I am here to share the third and final part of my series on becoming vegan. Part one detailed how I learned about health and eating a plant-based lifestyle. Part two dove into the environmental effects the food industry has on our world and how that motivated me further into a plant-based lifestyle. In this third and final part I will be talking about the most prominent issue when people hear “vegan”, the animals. Admittedly part three has taken me longer to write than I first anticipated but this is because the topic is hard to hear, for all of us, but oh so crucial.
My understanding of abuse in animal agriculture was actually my first introduction into vegetarianism and veganism but was the one I, like many others, was the most in denial about. My best friend growing up became vegetarian at the young age of 4 after grouse hunting with her dad and making the connection between what she was eating and life. She then went vegan at 9 but wavered off track for a while (my love and insistence we go to Dairy Queen for Oreo blizzards probably didn’t help her). She went vegan again at 13 and now at the age of 27 has been vegan ever since. In other words, I’ve known about veganism for a long time! My family was very used to the idea of veganism /vegetarianism and making sure Michelle always had something to eat at our house, but it was never a lifestyle choice I thought was possible for me.
As I transitioned to a more plant-based diet for health and environmental reasons the last piece of the puzzle for me was the animals. Full disclosure, it was the part that I deep down knew existed but did not want to face, something I think many of you can probably relate to. But it was this piece that made me vegan and will keep me living this lifestyle. In this post I want to touch on the basics of animal abuse in our world to paint an overall picture for you, as well as discuss a few counter arguments that often come up during this discussion. As I continue to learn more about each topic, I will keep sharing with you all, diving deeper into specific issues.
HOW BAD IS IT?
The abuse animals face in the food industry is horrendous. The pain and agony experienced by sentient beings is brutal, so brutal that often times the footage makes us uncomfortable. We would rather not know how the food got to our plate, but if that is your reaction to learning the truth it is more of a reason to keep moving forward.
Think about why female humans produce milk; to feed their offspring when they are young, just like cats, deer, mice, dogs or any other mammal. Cows and goats are no different but for some reason we have normalized drinking the milk of another mammal. Cows do not just produce milk, so they are forcibly impregnated over and over and over again, while being held in a restraining device that is known in the industry as a rape rack. Their babies are taken from them, if they are male, they will be sold for beef and female they will continue into the same fate as their mothers, continuing the vicious cycle.
Chickens have a similarly traumatizing fate in our world. Hens are often confined in cages and not provided with a perch or even enough space to flap their wings. Depending on the farmer there is no access to outdoor space, which is what most of the largest chicken meat brands provide. Hens are debeaked as not to harm each other. Despite their lifespan being much longer it is standard to send hens to butcher at 18 months old after they have been forced to produce a mass amount of eggs. Male chicks are almost always killed at birth as they provide no use to the industry, so they are thrown into a macerator and ground up alive. The breed of chicken used for eggs versus meat differs, “If you put them next to each other, they look almost nothing alike! Each has been selectively bred for hyper-production: egg-laying hens for high egg volume, and “meat” chickens for rapid growth and maximum breast meat yield. Both types suffer from physical problems brought on by genetic selection for these traits.”
Pigs are kept in concrete pens with no straw and are often denied enough space to even turn around. When piglets are born they are kept on the other side of a cage so the only contact they have is to nurse on a mother pig’s teats. Pigs are incredibly curious and intelligent animals, “barren surroundings can cause frustration exhibited in abnormal behavior like tail-biting. To “fix” this, the industry has adopted a common practice of cutting off a portion of pigs’ tails and/or their teeth, without painkillers.”
I could continue on and on with facts about abuse and mistreatment but there are many who have already done an amazing job at explaining these atrocities that I will share below.
Casa de Carne – Last Chance for Animals
This Speech Is Your WAKE UP CALL! – James Aspey
You Will Never Look at Your Life in the Same Way Again – Earthling Ed
Best Speech You Will Ever Hear – Gary Yourofsky
COMMON COUNTER – “But how do we really know it’s that bad? What if those VEGANS are just being dramatic?”
There are many brave humans that previously worked in slaughterhouses coming forward to share their experience in hopes of making a difference. Josh Agland, a former slaughterhouse worker turned animal rights activist detailed his experience witnessing the animals arrive for slaughter, “Their senses are in overload. They smell and taste the feces, blood and steam in the air. They can hear so much foreign noise: the clunking of mechanical chains, pneumatic control valves, shouting of the workers inside, industrial white noise. One-way gates prevent the animals from backing away in fear. Many get caught as they sprint forward to remain close to a friend for comfort.” He went on to describe how animals sometimes get skinned alive,
“At the hide puller station, Josh once witnessed a steer still kicking, shaking his head and bellowing—two of his legs, his tail, and his genitals had already been removed at previous stations. Josh says many workers saw the skin being pulled and sliced off the live animal’s body. Josh reported the incident but was ignored by superiors who hadn’t been present and denied that it happened.”
