Last month, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa submitted a proposal to ban cattle slaughter in Sri Lanka. The Parliamentary Group of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) approved the prime minister’s proposal. The following article makes an impassioned case not just for the non-consumption of meat but brings to light the horrors of the dairy industry and why human beings should adopt a vegan lifestyle. ‘While we take care of our pets and wince at videos of animal cruelty, we also condemn innocent cows, chickens, pigs, lambs and fish to the slaughterhouse to be cut up into pieces, drained of their blood and sent to the supermarket in neat packages for us to enjoy. We may in our hearts truly believe we love animals, but what that means is we’re suffering a kind of cognitive dissonance where our actions don’t align with our beliefs. Not only do we not intervene in this morally reprehensible crime, we pay and fatten up the industries that are causing it to happen, so that they continue the torture on our behalf.’
By Aadesh Wickrematunge –
Each year some 77 billion land animals and over 100 billion marine animals are murdered for food around the world. It is a holocaust, and it is the longest, most colossal holocaust in all of history. And on what grounds do we, as consumers, justify our contribution to this holocaust?
Taste pleasure, convenience, personal choice, tradition, because animals eat other animals etc.
On what other issues would we ever even entertain, let alone accept, such asinine justifications?
The core of the issue is this – if it’s unnecessary to kill and eat animals to survive, what justification do we have for doing so? Animals have been victimised by man to such a massive degree that they aren’t even considered victims anymore. They are mere commodities with number tags, stripped of the inherent value of being a sentient being. But in reality they are living, feeling beings just like us, and they are the most oppressed beings ever. What they are going through is a holocaust of proportions unparalleled. And for what, other than to indulge an insatiable greed for taste pleasure?
In issues of injustice, we must always see things from the perspective of the oppressed, not the oppressor. Remove yourself from the perspective of a human and for just a moment try to imagine being a prisoner from birth, being torn away from your loved ones, living a miserable life denied of freedom, and then, finally having your throat slit so that someone may feast on your flesh for some momentary pleasure. A taste pleasure that costs that animal its entire life. This is how it is for factory farm animals, and for any other non-human being reared for its flesh. How do we morally justify doing these things if it’s unnecessary? Are your taste buds worth more than the entire life and wellbeing of an animal?
Some might be offended by my usage of the word holocaust. Yet the dictionary definition of holocaust is exactly descriptive of what factory farming is – slaughter on a mass scale. Take it from Isaac Bashevis Singer, who escaped Nazi occupied Poland. ‘’What do they know?” he asks. “All these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world, they have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation, and all the animals were made for us to be food. To be tormented and exterminated. In relation to animals, all humans are nazis. For the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.’’
That anyone would dispute this, from an actual holocaust survivor, is a testament to how deeply indoctrinated we are, and to how far gone we are, in order to justify our unappeasable animal eating habits. Justifying this, is justifying a holocaust.
Now you might think that your decision to consume animal products is a personal choice, and being a personal choice, vegans should stop condemning animal eaters. Live and let live, as they say. Well, vegans ought to stop condemning people for their choices once animal eaters stop condemning animals to slaughterhouses to have their throats slit open so they can enjoy a burger. Or a mus curry. Something is no longer a personal choice when there’s a victim involved, just like a killer may think they are making a personal choice when deciding to kill someone, or a rapist when deciding to sexually assault someone. Should we condone the behaviour of rapists and murderers and their decision to cause unnecessary suffering to others, on the basis of the sensory pleasure they derive from this? We wouldn’t even justify the torture of child molestors and murderers, and of our own worst enemies, yet we come up with whatever justification we can, so that we can do it to the most vulnerable and innocent of beings.
