For better or worse, our news feeds have become highly personalized. Sometimes we intentionally follow sources and pick topics and sometimes algorithms make decisions for us. In either case, as the things we see affect our world views and priorities, those things become individualized.
My news feeds are dominated by animal issues, the details of which I consume in many forms: images and videos of terrorized animals, activists’ writing and speech, companies promoting vegan products, the ag industry responding to the growing vegan movement, and general news about the wins and losses of the many animal protection initiatives.
However, I get other things in my news feed too. I’m not blind to: the escalation of nationalism and open racism in
our country the world, the methodical dissemination of the rights that women have just barely eked out, the ever-growing prison-industrial complex (slavery), the wars, human exploitation, the rapid deterioration of the environment and the what regulations protect it, the rise of anti-intellectualism, and the thousands of related problems that are keeping so many up at night.
Now, it’s hard enough to prioritize pressing issues like sexism, racism, and all the other things listed above, if they don’t cut you immediately and deeply. And for those who are cut directly with issues like these, it’s hard to make room for anything else. For most people, animal suffering, no matter how intense, cruel or hugely scaled, does not make the cut at all.
So, why do I, and the millions of others, focus on animal protection, when humans are suffering?
Harming animals harms humans…
… in so many ways.
First, the individuals that the larger populace pays to carry out the dirty work suffer immensely from the trauma of the torture and suffering that they are forced to inflict on animals. Workers at farms are almost always poor, often undocumented immigrants. If a person has any other option, he will usually take it. The physical and mental injuries that these workers sustain is not normal.
Second, the environmental impact of animal agriculture is astounding. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. Do these statistics and numbers seem too big and abstract to affect you? Think about this: Waste from animal agriculture is literally killing people, causing cancer and respiratory disease, almost exclusively in poor rural areas.
Third, as consumers, we don’t actually want to be cruel. Separating ourselves from the process of raising and killing animals with physical space and the mythology of ‘humanely raised meat’ helps a little, but ultimately, we cannot deny the horror that we pay for as consumers. It requires a severe amount of cognitive dissonance to worry about our dogs, but identify pigs and chickens as ‘food animals’ or to pretend that a cow will produce milk – large quantities of milk without being raped, impregnated, separated from her calf and pumped full of toxic chemicals. Cognitive dissonance puts strain on our mental health.
In short, when you accept that animal protection is a high priority issue and do something about it (educate yourself, change your behavior), you are actually doing something to alleviate human troubles as well.
Small changes have enormous impacts.
Low effort, high reward. These are the kind of achievements that it makes sense to strive for. Check out this article about the Action Priority Matrix to get a general feel for this philosophy. Why am I bringing this up here? Animal protection is one of the easiest issues to nudge. Sure, the enormous numbers (of animals killed or waste produced) can be overwhelming, but in order to affect those numbers your action is as easy as buying different food at the grocery store.
Where other issues, like political corruption, require more complex activism, simply changing your diet saves an average of ~200 animals every year. Not only that, but identifying yourself as a vegan (and not being an asshole about it), also works in spreading the idea. I’ve had ~20 people in the last year talk to me about the going vegan. I’m not changing minds single-handedly, but I am a resource, a buoy in a sea of misinformation that helps more people save more animals.
Also, when you don’t buy cruel products, you instead use your money to buy kind products. That gives conscious companies with more resources, even more resources to market and expand their products. It’s wins all the way down and it really is as easy as making different consumer choices – something you have complete control over.
Those who cannot protect themselves are in the most need.
Human children suffer, human adults suffer and in so many situations there is nothing they can do, but there is no situation where a non-human can defend him or herself against us. Even in escape, they cannot compete with our technology, legal institutions, or cultural view of them as something, not someone. They have no rights to their own bodies and as a result of that we can use them and harm them as freely as any individual wishes. They are absolutely helpless without advocates. If that doesn’t inspire sympathy in you, consider your biases towards specific animals. Why is it okay that they should suffer and receive no protection?
There is no tradeoff for another cause by avoiding the harm of an animal.
Going vegan takes nothing away from the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter or the donation that you made to a refugee assistance program. You can care deeply, be active, run for office on another platform… and still avoid harming animals. Animals are a main issue for me. For all the reasons I’ve stated above, I see the value of focusing on concrete ways to help enslaved animals, but I don’t ask the same of you.
All that most vegans want from you is to move toward a more neutral position in the spectrum of harm to protection. Just don’t harm and don’t pay people to harm animals for you. You will not lose anything by eating plants and using a different detergent. You will not suffer by choosing vegan options for your next catered event. You will not lose money, sleep or friends over it. You will only gain.
You will gain energy, improved health, and peace of mind knowing that you don’t contribute to torture. You can still choose your battles, donate to your causes if they are human-centric, or keep your money if that’s what you want to do. There is literally no meaningful trade-off. Before you comment about ‘cheese’ and ‘bacon’, reflect on how important these products, that deteriorate your health and are easily replaceable, are to your life and wellbeing. The tradeoff is insignificant.
The value of a life is not decided by species
This one is controversial and I realize, that if I had you up to here, I may have lost you, but this is such an important concept to keep repeating. So much of our mythology puts humans at the top of the hierarchy of living things. Meditate on this idea. Is it true? Why do you believe it’s true? And further, why is a dog’s body more deserving of peace than a cow’s? There are a lot of ideas that have been forced into society by the-way-it’s-always-been and the more modern era of meat/dairy marketing. Question these supposed axioms and ask yourself what makes one living thing deserve to suffer and another deserve peace?
A PRACTICAL CALL TO ACTION
Research shows that you don’t change minds with facts. You change them with feelings. Watching movies like Earthlings tends to make a lot of people go vegan because the emotions that people feel while watching the footage is effective in making them change behavior. Click on the links in this paragraph to better understand your feelings about animals.
The other part of change is lowering your defenses by just giving it a shot. If you are at all open to helping animals suffer less, try the following things and let me know how it goes by commenting here or finding me on Twitter.