COMMON COUNTER – “I get my meat from a small farm and they LOVE their animals!”
I used to believe this but ultimately, I decided that I do not NEED meat, dairy or eggs to survive so I do not want to be a part of any unnecessary deaths, regardless of how “happy” they were before they died. There are no doubt many people who care for animals in the industry and have happy pictures posing next to them but either way they were led to their death. The argument for humane meat has often been called a “yuppy” argument because it is usually a more privileged subset of our population that can afford to pay more for their already costly animal products.
And even if there were any merit to the “happy meat” claim it is a very unsustainable model for farming economically, “Subsidies notwithstanding, the unfortunate reality of commodifying animals is that confinement pays. If the production of meat and dairy was somehow decentralized into small free-range operations, common economic sense suggests that it wouldn’t last. These businesses — no matter how virtuous in intention — would gradually seek a larger market share, cutting corners, increasing stocking density and aiming to fatten animals faster than competitors could. Barring the strictest regulations, it wouldn’t take long for production systems to scale back up to where they started.” This model could not feed the over 7 billion people in our world, which leads to the next common counter point.
COMMON COUNTER – “Why focus on animals when there are so many human rights issues?”
This is a human rights issue. Have you ever stopped to think about what working in a slaughterhouse must be like? The work this industry provides it traumatizing and has been named one of the most dangerous places to work. Slaughterhouse workers are exposed to chlorine, ammonia and other chemicals that have been linked to respiratory issues. One study found that, “slaughterhouse workers, butchers, and others exposed to animal carcasses, inhale oncogenic viruses – or viruses that can lead to cancer cell formation.”
The mental trauma and anguish from working in slaughterhouses is often overlooked. Josh Agland noted that, “The hide puller machine gave him nightmares, Josh says. It’s where the once-living beings became identical hot carcasses. With great industrial efficiency, the rotating steel drum is lowered with chains, peeling the valuable hide from the animals’ body while operators saw at the connecting tissues. The skin is pulled off the face last as the lifeless body jolts from the industrial force.”
Given this information it is not surprising that folks do not line up to work at slaughterhouses. Vulnerable populations, like undocumented workers get exploited in the animal agriculture industry. Undocumented workers are less likely to report abuse or injuries due to threats of deportation, all while working for an abysmal hourly rate.
In our world currently more than a billion people go hungry every day but the animal agriculture industry already produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, more than our world population. The U.S. alone could take all the grain currently fed to livestock, use it for human consumption, and “the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.” Worldwide, over half of grain is fed to livestock and “82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.” If you have a passion for ending world hunger, making choices about what’s on your plate is an extremely important choice to make.
This topic can be overwhelming. It makes total sense if you want to discredit this information and throw your computer out of a window right now. If any of you are having reactions like I did you might be feeling lied to and wondering, if it is THIS BAD why didn’t I know? Do not get caught in feeling bad for the actions you took before you had more information. And let’s face it, the system does not want you to know. Instead we see messages of happy frolicking cows on the side of a milk truck or sheep in acres of rolling pasture. Words like organic and free range get thrown around to make us feel like we can make a better choice without even knowing what they really mean.
Our world is built on exploitation of humans and animals and waking up to this fact changes the game. Even honey is commodified and produced in such a way that is often detrimental to bees and many vegans choose not to eat it. The last animal I gave up eating was fish because in my mind they didn't experience pain like farm animals but we know now that's not true. From bees to cattle it all leads back to the pain of someone else for what ends up on your plate. The more I learn the more connected to the world I feel. For me this compassion extends to what I wear, cutting things out like leather and wool or where I find my entertainment, avoiding places like zoos and circuses. These animals have the same intelligence, fear, and emotions that our beloved pets. If we wouldn't do that to our dog why should we subject that harm to a pig? Am I contributing to happiness or suffering? That's the question I want to answer on this planet.
It hurts to learn that so much suffering happens to beings on this planet. And while it hurts even more to know that we contribute to it there is hope. The exciting part is that we don’t have to contribute to it. We can all make choices today that start us on a path of contributing less to the suffering of others. I grew up hunting and fishing as a huge part of my life, so know that I do not share these words to pass judgment but to share that we all have the opportunity to learn and grow when we learn new information. The fact of that matter is that I or YOU or ANYONE ELSE should not make the decision of when to end another life. As James Aspey said, “there is no better apology than changed behavior.” You can do it.
If you have ANY questions about any of the topics in this post, please feel free to reach out to me. If this has made you question what goes on your plate or into your clothing, but you do not know where to start I would LOVE to help you as we all continue on our journey together, making the world a better place as we go.