The animal agriculture industry knows how horrific their industry practices are, and that if we, the consumers, had any idea of the horrors that went on behind walls, we wouldn’t buy their products. That’s why they give us marketing labels and advertisements of ‘happy cows’ to distract us from the grim reality, so that they can make a profit off us, and a profit off exploiting animals. A good example of this is the term ‘free range.’ When we see those ‘free range’ labels on eggs in the supermarket, we assume the hens that produced those eggs live a good life, wandering around freely, and most importantly, living without fear, exploitation or pain. However, it is very much the opposite. Free range hens come from hatcheries where male chicks are thrown into a blender to be macerated alive within moments of their birth, all because they are viewed as a waste product. Female chicks are oftentimes de-beaked, and egg-laying hens are shoved in small cages with such little space that they can’t even turn around or lie down. Ultimately, all free range hens end up in slaughterhouses to have their lives ruthlessly snuffed out. Do not fall prey to the marketing ploys – free range is a fabrication by the animal industry, designed to ease our conscience as consumers, so that we can continue to be complicit in this mass atrocity.
Let’s also dispense with the ‘humane meat’ and ‘humane slaughter’ crutch many choose to lean on to justify their meat-eating. The definition of humane is to show compassion and benevolence. But how can one compassionately and benevolently murder a being who doesn’t want to die? Simply put, ‘humane slaughter’ is an oxymoron, because you can never justify taking the life of another being when they don’t need to die, and therefore slavery, cruelty, torture and murder can never be compassionate or benevolent.
But only refraining from consuming meat isn’t enough, for the dairy industry is just as cruel, if not more cruel and horrifying than the meat industry. For a dairy cow to produce milk, she must be pregnant or have recently given birth. Cows will be forcibly impregnated by dairy farmers who will shove their arm into the animal’s anus, and then inject her vagina with bull semen. This is more or less rape and the cows will suffer both physical and psychological distress. It is even performed on an apparatus that is commonly referred to in the industry as a ‘rape rack.’ Once the cow gives birth after a 9-month pregnancy, her baby is snatched away because, heaven forbid, one simply cannot have a baby cow drinking the milk that we humans want. When her baby is taken, the mother cow will bellow in extreme anguish for days, sometimes months, even returning to the same place where she last saw her baby. The terrified calves who are pining for their mothers are dispatched to the slaughterhouse, shot in the head with a bolt gun and have their throats slashed open so someone somewhere can salivate over a veal parmigiana. The female babies suffer the same fate as their mother, spending their life being hooked to milking machines until years later, when they are completely exhausted and cannot provide milk anymore, they are sent to their deaths.
Fortunately, we as intelligent beings possessing moral agency, can change this. Next time you are in the supermarket, you can either choose dairy and contribute to the unimaginable suffering it causes to a mother and her calf, or move your hand a few centimeters away and pick up an alternative such as rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk or oat milk. At least one of these options, if not others, will be available.
Earthlings, a 2005 documentary about the human exploitation of animals
Many of us consider ourselves to be animal lovers, because we genuinely love our dogs and cats. But this doesn’t really make us animal lovers, it makes us speciesist. Just like racism is the discrimination and prejudice directed towards people based on an ethnic group, speciesism is the differing treatment and moral consideration we give beings based on the membership of their species. We think we have the right to enslave, torture, mutilate and murder any non-human being. While we take care of our pets and wince at videos of animal cruelty, we also condemn innocent cows, chickens, pigs, lambs and fish to the slaughterhouse to be cut up into pieces, drained of their blood and sent to the supermarket in neat packages for us to enjoy. But if it was dogs and cats in those cages being hacked to pieces, we would be outraged. We protest something like the Yulin dog meat festival, but what moral difference is there between a dog and a cow? None, other than that we have arbitrarily decided some are okay to care for, and others to be bolt-gunned in the head for a burger.
We may in our hearts truly believe we love animals, but what that means is we’re suffering a kind of cognitive dissonance where our actions don’t align with our beliefs. Not only do we not intervene in this morally reprehensible crime, we pay and fatten up the industries that are causing it to happen, so that they continue the torture on our behalf.
And that’s just ethics. Animal agriculture is also responsible for causing the most severe environmental calamities that we currently face as a species. It produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of transportation combined. It is the leading cause of habitat loss, responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. It is responsible for topsoil erosion, land desertification and oceanic dead zones. The United Nations has even announced that in order to circumvent the most detrimental impacts of climate change, the world must switch to a plant-based diet. It is the number one cause of water pollution, where every day, farms produce billions of pounds of manure that end up in lakes, rivers, and even our drinking water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the runoff from factory farms pollutes our rivers and lakes more than all other industrial sources combined. Many scientists even predict that by the year 2048 we could have fishless oceans, and already, 75% of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted.
