Back in June when I participated in my first ever protest march for animal rights, one of the speakers who spoke to the crowd prior to the march was an activist named Paul Bali. He’d been in many marches before and he shared a story of one protest he’d been on where someone yelled at him from the street, “Human problems first!” This is not a surprising reaction. I’ve written about this before, this “but-what-about-the-starving-children” response humans seem only to have developed toward the topic of animal rights, one which no doubt every vegan has experienced at some point. As I’ve also mentioned previously, this attitude only seems to occur when discussing the treatment of animals we eat.
For instance, if I were to be a staunch advocate on behalf of abused or exploited dogs and cats or even wildlife conservation, I would bet my next paycheque I’d never hear the same “arguments” when advocating on behalf of farm animals: “Guess you don’t care about poor people, eh?” or “I guess people living on the streets don’t matter then.” No one would dare say that. As long as I speak on behalf of animals we don’t regularly find on our dinner plates, I’d rarely be challenged. I might even be called a hero or a compassionate person. But as soon as a vegan mentions considering the suffering and rights of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, lobsters, fish, etc., look the fuck out. Out comes the name-calling and the stereotypes. A compassionate person becomes a crazy person. A hero becomes someone with nothing better to do with their time. An advocate becomes a hippie; bravery becomes brainwashing. I’m not calling all vegans heroes or brave – I’m (hopefully) illustrating how the labels change depending on the animal. A person advocating on behalf of dogs is no different from a person advocating on behalf of pigs – the message is the same, only the animal is different. And that’s where animal rights activists differ from say, an omnivore who truly loves their pet dog: activists view all animals as equal because of all animals’ capacity to suffer. A pig shouldn’t be subjected to factory farming any more than a dog should simply because we don’t want to give up bacon.
But let’s put that aside for a moment. Let’s pretend for a brief, glorious moment that no animal is actually suffering for our food, clothes or products. Let’s see if animal rights actually has an impact on human lives.
Land. It takes a fuck-ton of land to raise livestock and feed them. In fact, animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation – both legal and illegal – as it is being cleared at an alarming rate not to grow crops, but to raise animals (full disclosure: palm oil is also a cause of deforestation, an ingredient used in many vegan products). One acre of animals will glean about 165 lbs of meat whereas that same acre could produce 20,000 lbs of potatoes and feed a fuck-ton more people. Perhaps saddest of all? Land is now being cleared in poorer, developing nations and that meat is being shipped to the West, leaving their own people hungry.
Water. Hey California! It takes a whopping 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. It takes 880 gallons of water to make one gallon of milk (a dairy cow requires about 150 litres of water every day). It takes 132 gallons of water to produce 1lb of wheat and 119 gallons of water for 1lb of potatoes. Vegetarian diets require, on average, 60 percent less water than meat-based ones.
World Hunger. I don’t know about you but it’s ridiculous and embarrassing to me that people are still dying of hunger in the year 2015. Whether in my own city or across the seas, that is something that should have been eradicated with polio. And yet, here we are. If we used the land to raise grain and corn to feed people instead of animals, we could end world hunger almost overnight. Even the corn and soy beans that are being grown today are primarily used to feed animals – 47% of soy and 60% of corn are going to feed animals, not people directly. And the only reason there are so many animals in the first place is because humans breed them to those insane numbers.
Environment and Pollution: In the famous and oft-quoted report released by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in 2006 called, Livestock’s Long Shadow, raising animals for food is the leading cause of global warming – more than all trucks and cars in the world combined. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is also emitted by animals, further leading to greenhouse gas emissions.
Human Exploitation: Guess who generally work in slaughterhouses? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not rich white people. And guess where slaughterhouses and poultry plants are usually located? In poorer neighbourhoods or rural areas where land is generally cheaper and the meat and dairy industries routinely receive land and water subsidies to set-up shop.
Health: Our health in North America is failing. Our healthcare system is bursting at the seams. People are taking more prescription medication than ever before. Why? Could it possibly be our meat and dairy diet? Why do vegetarian men have 38 percent lower rates of heart disease and live 3.21 years longer than non-vegetarian men? Why do vegans consistently have lower blood pressure than omnivores or vegetarians? What I want to know is why medical professionals aren’t getting on board with this information and offering people hope by starting with a change in diet first, an option far less drastic and invasive than surgery and much cheaper than a lifetime dependence on pills.
Superbugs: Because the majority of antibiotics in the world are being fed to livestock to try to prevent disease and sickness due to the conditions they are forced to live in, humans are showing an increasing resistance to antibiotics; we are eating antibiotic-laden meat and dairy, slowly building up a resistance to the very drugs that we may one day need to save our lives.
Ethics and Peace: Most of us would say we’d like to live in peace and be considered good people or at least people who did some good during our lives. But if we continue to view animals as beneath us in some way, as mere objects who somehow warrant the suffering we continue to inflict upon them, then how can we ever see our fellow human beings equally? If there’s always a group that is “less than”, what’s to prevent us from viewing another group or community in the same way?
As for world peace, if violence, confinement and bloodshed is required for every one of our meals, then real, lasting and meaningful peace will remain forever out of our grasp.