Nonhuman animals have many of the same feelings we do. They experience contagious joy and the deepest of grief, they get hurt and suffer, and they take care of one another. They have a point of view on what happens to them, their families, and their friends. Nonetheless, in innumerable situations their lives are wantonly and brutally taken in deference to human interests.
Bekoff: Animals lives matter, so let's stop eating them now
By Marc Bekoff
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Nonhuman animals have many of the same feelings we do. They experience contagious joy and the deepest of grief, they get hurt and suffer, and they take care of one another. They have a point of view on what happens to them, their families, and their friends. Nonetheless, in innumerable situations their lives are wantonly and brutally taken in deference to human interests. The activity that claims the lives of far more individuals than all other venues combined is eating them, and it's here where each of us can make an effortless and graceful difference.
Some hard-to-digest facts: If it takes you five minutes to read this essay, more than 250,000 animals will have been slaughtered for food in the United States alone; that's about 27 billion a year. Countless others (1 million pigs in 2006), called "downers," will have died on their horrific journey to slaughterhouses. After their shameful trip to the slaughterhouse, it takes less than 30 minutes to turn a cow into a steak, during which time these sentient beings continue to suffer interminably, and they also see, hear, and smell other cows on their way to becoming a burger. One slaughterhouse worker notes of food animals, "They die piece by piece." In her wonderful essay "Am I Blue?" Alice Walker wrote "As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out."
We not only eat millions of mammals but also billions of birds, fish and invertebrates. We know fish feel pain and recent research at Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, shows that lobsters also feel pain. The response of fish and lobsters to painful stimuli resembles that of humans. In a nutshell, fish don't like being hooked and lobsters really don't like being dropped into hot water.
There are innumerable things we can do to make the world a better and more peaceful and compassionate home for all beings. We can protest the abuse of animals in education, research, circuses, zoos, and rodeos, and we can stop wearing and eating them. We can stop killing animals whose land we stole and learn to coexist with them. After all, this land is their land too. We can alert kids that their turkey was once a bird, their bacon and sausage was once a pig, and that their hamburger was once a cow. It's amazing how few children know this and when they discover that they're eating Babe even without knowing how the animal suffered, they're often incredulous. Kids know animals aren't "things."
Naming animals also is a good way to decrease the distance we construct an the alienation that follows when we think of animals as things or numbers, rather than as individual beings. Recently I heard about a crayfish who went home with a student after a class in which kids observed the behavior of these fascinating crustaceans (who, like lobsters, feel pain). The woman who told me the story wasn't sure what to do her new tenant but after the crayfish was named Bubbles it was impossible to think of doing it any harm, including eating it. We name our companion animals, so why not name other animals with whom we have contact?
We're immersed in an "animal moment" and globally there's an increasing amount of interest and activism by people who want to make a difference, by people who have had enough of the unthinkable cruelty to which we subject billions of animals a year. Animal nations are made up of individuals who are treated as second-class citizens whose lives are routinely taken as long as they serve human ends. We slaughter, silence and squelch sentience with little more than a fleeting thought and with reprehensible indignity. While we may not be able to define dignity, we all know when we lose it, and so do the animals.
It's really easy to make a positive and noble difference in the lives of animals, and we can all begin right now. You don't have to go out and protest or found a movement. You can just stop eating other animals and make an immediate difference with your next snack or meal. No need to go "cold turkey" on meat; do it slowly and steadily so it's a progressive and lasting change. It's really that easy. And, this really isn't radical activism, is it? Even if you don't give a hoot about the ethics of eating animals, since factory farms are notorious for causing irreversible local and wider environmental damage, we can make a huge positive difference by cutting back on carnivory. If you're an environmentalist it's impossible to justify eating factory-farmed meat. The facts don't lie (www.ciwf.org/publications/reports/The_Global_Benefits_o f_Eating_Less_Meat.pdf).
So, it's pretty straightforward. We must respect and love other animals as our fellow beings on this planet that we all want to share in peace. We must stop abusing animals now, not when it's convenient. We must increase the size of our compassionate footprint. No more lame excuses. When we harm animals, we harm and demean ourselves. And, it's a win-win situation for all because compassion begets compassion; compassion for animal beings spills over to compassion for human beings. And, wouldn't the world be a better place with more compassion and far less easily avoidable cruelty?
Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at CU, Boulder.