Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been a grey, snow-less Christmas here in Toronto but a good one nevertheless. I’ve had over a week off from work, enjoyed some great company and good food and surprised my crusty-old self by having a really nice holiday. What can I tell you? It’s a Christmas miracle.
Over the holidays, a friend sent me an awesome video clip from a debate that took place on March 20, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia and although I haven’t watched the entire debate yet, this particular clip featured activist and philanthropist, Philip Wollen. I’d never heard of him before but I’m glad I have now. The debate was entitled, “Animals Should Be Off the Menu,” and featured several prominent people on both sides of the debate. You can read the full transcript here if you prefer but the speech really is something to hear.
After he talks about the environmental and public health issues that the meat industry is having directly on our personal, global and collective futures, Philip Wollen says this:
“George W. Bush was wrong. The Axis of Evil does not run through Iraq, Iran or North Korea. It runs through our dining tables. Weapons of Mass Destruction are our knives and forks.”
With 10 billion animals killed every year for food in the United States and 650 million animals killed for the same reason every year in Canada, I don’t think the man can be accused of exaggerating. As for the meat that gets thrown out with the festive leftovers….my mind can barely process how that compounds the already unnecessary crime of killing animals for our food. While I don’t believe in eating their suffering, I think putting a living being through such horrors only to discard their limbs and flesh directly into the garbage is a level of inhumanity I find difficult to comprehend.
I think many people want the world to be a better place and around Christmas or New Year’s that messaging is especially evident, even if it is often delivered on the heels of an ad campaign or a Christmas carol that’s been over-saturating the radio since mid-November. I think there is genuine hope and sincere belief that the world can be better. Unfortunately, hoping and believing in something isn’t enough. Feelings and wishes do nothing on their own – action is required to make them a reality. As Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his book, Stride Toward Freedom:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.”
And here’s where I think animal rights can play a key role toward achieving that chronically elusive, “world peace.” As I’ve said before, you don’t have to love animals to care about animal rights in the same way you don’t have to have children in order to care about their well-being. You don’t have to be a minority in order to care about the issues they face and you don’t have to be homeless and starving on the street before you can care about poverty and hunger. Because, to quote Dr. King again, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And it’s true – violence begets violence. The violence and exploitation required to produce meat and dairy at the current rate of production (and profits) not only requires the “necessity” of factory farming but it also requires that the industry violate and exploit slaughterhouse and factory farm workers, most of whom are immigrant labourers with below-poverty wages and no medical benefits. And before the workers are exploited, the earth’s resources must first be violently plundered through illegal deforestation, ruination of precious top-soil, privatizing water resources and as Philip Wollen pointed out in his debate speech: “…poor countries who sell their grain to the West…and the West feeds it to livestock so we can eat a steak.” It’s all connected and we are both active and passive participants every time we pick up a knife and fork.
If everyone went vegan, would it mean world peace? Maybe, maybe not. But I find it hard to see how broadening our circle of ethics and compassion to include another living species could possibly be a drawback to our society as a whole. The word compassion literally means, “with suffering.” Once we see and understand another’s suffering, we see beyond our own immediate needs and desires. And once we see that, we make different choices which has a ripple effect to the world around us. If people started seeing ALL animals as living creatures with the right to life and freedom, we would stop eating meat and dairy and the factory farms would close. The workers would get jobs that didn’t require mass killing just for a paycheque and, as Philip Wollen pointed out, “Farming won’t end, it would boom – only the product line will change.” The earth could replenish itself, the animals would be cared for instead of discarded and the health of humans would improve dramatically. We would live off the land again instead of living off the violence of the land. Imagine if we viewed planet life as something to care for instead of something to be taken? How could that not reshape our entire worldview? How could that not change our world?
Thank you all for your readership and I look forward to sharing the year ahead in 2015. And because I think it’s important to start the year on a high note, here’s another awesome video clip of a tortoise helping out another tortoise. Or in the words of Michael K. from the gossip blog Dlisted: “A Tortoise Helping a Fallen Bitch Out.” May this be the year that we all do more to help the animals out: out of their cages, out of their pens, out of their suffering.