And that’s not all. The consumption of animal products is also incredibly resource-depleting. Worldwide, animal farming uses about 70% of the Earth’s accessible freshwater, so much so that one person going vegan saves around 1,100 gallons of water each day, thereby dramatically decreasing their impact on the environment. One third of the world’s grain is wasted feeding livestock when it could be used to feed humans. Farmed animals, at least in the U.S. produce 130 times as much excrement as our human population. One half of the 79,000 tonnes of ocean plastic in the great pacific garbage patch, is made of fishing nets. The takeaway here is, the number one thing we can do if we want to make a change to the environment, is to go vegan.
It’s not even asking much. As a vegan, you can eat many of the foods you ate before. Ice cream and burgers and curries and chocolate and sweets, all veganized versions. You can eat all these without causing unspeakable suffering and pain to animals. The misconception that veganism is restrictive is just that; a misconception. The cheapest, healthiest foods on earth, rice, beans, legumes, potatoes, fruits, nuts, vegetables, pasta, are all vegan. There is little to no inconvenience in making that transition to avoid causing so much suffering and harm, and if you do truly find it inconvenient to be a vegan, then just think about what it’s like from the animal’s perspective, for whatever inconveniences you may have in your dietary restrictions pale in comparison to the incredible suffering animals must endure their entire lives. All we have to do as a society, to end all of this unimaginable abuse and horror, this morally reprehensible atrocity and contribution to environmental devastation of proportions unforeseen, is to choose something else on the menu. To choose cotton over wool. To buy almond milk over dairy milk. To buy soy over beef.
And let’s not forget the health argument either. The American Dietetic Association and the British Dietetic Association, which are the largest bodies of diet and nutrition professionals in both countries, have categorically stated that a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate, healthy and safe for all stages of life including pregnancy. Every nutrient and vitamin that we need to sustain a healthy life can be obtained on a plant-based diet. In fact, the leading diseases and illnesses affecting the world, such as heart disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis, dementia, type 2 diabetes, strokes, hypertension, are all hugely linked to the consumption of animal products. Shifting to a vegan diet can not only prevent them, it has even been demonstrated to reverse some of them as well. Animal products have been shown to have significant health consequences, such as heart disease (the rate of death by CVD for omnivores is 50%, 4% for vegans) and cancer (Cancer Research UK recently published that it doesn’t matter how much red meat you eat, it is always better if you eat less to reduce your risk of cancer.)
While we know that we can survive and thrive on a plant-based diet, this shouldn’t be the central issue nor the reason why someone decides to go vegan. Even if there were no health, or even environmental benefits to being vegan, so long as we can survive on such a diet, that fundamentally means that the exploitation and murder of animals for their flesh is entirely unnecessary. It has no place in a civilized society and should be abolished as such.
It is absurd that in a country of predominantly Buddhists, a religion that espouses non-violence and compassion as critical ethical principles for us to uphold, a country with profound culturally entrenched values, finds itself just as complicit in this horrendous holocaust as any other. If one really claims to be a Buddhist, especially a devout Buddhist, then they ought to stop consuming animal products just as much as they should abide by any of the precepts.
Now, it’s often said that the Buddha himself ate meat, and there are several passages in the Vinaya Pitaka that allude to the Buddha or the monastics eating meat. However, this is an exception, one which only applies to the accepting of alms. Monks did not have a choice of what food they could and could not eat, as they had to rely on the laity to provide for them. This has no relevance to you, the householder, buying food at the grocery store. We can’t apply the standard of monks 2500 years ago to our current lifestyle as lay people who choose our own food. When you purchase animal products with your money, you are generating demand. This is basic supply and demand economics: if a product is sold, the store will have it restocked. You are in essence, sending the message that you want more animals to be slaughtered and are supplying the funds for this to happen.
