June 16, 2019
Melanie Joy, the former professor of psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, runs an interesting thought experiment in her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. Here is the shorter version of it(modified by me.)
Imagine that you are in a local restaurant run by a lovely old couple in a foreign country. You have no idea what’s written on the menu, but fortunately, there are some pictures. One of them is a bowl of soup that is familiar to you. So you decide to order this chicken soup. The chef finally brings out the food, which looks delicious and smells good, so you instantly eat it. And you love it. As you eat meat and vegetables, you ask her what the ingredients are. She says, “It’s five pounds of a golden retriever, tomatoes, broccoli and…” You probably freeze mid-bite as you think about what she just said. “This meat in my mouth is from a dog?”
I will come back to this story later, but the point is why we feel disgusted when eating dogs but not when we eat the meat of other animals such as pigs and cows.
When an attitude is deeply ingrained in our thought, we take it as unquestioned truth. For a long time, I’ve been blindly believing eating meat was okay. It is common for modern Japanese people, and in fact, everybody around me ate meat. I didn’t realize until I visited another country that this meat-based diet was worth questioning. Looking back, I was unaware of the cruel truth that was intentionally hidden by business corporations. I was also conditioned to believe in some invisible justifications. But once I unlearned the ideology that I didn’t even know exists, I decided I want to change. At that point, it was the question of how to be vegan. In this post, I will debunk the cruel truth business corporations have been intentionally hiding from us, and I also take on the most common justifications people use to keep eating meat.
We live in a world where production and consumption are divided: people do not consume what they produce. We usually don’t know how a T-shirt is produced, an appliance is manufactured, or sausage is made. You might think there is nothing wrong with this divide. But if you look closely, there has been a coordinated effort to hide what’s happening at the bottom of the value chain. This is pronounced in the meat packaging industry. Their slaughterhouses are commonly located in remote areas where people usually don’t travel. There are no windows on their front. Daniel Zwerdling, an investigative journalist, recalls that “Spokesmen at the five biggest companies refused to show me the farms where their suppliers raise the chickens you eat, so that I could see firsthand how they treat them.” They are even protected by a law thanks to their lobbying efforts.
But people have been fighting back. Courageous investigative journalists have revealed enough about animal cruelty. For example, the documentary Food, Inc. exposed Tyson, one of the largest food suppliers. They genetically redesign chickens to have bigger breasts because they believed that is what consumers want. They also found a way to grow chickens faster than before, and as a consequence, these chickens cannot take more than a few steps because their bones and internal organs cannot keep up with the rapid growth of the breasts. The chickens’ lives are owned by the company from the beginning to the end. When you watch this documentary, you can see that a chicken factory is pretty much like other factories. It’s mass production of a chicken. Their sole purpose is to produce as many as chickens as possible. Chickens are aligned in an assembly line just like a car and then slaughtered and squashed in the machinery process. Their skin is rinsed, inner organs are taken away, and the head is taken. Finally, they are packaged in a box as a product. This is what we do to our fellow animals. We are manufacturing, abusing and killing a life for food. It is estimated that 150 billion animals are slaughtered globally every year.
You might say there is nothing wrong with killing chickens for foods. In fact, that’s what most people do even if they learn about animal cruelty. I do not believe that we should treat all the animals in the same way because they have different capabilities: it’s meaningless to talk about a dog’s right to vote. However, I do believe we should treat animals equally when they hold the same characteristics.
Let me assume that most of us believe that it’s unethical to kill human beings for foods. If you think about it, there are some ways in which humans and other animals resemble each other closely. Pigs are known to be incredibly intelligent. They know how to solve a simple puzzle. Wild pigs form a social community and they recognize each other as an individual. Other animals might not be as intelligent as pigs, but chickens and cows feel pain just like we do. Even some fish do. You might say that we never know if they are feeling pain. But remember that we are capable of reading a sign of pain. Human behavior such as writhing and screaming is a common reaction to pain. This is no different in other animals. If you stick a sharp knife into the stomach of a cow, she shows us a clear signal: she will writhe and scream. Furthermore, if you get closer to the cow with the knife, she will run away from you as a sign of fear.
It’s hard to say where to draw a line, but shouldn’t we at least consider how equally we should treat other animals?
Interestingly, it turned out that a meat-based diet is not only about the question of morality. As I learned more about veganism, I found out that there are more than enough reasons to switch to a vegan diet. Here, I take on some common justifications we tend to use to stay in the meat-based diet.
The first justification is normalcy. Sure, most of us eat meat but considering that human enslavement was taken for granted by a majority of us in the past, normalcy doesn’t justify our behavior. When we hear the story of our ancestors buying and selling human beings, we are in horror. When we watch the documentary of the Holocaust in the Nazis concentration camp, it feels as if it is the story from a different dimension. Are they the same human beings? History is full of injustice. What people thought normal in the past was incredibly immoral. Even Aristotle argued that slaves have a “slavish nature.” Hence, it’s too optimistic to assume that nothing is horrifying in our age. When the future generation looks back on what we did, they might get a shudder to see the mass murderers of animals.
Can we live healthily without eating animals? Clearly, being vegetarian/vegan is not always healthy if you drink cokes and eat chips all the time. But we certainly can stay healthy. The most common myth about this diet is that we will have a lack of protein. But there is no such thing as a protein deficiency in a plant-based diet because even low protein containing food like rice contain enough protein 8 ~ 9%. If you follow a plant-based diet, it’s almost impossible to design a protein deficient diet surrounding a variety of whole plant foods.
There is no necessity of eating animals. But I go one step further. It is worse. Animal-based foods such as meat and dairy are resource-intensive and require much more food, land, water and energy than eating plant-based foods directly.
