Courtesy of VEGAN FREAK – Being Vegan in a Non Vegan World
Why Vegetarianism Isn’t Enough
by BOB on FEBRUARY 14, 2009
The following is an excerpt from the 2nd. edition of our book, due out in September 2009 from PM Press. We wrote the following for those of you who might still be sitting on the ovo-lacto vegetarian fence, wondering if you should take the leap to veganism. Hint: you should! But read ahead if you want to be convinced.
Even though you may agree with the ideas behind ethical veganism on a philosophical level, more than a few of you out there may have the idea that veganism is just too far out there, too much work, and too damn annoying to deal with. As a compromise, you may be either deciding to go or stay vegetarian, because, really, that just seems so much more reasonable a solution. Plus, you could never imagine giving up cheese, or cream in your coffee, or scrambled eggs, or whatever other animal product you regularly crave.
We get where you’re at, but we fervently believe that you need to move beyond this if you truly care about animals. While vegetarianism may be a comfortable place for you to land for animal rights reasons, vegetarianism involves habits of consumption that create conditions of extreme discomfort and death for the animals that you claim to care about. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger: we spent so much time as smug, self-assured “ethical” ovo-lacto vegetarians that we understand the mindset particularly well. We thought we were doing something good with our vegetarianism, but it turns out, we were just part of the problem, and if you’re a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy and other animal products, you’re part of the problem, too.
Yeah, that’s a bit blunt, but before you throw down the book and get all angry at us for being radical vegan assholes, give some consideration to these two huge reasons why vegetarianism is a poor response to the problem of animal exploitation.
Huge reason #1: Whereas eating meat directly involves the death of the animal to get the flesh, many vegetarians assume that consuming eggs and dairy doesn’t kill any animals. Thus, the reasoning goes, eating those products is not a moral wrong because no lives are taken. This approach is deeply flawed because it does not take into consideration the operation of modern, intensive agricultural production. The one thing that you should never forget is that animal agriculture is a globalized business that strives to maximize profits on the backs of animals and to achieve the greatest possible efficiencies. With very slim profit margins throughout the industry, producers cannot afford to waste anything, and you can bet that they will not keep animals around that are non-productive. So, first and foremost, this means that the chickens who lay eggs are inevitably slaughtered when their productivity declines beyond a certain point. The industry has insidious ways of disposing of so-called “spent hens” that range from miniature gas chambers to electrocution to neck-breaking. In a similar way, the cows who are producing milk meet their end when they fail to “yield” the right averages for the herd; this can be brought on by their age, or even by an infection or other illness. Most dairy cows who have arrived at the end of their so-called “useful” lifespan end up slaughtered many, many years before they would die naturally, after which they are rendered into ground beef and other constituent parts.
The other obvious issue that no one is ever encouraged to think about is the case of the males involved in this whole process. Egg-laying hens and dairy cows are both female. Since animals roughly tend to give birth to females and males in a 50-50 ratio, where do the approximately 50% of males end up? In the case of egg-laying hens, the males are absolutely worthless to the producer. If they can’t lay eggs, and they’re not good for meat,
to raise them would simply be a waste of money, and no egg producer – free range, or not, organic or not – is in this business to lose money by being a farm sanctuary for non-productive animals. Thus, the male chicks are often discarded at birth by being ground up alive and used for “raw protein,” or thrown in dumpsters to starve and suffocate slowly – an act of unimaginable cruelty.
For dairy cows, the male calves face a similar end. Males cannot produce milk, and so are worthless for the dairy farmer, who, like the egg producer, does not want unprofitable mouths to feed around his farm. Male calves, then, are usually forcibly separated from their mothers and sold at auction within days after they are born, often ending up as veal calves. Deeply confused and likely terrified by the absence of their mothers, these newborns with a herd instinct scarcely have a chance to understand the world before they are chained by the neck, all alone, inside tiny crates where they can barely move, lest their muscles grow too much. Because veal with a pinkish hue fetches the best prices at market, these horribly unfortunate animals – animals who are clearly sentient, who clearly feel and comprehend the world around them – will spend their entire short lives this way, suffering and confused, sentenced to what is demonstrably a hell on earth, all because of that supposedly “harmless” system of dairy production that provides milk to ovo-lacto vegetarians. As you can see, harmless eggs and harmless milk are a fantasy, and if you’re a vegetarian, now is the time to own up and stop living the lie. You might soothe yourself with excuses for why you cannot change, but ultimately, those excuses do nothing to help the animals that you, as a so-called “animal rights vegetarian” claim to care about.
