Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and a deservedly important one. As I wrote this time last year, I fully believe in taking the time to recognize the people who have dedicated their lives to the service of their country and whose sacrifice has allowed me to live as freely as I do today.
I have never been directly affected by war. Though I have lost distant relatives to it, they were not people I knew or would have ever known even if they had lived to die of natural causes. I have never had my house bombed, never been forced to flee my country, never had to live in a refugee camp. I have never had to ration food, hide my nationality or change my name just to survive. I have never lost a spouse, sibling or child to war and I don’t even personally know anyone who has. “Lucky” does not begin to explain how fortunate I am to live the life I do.
Yet the reality of war has been on my radar for as long as I can remember. War is a part of our world and though direct suffering from it may be unfamiliar to me, the existence of it is not. I don’t need to physically go through one in order to sympathize with the horrors of it. I believe the atrocities committed in the name of it and I do not doubt the stories of bloodshed, rape, torture, and mental trauma from those who have experienced it firsthand. Though I cannot personally relate to what a soldier goes through or what a civilian whose city is under attack endures, I can still safely understand this: war must be hell to fight and a nightmare to endure.
Now that I am a vegan, my definition of war has also expanded. I no longer see war as just a threat or conflict between people – I see it very much extended to animals as well. As I’ve said before, suffering is suffering and bloodshed is bloodshed and I no longer feel that inflicting pain and death on an animal is somehow justifiable simply because the victim is not a human or because we’ve declared their flesh, milk and fur as essential to selling products.
As much as I can empathize with the stories of war via books, films and Remembrance Day ceremonies, there still remains somewhat of a disconnect to the sheer magnitude of it. A disconnect because of the generation and country I happen to be born of, yes, but also because war is largely hidden from view. It’s difficult for the human mind to comprehend statistics of death tolls that reach into the hundreds of thousands but it’s an even harder truth to assimilate when you leave your house everyday and nothing seems particularly out of order. I was around during the Gulf War and even watched some of it on TV. More recently, there was the War in Afghanistan which was the first war that Canada was involved with that I felt most connected to because soldiers my age were dying in it or coming home with PTSD because of it. Yet still, I didn’t physically see their suffering as I went about my day – I could only see it via the news, the Internet or watching the ceremonies as their bodies were returned home along the stretch of road between Toronto and Trenton known as the Highway of Heroes.
Such is the same for the suffering of animals for our “food”. Slaughterhouses, rendering plants, factory farms and the day-to-day practices of animal agriculture remain largely hidden from our view even though if we choose to look, we can find them in our very cities and surrounding area. But even if we don’t live near one, there is the same media with which we can educate ourselves as to what is going on: books, websites, podcasts, undercover video – there are endless resources available to us that can show us the reality of this unseen war on animals. Failing that, just go to the grocery store.
Your mind will want to reject it at first. Mine did. In the same way my mind still has difficulty accepting the barbarity of war no matter how many times I see footage of it, I still cannot believe that 650 million animals are killed every year in this country for food. I still can’t believe we keep female cows perpetually pregnant so they continue to produce milk which we then take from them along with their babies. I still can’t believe it is legal in Canada to transport pigs and chickens for 36 hours without food, water, rest or shelter from the elements. I can’t believe the names of some of the equipment used on animals today: gestation crates, electric prods, scalding tanks, battery cages, castration pliers and bolt guns. And I REALLY can’t believe this growing audacity we have to stick a “humane” label on their dead body parts at the end. Does anyone refer to war and torture as humane? No, because any fool can see that the very nature of war depends on it being pretty much the exact opposite.
It is difficult to take that step. To pull back the curtain on this hidden war against animals is not easy. But it is absolutely crucial that we do. Animals are the most dismissed and forgotten victims of violence on the planet. They have no day that honours them. They have no statues or plaques that recognize their suffering. They have no voice but ours to speak for them, an irony that both dooms and saves them. Billions of them are killed worldwide every year yet the billions who consume them barely ever give them a thought.
There are many of us who haven’t lived through a war but we don’t doubt the realities of it for a moment. It is time then to ask ourselves why we continue to reject and ignore the realities of this undeclared and unseen war on animals.