One of the most common “arguments” animal-eaters use against vegans is that we should be putting humans problems first, as if we can’t simultaneously care for humans and animals or that speaking up on behalf of animals must mean we don’t care about the suffering our own species. These are long-held assumptions that are not only false but are indicative of two things in our society: 1) we don’t value animals very much and 2) we don’t want to believe that we might be part of the problem when it comes to how animals are treated.
Last week at a silent protest outside of a Swiss Chalet restaurant in Toronto urging the company to update their chicken welfare policy by committing to the minimum welfare standards for the birds they use, a person came up to one of us and “helpfully” pointed out that the workers employed in fast food restaurants are treated terribly and did we honestly think that chickens were a priority?
Well, yes. Of the 650 million land animals slaughtered in Canada every year, the majority of them are chickens, about 620 million of them. The reason for this is chicken meat is marketed as being healthier to eat and chickens also take up less space than a cow or pig so industrial farms can breed and slaughter them in far greater numbers. Like cows, we also exploit chickens in two ways: for their flesh and for their eggs. Also like female cows, once a hen’s egg production slows, these spent mothers are sent to slaughter for low-grade meat products or pet food, with not even half of their natural life expectancy fulfilled.
What people fail to understand – because they fail to take the time to understand – is that animal activism is not a separate issue from other social justice movements. The only difference is the victims. Everything that happens to animals mirrors every other oppressed being on the planet – they are different, and these variances within the status quo mean we view them in only one of two ways: as a threat or as less than. Once this attitude is established and normalized, it allows the powerful and supposedly superior beings to oppress, harm and violate others for no other reason than they are different. Every oppression in history can be traced to two things: prejudice and the desire to conquer those we are prejudiced against to prove ourselves right. But every liberation movement starts with another: exposing the bias, the behind-the-scene horrors, and the fight for the voiceless to be heard.
I don’t think a chicken’s life matters more than a human’s. I believe that anyone suffering oppression, exploitation, and death by our hand matters AS MUCH as the next. All animal activism is is the fight to extend the same compassion to animals that we’re taught to have for one another. Veganism is a way to live that compassion every day, with every purchase, and at every meal.
Essentially saying to an animal activist, “Guess you don’t care about X,” is really a defensive response. What that person really wants to say is, “Don’t tell me I’m a bad person because I eat animals.” It’s much more convenient to believe that vegans and activists are the crazy ones than it is to believe that every time you buy products made from animals, you are literally paying a company to confine/mutilate/experiment on/kill animals on your behalf so you can wear, eat, or be entertained by whatever species happened to be used for the end result. Does that make you a bad person? I don’t know. What I do know is that it does make for a bad choice, particularly when there are other ones we could be making. If you could eat plants over animal bloodshed, why wouldn’t you? If you could choose compassion over violence, why wouldn’t you? At the end of the day, no matter how well-intentioned and good a person you may be, every time you purchase animal products you are funding the systematic oppression and slaughter of an entire species who have never done anything to warrant this abhorrent treatment from us. And if you could make a choice to stop doing that, why wouldn’t you? If your answer is “because bacon” or “because fashion” or “because tradition” then yeah – it’s possible you may not be as good a person as you think.