Oftentimes when Buddhists defend their consumption of meat, they point to the Buddha’s teachings in the ‘Jivaka Sutta’. Here, Buddha describes three instances when eating meat is permissible (when it is not seen, heard, or suspected, that the animal has been slaughtered for oneself). The Buddha’s ruling on meat here is clearly in line with his teaching of kamma, which deals only with intention. From the Buddha’s point of view, so long as there is no intention to cause harm when eating meat, there is no unwholesome kamma.
However kamma is not a complete description of ethics; there exist ethics that are divorced from kamma. For example, the idea that actions should be refrained from, even when they involve no unwholesome intention, can be seen repeatedly in the Vinaya. In one instance, a monk is advised to refrain from baking bricks inhabited by tiny insects, even though he was unaware of this and did not intend any harm. The Buddha also laid down a Vinaya rule that a monk must know the source of meat before accepting it.
Another important facet of the dhamma to consider is how eating animal products relates to compassion. Compassion is defined in the buddha dhamma as the simple desire for other sentient beings to be free from suffering. Yet perpetuating an animal holocaust, however small one’s contribution is, is acting directly antithetical to compassion. How can someone have the will for all beings to be free of suffering, while knowingly making lifestyle choices that cause the maximum amount of suffering to other living beings? Simply put, one cannot exercise compassion while consciously contributing to the single biggest systematic atrocity in human history.
Moreover, in the Noble Eightfold Path teaching on right livelihood, the Buddha listed five livelihoods that lay people should refrain from, one of which is the meat trade. However, if there exists a demand for animal products, then it is inevitable that individuals will be placed into such work constituting wrong livelihood, and animals will necessarily be murdered to satisfy this demand. One then cannot transfer all the blame onto the workers who murder the animals, (although they are engaging in unwholesome kamma), because the society-wide demand for those animals to be slaughtered is the reason for their doing so in the first place. It’s an appalling way to justify perpetuating an indefinite holocaust with the thought process ‘it wasn’t killed specifically for any one of us, therefore the blame is entirely on slaughterhouse workers’, when the reason they’re slaughtering animals is because collectively society is creating the demand for them to do so. Perpetuating wrong livelihood is not morally permissible just because you as a consumer are not the one stabbing the animals.
It is also important to acknowledge Muslim and Christian Sri Lankans. Christians often have the assumption that God put animals here for us to eat – but this is derived from the conception of dominion that man has over animals. However this isn’t so clear cut – many scholars have critiqued the traditional view of dominion, and conceived of this as meaning stewardship, to take care of and protect rather than to use and abuse at our will. Just look at the sermon in Genesis 1:29 31 “See, I give you all the seed bearing plants that are upon the whole earth and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food”. Besides, would someone believed to be compassionate as Jesus, condone this mass atrocity? Rather, he advised people to follow the golden rule ‘do unto others as you would have done to you.’ Not ‘do unto humans only’, but ‘others’, animals included. No one wants to be treated the way we treat these animals, raping, mutilating and murdering them. So why do we do it? Moreover, if one believes God created animals with the capacity to think, feel, suffer pain and value their lives, and then condones the slaughter of those innocent animals on a mass scale, then what does the devil do?
Scholars have also called attention to the fact that Islam lays down moral obligations towards animals, including restrictions to caging and beating among other practices. Yet caging is a necessity of large-scale animal agriculture, so in order to avoid contributing to this, Muslims too must then logically avoid consuming animal products. And why stop at caging? Why not refuse to engage in the unnecessary animal cruelty intrinsic to factory farming altogether?
This shouldn’t be a debate. It’s surreal that this conversation even needs to be taking place. It shouldn’t be a contentious issue that causing unnecessary suffering ought to be avoided. It shouldn’t be contentious that we should be opposed to the torture and murder of innocent beings. Especially, when the only underlying justification for doing so is as flimsy as the sensory taste pleasure we derive from consuming their bodies.
Animals cannot assemble and voice their frustrations. Rather, they can only scream in terror and excruciating pain in slaughterhouses, far removed from the bustle of society where nobody can hear their cries. It’s up to us, those who have a voice, to not only stop being complicit in this grave injustice, but to speak out on their behalf. There’s always a right side and a wrong side to history. Which side will you be on?