Thursday, February 11, 2010

Required Reading: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Whenever books like Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, are released, they're always accompanied by the same carnivore vs. herbivore debates.  We've heard all the arguments before: you need to eat meat to be healthy; animals exist for people to eat them; animals don't have feelings like people do; conditions for animals aren't really that bad; I buy free range cows/chickens so my meat is fine; I don't care that animals suffer because I love bacon.

Now, I've come up with my own educated opinions on the points above, as have all vegans: we've decided that none of the reasons for eating meat justify the sacrifices made by animals, the environment, and our bodies in order to make eating meat possible in today's world.  However, I think I'm fairly unique in the vegan community because I have no problem with people who make an educated decision that eating meat IS worth it, despite the negative consequences.  Animals are not the same as people, and you are under no obligation to care for them as such.  You have every right to decide that animal suffering is okay as long as it produces food.  That does not make you a bad person, it just means you place a different value on animal life than I do.  And that's okay.

What I can't abide, though, is the "don't preach at me" argument, also known as the "your diet choice is your own, so leave me alone about mine" argument.  Let me be clear: being vegan is NOT a diet choice.  It is an ethical choice.  Yes, there certainly are health components to the choice, and the primary venue through which the choice is enacted is in our diets.  But it is not the same as eating gluten-free, or low-carb, or raw.  It is a choice made based on moral principles, because we believe eating animals violates some non-negotiable ethical standards.

So we have a choice, as vegans.  We can keep our mouths shut, be quietly vegan, and try not to cause too much inconvenience to those around us.  But let's pretend that instead of animal rights, we're talking about a direct violation of human rights.  If you knew for a fact that an activity everyone around you participates in every day was the direct cause of the torture, suffering, and death of thousands of human beings, wouldn't you want to do something about it?  Wouldn't you want to tell your friends about this connection, because you're sure that if they knew the consequences of their actions, they wouldn't want to continue to be the cause of such suffering?

Now, walking around and screaming at everyone that they're murderers isn't respectful of your fellow humans, and more importantly, it isn't going to accomplish anything.  So what would you do?  You would try to educate people.  You would provide information, start discussions, make suggestions, about this horrible situation.  You would try to show people the face of this unpleasant reality, and you would hope that their consciences would lead them to the same decision yours has.

This is what vegans do.  Almost none of us were born into veganism; we made this choice for ourselves after someone else showed us the reality to which we had previously been ignorant.  Books like Foer's elucidate the truths of the meat industry, and beg you to align your actions with your conscience.  They eliminate the ignorance that allows people to chomp a hamburger without a second thought, and they demand that we reconcile our personal values with our choices.  If you can read or watch information about the meat industry, or even better, visit a real slaughterhouse or factory farm, and still have the stomach to eat meat, then I respect your decision to do so.  All I ask is that you understand what goes in to the choices you make, and take responsibility for their consequences.

But the willful ignorance that most people cling to when it comes to issues of animal welfare is entirely unacceptable.  Failing to educate yourself about the ethical choices you make in life is lazy, selfish, and downright immoral.  So when we try to make it really, really easy for you to understand this choice by providing books, pamphlets, videos, and discussions about what it means to eat animals, don't you dare accuse us of preaching.

You have a responsibility as a self-aware, cognizant human being to understand the consequences of your actions, and to align your choices with your principles.  Whatever decision you make is perfectly acceptable, as long as you understand it.  The greatest ethical crime you can commit is to remain ignorant of the effects of your behavior, especially when that information is made so readily available to you.  Educate yourself, and make your own decision.  Ignorance is not an option.

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