Veganism Explained

I’ll start with this: I’m vegan.

I know what some of you may be thinking already: this guy is here to condemn people that eat meat and wear fur in the Opinion section of his campus publication. Someone trying to convince you that “animals are people too,” or whatever the other stereotypes that the general population may have about vegetarians and vegans.

But I’m not here to say anything like that. I’m here to ask you, the reader, to consider the following:

Speciesism. This term is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals.” It is my firm belief that this is the foundation for most of the consumption of meat and dairy on Earth.

As Peter Cheeke, Ph.D. puts in his “Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture”: “Do we, as humans … have the right to take the lives of other sentient organisms, particularly when we are not forced to do so by hunger or dietary need, but rather do so for the somewhat frivolous reason that we like the taste of meat? In essence, should we know better?”

Notice the term speciesism contains the root word “species.” This implies that, in fact, animals are not people — the same way people are not dogs, cats, cows, etc. However, this does not mean that animals, sentient beings, deserve to be respected in much the same manner that we as human beings should respect other human beings. We’re all animals, but not the same species.

Basic, middle school biology. Sounds like a pretty simple concept, right?

If only that were so. The truth of the matter is that the enslavement and destruction of the bodies of animals is deeply engrained in the history and culture of the world. So greatly engrained, in fact, it’s hard (nigh impossible) to imagine a world where no meat and dairy is consumed.

I’m not naive, however. I know the world will never be such a place. People will continue to eat meat, dairy, wear fur, etc. Humans are flawed creatures, with me being no different. I slip up every now and then, eating something I shouldn’t have because I was too ignorant to look at the ingredients label.

What I am suggesting, though, is that we take a step back and look critically at what’s really going on here — why do we treat animals the way we do?

One aspect of American culture that I have always found strange is the differentiation of treatment of animals simply based on what species of animal they are. Dogs and cats, for example, receive the love and adoration of their owners — why don’t cows, chickens and other farm animals?

Sure, there are people and farmers across this country that do treat their animals with respect and raise them humanely (until they slaughter them at least), but why is this distinction so present in the minds of this country?

I’m reminded of a picture from The Vegetarian Society that I saw floating around the Internet a while back; a picture of a terrier, perched on a dinner plate with a sad face and a caption that reads: “Why not, you eat other animals don’t you?”[J.T.1]

I am aware that there are cultures throughout the world that consider dog meat and other such meats a staple of their cuisine, so the message there might fall short on some. However, the idea behind the ad is profound: What separates the meat on our plate from the dog nestled in their bed by the front door, especially when one proclaims to be an “animal lover”?

While I won’t get into the details of how animals are treated before they are slaughtered in this article (that’s something that could fill up a couple pages of this publication, at least), I do believe that animals have the same right to life that the rest of us do; similarly, all animals should have the same right to live, not just a select few that we deem suitable to have as pets.

According to “Scientific Farm Animals Production,” dairy cows are commonly killed at about five to six years of age, when their normal life span can exceed that of 20 years. That would be like someone coming to kill you around the age of 20 (assuming an 80-year life span) because they want to make money off your meat.

Veal, according to “Welfare Implications of the Veal Calf Husbandry,” is commonly slaughtered for their meat around 16 to 20 weeks of age. It is also common for them to be placed into pens so small that they can barely move. Why? To keep the meat tender. Doesn’t something sound wrong with that?

I like to think of a metaphor in which aliens came down to Earth and decided humans were rather tasty creatures. Can you imagine babies being penned up and slaughtered for consumption? Not a pretty image, to say the least.

While many think, “Well, it’s already dead so I might as well eat it,” that mentality is, on the whole, invalid. In the U.S., one of the greatest forms of speech that a person can have is with their dollar — that is to say, giving your money to corporations for factory farming (the mass production and exploitation of animals for their meat/byproducts) is feeding into the system that creates these horrible situations in the first place.

While I’m not here to convince you to be vegetarian or vegan, I do strongly encourage you to, at least, commit to going at least one day per week without meat (and dairy too, if you’re feeling up to it). Doing so has a greater impact than one might imagine.

I would like to share a quote to end this piece that I personally like very much, particularly when the issue animals rights is discredited in comparison to others that humanity deems more “important”:

“[W]hen non-vegetarians say that ‘human problems come first’ I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.” — Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation.”

Zachary Risinger is a third year English major. He can be reached at zrinsinge@uci.edu.