Huge reason #2: The other big reason that so-called “animal rights” ovo-lacto vegetarianism is pointless has to do with the essential problem of the relationship of dominance that humans assert over animals. Veganism as a social movement – and if we’re going to get serious about veganism, we have to begin building a movement that goes beyond mere consumption – seeks to redefine the ways in which humans relate to animals. To be vegan is to demand that animals are accorded rights that cannot be violated for mere reasons of convenience, taste, or tradition. Many of the basic rights that abolitionist vegans push for are rights would look pretty similar to the ones that we all cherish, including the right not to be the property of another, the right of bodily integrity and safety, and the right not to be used solely as the means to another’s ends (we treat these rights at great length in the next chapter). Put most simply, we are looking to abolish animal slavery by according animals a set of inalienable rights.
Thus, even if it were somehow possible to produce dairy and eggs that did not result in the death of billions of animals a year, a producer still must confine and control animals to produce these commodities for consumers – consumers which clearly include legions of ovo-lacto vegetarians. Fully the property of their owners, the animals involved in these forms of production are little more to their owners than living machines for profit, slaves who day in and day out for every single day of their lives suffer solely to fulfill demands extraneous to their own desires and needs. Though the particulars of confinement and slavery may differ slightly by setting, the same basic and underlying dynamic holds whether the products in question are the typical ones in your grocery store, or whether they are labelled “cage-free,” “local,” “organic,” or even “free-range.” The myth of a compassionate animal product is just that: a myth.
As people who care about animals, we have a heavy burden to bear, one that deserves our utmost attention and our greatest effort. The enormity of the task is overwhelming, but we can all begin to make a change if we work at it together. The good news is that you are in a position to do something about it, and to make positive changes in your life that recognize the inherent worth of animals as fellow beings. The bad news is that as billions – yes, billions – of animals die each year, we can no longer afford self-indulgent half-measures and wishy-washy excuses that damn more and more animals to lives and deaths of total misery. Instead of looking for the path of least resistance, we have to seize our lives and live as examples. We have to work constantly to redefine and rethink the relationship between humans and animals, and to model changes in this relationship in our daily lives to those around us. We owe at least this much to those that we purport to care about, those who cannot speak for themselves. It comes down to this: If you care about the well-being of animals, and you object to their needless suffering and death, you must stop remaking the dynamics that exploit animals in the first place. As a lived form of protest, veganism is the expression of this desire for justice, a visceral and logical reaction to the horrors visited on others in our name. It is time to give up the quaint relic that is vegetarianism, and take the first and most essential step in combatting a system that treats animals not as creatures who can feel and love and think, but instead as mere engines for the production of profit. It is time to take that step and go vegan.
The single most effective thing we can do to stop the suffering of farm animals is to go vegan. Being vegetarian is not enough, because you are still relying on farm animals for food. Farmed animals will only be free when we stop using them for food – of any kind.
Sadly, veganism still suffers from a poor image. Vegans are seen as self-sacrificing, hair-shirt-wearing idealists who lead deprived, difficult and miserable lives.
People say things like: “Oh I don’t know how you do it, I could never be vegan”. This drives me nuts, and makes me laugh – as it could not be further from the truth. I have been vegan for 28 years and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I ever did. I went vegan out of concern for animals, but I quickly realised that being vegan was good for me too!
I feel happier, healthier, and I enjoy my food far more than I did before going vegan. We need to turn on its head the idea that vegans are deprived or missing out. On the contrary, it enhances your life, and makes it better, not worse!
It certainly makes life less complicated. As a vegetarian you could drive yourself mad trying to ensure you only ate free range eggs, or vegetarian cheese – as few food manufacturers or restaurants bother using these.
For this reason, vegetarians relax their standards and eat ordinary cheese – the stuff you find in supermarkets, restaurants, takeaways – despite the fact that dead calves are [often] used to make it. The rennet used to make cheese is obtained from their stomachs. Which makes you sick to the stomach when you think about it.
Go vegan I say, it’s A LOT simpler!
I think it’s high time we reclaimed the word vegan too. I’ve noticed that many groups promote vegetarianism rather than veganism, because they worry that it will alienate supporters. I disagree. The more we use the word vegan, the more appealing it will become. All we are doing when we avoid using the word vegan is internalising the negative messages and stereotyping that our critics invent to discredit us. We should never be ashamed of who we are, and what we stand for: non-violence.
Vegetarianism is a red herring. People go vegetarian in the belief that milk and eggs are ‘freely given’ or “humanely produced’, but we know that this isa lie.
We all want people to go vegan, it’s a damn sight easier being vegan than it is trying to be an ethical vegetarian, so let’s not be afraid to say: “look, do yourself a favour and don’t bother with vegetarianism – go vegan.”
If we consume dairy and eggs, wear the skin of animals, use products tested on animals, we are torturers and murderers. We are actively supporting and participating in the obscene and perverted treatment of non human animals. If we have any compassion for animals whatsoever, we must stop being hypocrites and collaborators in their torture and murder,
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