Thursday, July 24, 2014

Humane meat - ultimately not that humane

I recently stumbled upon an article that discusses whether or not animal rights activists should get involved in the promotion of "humane meat”. First and foremost, once you reach a certain level of empathy, there is no such thing as "humane meat". All sentient beings want to live. All sentient life is precious, and the right to life of these animals should be respected. In a way, I kind of find the whole idea of "humane meat" a little twisted. One can almost understand the lack of empathy in the world of factory farms. Animals are treated as mere commodities, and the whole death machine is set up to kill as many of them as possible as quickly (though often not painlessly) as possible. On farms where animals are raised "ethically", the animals are theoretically happier than their factory farm counterparts, and there is often much more contact with the animals, thus providing an opportunity to really appreciate the personalities of these animals and to get to know them better. One would think that this would create even more awareness and more empathy for these animals.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, or even if it is, it is overshadowed by the "it's sad but necessary" myth. This is what puzzles me, with so many people in the world embracing and thriving on vegetarian and vegan diets, and with so much proof that animals are both sentient and intelligent creatures, how can we view "ethical meat" as the ultimate solution? Is this truly a fair way to treat other animals?

The answer is no, but it is more fair than factory farms. In my humble opinion, and in the opinion of many people who care about animal rights, activists should adopt a two-thronged approach to this topic. On one hand, we should fight to end factory farming, as the horrors and injustices inherent in that system are something that most people in the world would agree have to stop. On the other hand, we should continue educating people that while small farms where animals are treated "well" before they are killed are more ethical than factory farms, they are ultimately not "ethical" per se.

In order to truly end the violence towards other animals, and to understand this second part of the equation, we have to leave the above-mentioned "it's sad but necessary" myth behind. In the above-mentioned article, there were responses in the comments sections that were typical of meat apologists. One stated that due to the "differences in our constitutions", not everyone can become a vegan/vegetarian, and that we should just accept that some can and some can't. I have a simple response to this: where there's a will there's a way. I've already written about common myths that meat eaters use to justify their diet. Breaking free from a lifetime of habits is not easy, but those who truly respect other animals' right to live will find a way to make their new diet work. It is possible, and pretty much anyone can be happy and healthy without meat, if they are truly committed to this.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Helping vs. selfishness

Many people claim that they love animals, but the millions of animals in the world that need our help will not survive on kind words and good intentions alone. While the factors that prevent people from helping other animals are plentiful, I will forget about the most obvious ones, such as lack of compassion, and focus instead on one that is a little more ambiguous - seeing helping as a burden, one that either financially, emotionally, or physically complicates one's life.

A good example of this desire to not complicate one's life too much is the hesitation when faced with the prospect of adopting a pet. It really saddens me that so many people basically have to be convinced to do this, when the presence of a cat, dog, or other animal in the household can bring so much happiness to all parties involved. Still, people have their routines, which they feel will be compromised by having to walk a dog, by making it harder to travel, by having to spend more money on cat food, litter, vets, etc. While I can understand all of these reasons, I still have to remind you that life is about stepping outside your comfort zone in order to help those that need it; and a cat or dog living a relatively lonely life in a shelter would definitely qualify as someone who needs help. Personal well-being is important, and there's nothing wrong with ensuring this well-being, but the reasons that most people give for not committing to a stray animal are not very convincing. Any changes in your lifestyle will be outweighed by the benefits of the noble act of rescuing an animal. I myself have adopted or rescued several animals. The first cat that I rescued initially seemed like a burden, because at that point I had never taken care of another animal, but over time she became an inseparable part of our family, and to this day I love her very much.

Another example of choosing the easy way out, the path of least resistance, if you will, is the reluctance of many animal lovers to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Again, even with all the new information about the benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as more and more meat-free options readily available, many "animal lovers" still can't completely cross over to a lifestyle that says no to violence towards animals. Sometimes this is because of uncertainty about missing out on essential nutrients or the fear of having to take supplements. I often wonder why the same people don't realize the simple truth that any diet has to be well-balanced to work, and that more meat-eaters take supplements for one reason or another than vegetarians or vegans do. Others say things like “animal proteins are more complete”, and that they don't want to have to work hard to mix and match plant-based foods to ensure they get the same protein. Once again, the comfort zone. "I don't want to have to do anything that will make my life any more difficult". I, and many others like me, will gladly mix and match veggie proteins if it means not partaking in the violence and death of the meat and dairy industries. For any truly compassionate individual who can see the big picture, this is a no-brainer. There are also quite a few people who simply state that they love the taste of meat and can't live without it. Whether overtly or not, what they are saying is that they don't give a damn if animals are killed, as long as they get to have that pleasure of eating meat. Hopefully someday these people will wake up to a more compassionate way of life, for their own sake and for the sake of all the innocent animals in the meat industry.

It's a lot easier to help with helping is easy. Unfortunately, helping is sometimes not easy. Even in our world, where instant gratification has become more and more commonplace, not everything can be arranged at the push of a button. Difficult ethical choices sometimes have to be made, ones that challenge the way we live. Acting to help animals is a very important part of life. We should all ask ourselves if we're doing enough to help, or if, like most people, we're too stuck in our comfort zone to really make a difference.