Yesterday was Remembrance Day and it’s always an important day here in Canada. I believe in taking the time to recognize those who serve although I wrestle with the somewhat contradictory attitude we seem to have towards war. Despite well-knowing the horrors of them, we continue to participate in them and despite honouring our past with solemn parades and ceremonies, we continue to handicap our nation’s future by enlisting healthy, able-bodied individuals as soldiers only to have them return injured, mentally shattered or dead. On Remembrance Day I waffle between a thank you to our military personnel and a fuck you to our leaders responsible for these decisions.
But Remembrance Day had an additional meaning for me this year. This was the first year I was a vegan and this year, I mourn more than just human sacrifice. As I have discovered throughout the year, there is a constant stream of reminders throughout my day of just how much animal sacrifice we continue to take part in as a nation. From the food courts offering specials on chicken sandwiches, to commercials featuring “Happy Cows“, to conversations in the staff lunchroom that make me want to scream, there is no end to our expression of cruelty and ignorance.
I know that some people find this disrespectful, to compare the lives of animals to that of humans; to equate the sacrifice of a human for freedom to the sacrifice of a bird for food. But if you think my concern for the spilled blood of innocent animals means I don’t care about the spilled blood of innocent men, women and children, then you misunderstand me. What I care about is stopping the unnecessary suffering and slaughter of all living beings. Suffering is suffering. And it shouldn’t matter if it’s an adult human or a baby pig – pain is pain and bloodshed is bloodshed. I believe we’ve been conditioned for far too long to accept the sacrifice of human life in wartime because we’ve been told some greater good or larger purpose justifies it: to protect our way of life (also implying that “our way” is the right way), to “get the bad guys” (the “us and them” mentality) and most recently to “stop terrorism” (by dropping bombs on another country? Um, okay). We’ve been conditioned to accept the same rationalization for killing animals: because we need meat to survive, because they’re just animals and because they taste good (in a cruel twist of irony, the Canadian military frequently use live pigs in their training exercises).
In the movie Speciesism, one of the activists says something powerful:
“There has been an undeclared war on animals.”
I agree. Consider these figures of Canadian soldiers killed in two World Wars:
World War I: 67,000 killed, 250,000 wounded (1914-1918)
World War II: 45,400 killed, 55,000 wounded (1939-1945)
Animals slaughtered every single year in Canada for food: 650 million.
I wish I were making that up. But I am not. I have read that number over and over and over again from multiple books, films and media. This number does not include animals used in experimentation, clothing, hunting, religious ceremony or animals held in captivity for our entertainment. This does not include injuries or deaths prior to reaching the slaughterhouse. Thousands of animals never even reach that stage because they were trampled in their cages, die in transit or because they were “downers” – an industry term for animals too sick to walk to the narrowing chute that escorts them to their death. This number does not include fish and other sea life animals – this number only represents land animals.
Let’s take it a step further.
As of 2014, there are approximately 7 billion people on the planet Earth.
Animals slaughtered every year in the U.S. for food:
This number also only represents land animals and does not include fish and other sea life.
So to recap: more animals are killed in Canada each year than both World War casualties combined and more animals are killed in the United States every year than there are people on the planet. If that is not a declaration of war or an act of terrorism, than I don’t know what other level we could possibly sink to before we start considering this a serious crime.
And yet….no one cares. We continue to consume animals without a second thought to what they had to endure so we can have our favourite sandwich. We give not a moment to remember their confinement, loneliness, neglect and death as we tuck into a customary or religious dinner. We repress the obvious over and over again: a life had to be taken and blood had to be shed for our meal. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “We are the living graves of murdered beasts.”
There’s a disconnect with war, just as there is with today’s factory farming. War zones, at least for those in the West, are often out of view and “over there somewhere”. So are factory farms. These windowless, airless confinement sheds are kept out of view from us so that we think of them as “over there somewhere”, if we think of them at all.
In wartime, our enemies are the “them” and we are the “us”, clouding our compassion and common sense by calling this attitude patriotism or national pride. Our enemies are portrayed as somehow “lesser than”. They’re stupid. They stand for something different. They don’t make any sense. They’re a threat. They’re radicals. Whatever it is, “they” do not deserve our mercy or preservation. This is similar to how we are raised to view food animals, that they are beneath us in some way and therefore fair game to do with what we please.
In war, we trust our leaders to make the best decisions in the interest of humanity. Unfortunately, this trust too often allows them to dictate the narrative. We’ve been led to believe that casualties of war are unavoidable – even necessary – because it’s for some higher purpose or because our cause has been declared noble enough to justify sending people to their deaths. That same blind trust has gone into believing the facts about our food: surely if the animals suffered this much, the government would step in. Surely the animals must be happy if there’s a “free range” label on our carton of eggs. Well, just as I wouldn’t want to face a parent who has lost their child to war and tell them, essentially, “It was for the best, a larger purpose, a greater good”, that is exactly what we are being told about the reality of our food. And it’s bullshit. Factory farming exists because it makes money. War exists because it creates power. They both exist because it strokes the human ego, already over-inflated by our self-appointed place in the universe. That is why war on our fellow humans and animals continues year after miserable year, with an image falling somewhere between disguised and glorified so the general public will keep buying into it.
I mourn and I curse and I rage for the innocent victims and for the inescapable fallout we are all now a part of.
I leave you with a great quote by Voltaire reprinted in John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America:
“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”