Frances Moore Lappé authored/co-authored 19 books about world hunger. In one of her books, Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, she describes how inefficient livestock is as a converter of food: “for every 7 pounds of grain and soybeans fed to livestock, we get on the average only 1 pound back in meat on our plates. Of all the animals we eat, cattle are the poorest converters of grain to meat: it takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce just 1 pound of beef in the United States today.” In short, animals eat much more food than they produce. A majority of the extra food is redistributed away from those who need it most and used as animal feed to produce meat for those who can afford it most. We have enough food to eat unless we feed it to animals who are destined to be abused and killed. In theory, the food crisis is not about production, it’s more of a distribution problem.
On top of that, “three-quarters of agricultural land is used just to feed livestock”(watch Racing Extinction.) and “Ninety-one percent of the loss of rainforest in the Amazon area thus far to date 91 percent that’s been destroyed is due to raising livestock”(watch Cowspiracy.) Livestock also consumes the immense amount of water. The Cowspiracy also points out that “raising animals for food consumes a third of all the planet’s freshwater”.
It doesn’t stop there. Livestock not only devours resources but also produces greenhouse gases. The Racing Extinction explains that “When you factor in everything, the clearing of the land for grazing, the feeding and transporting, livestock causes more greenhouse gases than all the direct emissions from the entire transportation sector.” This sounds inconceivable but cows actually produce a substantial amount of methane from their digestive process.
Considering the fact above, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that livestock plays a significant role in global warming and it is also the leading cause of resource consumption and environmental degradation destroying the planet today. We are endangering our planet Earth and hence ourselves.
Peter Singer summarizes this phenomenon very well in Animal Liberation: “We are, quite literally, gambling with the future of our planet- for the sake of hamburgers.”
The last and probably the most common justification is this: it’s natural to eat meat. Now I’d like to introduce the idea of de-animalization to question if we inherently wish to eat it. Let’s go back to the story at the beginning. How did you feel when you were told that you were eating a golden retriever? In her book, Melanie Joy introduces a formula to illustrate what would happen in your brain:
a golden retriever meat (stimulus) -> inedible animal (belief/perception) -> image of living dog (thought) -> disgust (feeling)-> refusal or reluctance to eat (action)
If she was right, you must have pictured a golden retriever, felt disgusted and lost your appetite. You probably don’t want to have another bite even though you thought it was delicious.
Then what would happen when we eat other animals such as cows, pigs or chickens? It is likely that you don’t envision their living state.
a cow meat (stimulus) -> edible animal (belief/perception) -> ̶i̶m̶a̶g̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶d̶o̶g̶ ̶(̶t̶h̶o̶u̶g̶h̶t̶)̶ ̶-̶>̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶g̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶(̶f̶e̶e̶l̶i̶n̶g̶)̶-̶>̶ ̶r̶e̶f̶u̶s̶a̶l̶ ̶o̶r̶ ̶r̶e̶l̶u̶c̶t̶a̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶e̶a̶t̶ ̶(̶a̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶)̶
You are conditioned to believe that a cow is an edible animal, and you skip the part of the process that makes the mental connection between meat and the living animal. And hence skip all the following parts. De-animalization of farm animals makes sense because it is quite disgusting to picture it. If you don’t believe me, picture a real chicken before you eat them. The living chicken with flesh and blood. A breathing, walking, living chicken. You might want to watch the footage of a slaughterhouse if you are willing to see the cruel truth. As you watch the vivid image of the chicken being slaughtered or squashed in the assembly line, see if that dampens your appetite.
We begin to eat meat at an early age before we are capable of understanding that what we are eating is the dead body of an animal. And throughout our lives, especially for modern humans in urban areas, we contact those animals only in a supermarket or a restaurant. In a supermarket, the flesh of those animals is processed and packaged in a way that we don’t have to picture its living state. At a restaurant, those animals are usually cooked in a way that we don’t have to imagine their living state. We even have different names for them. We call cows beef and pigs pork. I suspect that this is a sales tactic to impair our imagination. Although human beings may have an innate tendency to favor sweetness and avoid bitterness and sourness, I assume that most of our taste is acquired through culture. Animal meat is probably one of them.
I don’t recommend becoming entirely vegan right away. Instead, start from cutting your meat/dairy consumption by 20 percent and sustain it for a year. I started from being pescatarian, and then slowly leveled up from there to vegetarian and finally vegan. It was slow, but shortly after I decided not to eat meat or dairy, they started seeming less and less attractive, and I started eating less and less, and now I don’t eat them at all. How many times have you ever heard friends say something like, “I’m not going to drink anymore.” This kind of short-term whims almost always doesn’t work. Instead, start small, learn what to eat, where to eat and how to cook along the way. Change your protein powder from casein to pea this month. Start ordering almond/soy milk instead of cow milk next month. Habits don’t change overnight, and if it seems they do, chances are they won’t be sustainable.
I still am not 100% vegan, which is fine. I don’t endorse people to be 100% vegan either. I’d rather have people cutting meat by 20 percent and sustain it for thirty years than cut 100 percent for just a month. It took more than almost one and a half years for me, but I am confident I won’t go back to the meat-eating habit because this habit is deeply ingrained in my life.
Veganism is not a religion for me. In fact, I’d eat them when non-vegan food is served due to misunderstanding. I simply believe in the power of democracy and disobedience. When soldiers stop fighting, the war ends. When customers boycott, huge business corporations lose their power. If enough number of people stop eating animal products and stand up against the abuse and killing of animals, we can effectively stop rapacious business corporations.