cause that suffering. What if our friends were paying someone for some other service that required the producer to rape young innocent people on some faraway island to produce the product our friends wanted?
Would you not say anything to them, thinking “Surely my friends would know that the rape was occurring and wouldn’t pay for that service anymore”?
Do our friends they REALLY know what their money is paying for in animal cruelty and suffering? Or do they find a way to mentally keep their pleasurable food separate from the suffering the animals endure to make it?
If 99% of our friends paid into a system that raped innocent people in massive numbers, would our friends be able to know about it and say “That’s just the way things are. Everyone pays for this. I’m not alone. I’m not the one doing the raping. It’s not like those people on that faraway island are people I know personally or anything. Those people were raised to be raped, that’s their purpose. But I really don’t want to see videos of this. It’s really horrible to watch.”
Those are exactly the things people say about using animals. And while we don’t know if other animals are as capable of higher rational thought as humans, they are fully capable of feeling happiness or suffering.
You said we should just talk with people about the issue and help them understand so they will stop, but that we should avoid burning the images of animal abuse, torture, and death into their brains.
There are many ways to reach people and help them understand the true consequences of their actions. Words are one of them. Visceral, horrible, real-world imagery is another.
In my opinion, in an ideal world, we would be able to say to our friends who use animals “Friend, there are horrible things being done to animals to produce your leather jacket, your steak, your eggs, your cheese, your bacon. Believe me without seeing for yourself, because it’s too horrible and there is no need to pollute your mind.” We would say that to our friends and they would turn to us and say “Thank you for letting me know. I will change my life and stop all of the things I was doing that caused suffering.”
But in reality it doesn’t work that way. In reality most of our friends will make fun of us for our naivety and weakness while they pay for the slavery, rape, torture and killing of another 19 innocent beings this year. We know our friends are aware of this message of compassion. We know they know the source of their food. But they don’t make the connection between those two things. They have been trained their whole lives to keep that connection severed.
I don’t like causing people to have horrible images in their head. But I like even less knowing that people I love and care about are going through life every day willfully ignoring the decency they were born with. It hurts me to know that even though my grandfather says things like “I feel guilty every time I see a trailer loaded with cows”, he will still have a hamburger an hour later. It doesn’t just hurt me. It hurts him to feel helpless when those cows are being driven to slaughter and then to participate in the system that causes it.
Taking into account all of the health benefits of at least significantly reducing animal products in food, all the environmental benefits, and all the compassion people would be able to feel if they could look at animals as other living, loving, feeling beings instead of objects for the guilty base pleasures of humanity, I feel very comfortable sharing knowledge in whatever format works. I feel that when people see and hear what their purchases are buying, it’s so much more powerful and easy to internalize. And it’s so much more likely they will stop causing this suffering in others.
I think it’s important to help people become compassionate in all ways. It’s certainly helpful for the animals. But it’s helpful for the people too. If simply talking with them and telling them that veganism is good for the planet and all animals on it gets them to turn vegan, that’s excellent!
You said you think that people know animals are enslaved, tortured, raped and killed for pleasure. I agree, and I’m also saying they know that it’s good for the planet and all animals and their health to stop participating in a system that does those things. But they don’t stop. Knowledge isn’t enough.
There are a certain small number of people who became vegetarian or vegan after just learning such things verbally or in print. That’s excellent. But the vast majority of Americans have not done so based on simple knowledge.
For some of them it’s because they simply never gave it much thought. The media does an excellent job of not showing anything bad about where food comes from. They make it into cartoon cows telling us to eat more chicken and happy people enjoying rich food without thought of where it comes from.
But for most people it’s because of the many psychological barriers they have built up over the years to protect their choices from their own moral scrutiny.
Good video documentaries like “Earthlings” or “Fowl Play,” or even one of the many free videos on this site cut through those barriers. These forms of media refuse to let people ignore how they feel about willingly paying for the suffering they are causing.
If I saw a friend of mine raping someone, I would immediately tell them to stop and try to lend aid to their victim. If just saying “stop” didn’t work, I would certainly punch them in the face to get them to stop.
If I talk to a friend about the reasons to go vegan, and they still don’t stop, I will certainly show them a video with real images of suffering to get them to stop paying for animal abuse.
Those hypothetical island people in my example responding to your “images of rape” analogy may not be our brothers or sisters or friends. They may be thousands of miles away. They may even have been born and raised in such an industry as to accept rape as normal. But they are still creatures that can feel. And so are all the animals enslaved right now in our industries. So are all the animals that will be born to that purpose next month, and the month after that.
I will not allow my own friends to blindly buy this suffering any more than I would allow them to rape. I feel that I would be a poor friend to them and an unskillful human to the animals to do so. So I try to talk with them and educate them and help them understand compassion and the chain of consequences verbally. And when that doesn’t work, as is usually the case, I hit them over the head with the horrific images that are the reality of their choices. Then I talk with them again while their eyes are open and excuses destroyed.
I believe it is so much better to live a life knowing compassion and honesty than one of self conflict, guilt, and intentional ignorance. I want that life for my friends. I want it for everyone.
Being vegan has been a very difficult road for me. I still crave the taste of animal flesh in the form of cheeseburgers and fried chicken. I still miss the comfort of being with my friends and being able to enjoy eating the same things they do. I miss going through life working on things without having to consider the far reaching consequences of every action. But I can’t do it anymore. I see too clearly to ignore.
What I can do now is look forward and know that I have a clear conscience. I can play with animals without thinking about the ones who are unlucky enough to be on my plate at the next meal. I can do my work knowing that it will result in saving more living feeling beings from the suffering of our system.
You said you want the vegan community to be positive and loving. I want that too. I also want it to grow as fast as it can so that we can reach the end of this system of suffering in the shortest possible time. We ended slavery in most of the world. We ended legal discrimination against women and minorities in western civilization. We have a chance now to end animal slavery too. But we are at the very beginning of this challenge. We are less than 2% of the population. It’s growing. But it can never grow fast enough for the animals that are in the system right now.
I think that sometimes it’s necessary to share ugly truths by whatever means necessary so that people can not just understand what they are causing, but FEEL it. Once they decide to change, they too can enjoy being positive and loving without hypocrisy in their own actions. Until then, I think that sharing at whatever level necessary to convey the message is the compassionate thing to do for them and for the animals they could spare in their lifetimes.
I value your message of compassion for our friends and wanting to spare them the horrific imagery. It is an effort for me to remain positive and compassionate with people who continue to not be vegan because I also have compassion for the living beings who aren’t my friends. I continue to seek ways to help people understand in the easiest and most comfortable way.
With any pathology, when gentle counseling fails, it’s necessary to try something more intense. The alternative is to leave your friends to live with the sickness. Where is the compassion in that?
To be a good friend, choose to talk with your friends who you know love animals. If talking doesn’t work, consider other forms of media. Take them through the steps to becoming a vegan. That’s compassionate for them, for yourself, and for the animals.