If one follows the news, there is no scarcity of issues that merit one’s immediate attention. The world is ostensibly crashing every moment of every day. People are hurt “Left and Right” while human-rights are effectively reduced to lip-service. Intrepid leaders of the world carefully balance in one hand, the promise of freedom, justice and liberty while cautious not to loosen their grip on the nuclear football. Villains of our age — the terrorists — wreak havoc on the fragile bud of democracy not showing any signs of deceleration. The Internet is under attack. Net-neutrality, copyright issues and the rise of Digital Rights Management is threatening to extinguish the creativity of our generation; a generation responsible for our current stock of memes. The commonality in all these matters? The average citizen, you and I, is helpless to affect significant change. One of the oldest and worn-out topic in the book is “Climate Change”. The avaricious corporations seem indifferent to environmental degradation and no amount of electricity or water conservation seem to help. The headlines,
*1 “2016 was the hottest year on record — again”,
*2 “2017 is so far the second-hottest year on record thanks to global warming”,
are cruel slaps across the face and is becoming an annual affair. One couldn’t help but feel hopeless and torpid at the mention of Global Warming. It was time to concede when I stumbled across a documentary — “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” which put before me, many inconvenient, uncomfortable facts about the world. The real cause of Global Warming was revealed to me. Horrified by the new revelations, I turned skeptical about my schooling and the knowledge that I had received over the years, as part of my formal education. I, like billions of other, had been denied crucial information which could have enabled me to tackle this prodigious issue. This truth is too great to be concealed. Thus, in the grand fashion of confronting the truth, here is the crux from “Livestock’s Long Shadow” published by the
Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations -
1. The livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a higher share than transport.
2. The livestock sector is probably the largest singular source of water pollution.
3. The livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, land degradation, pollution, climate change, over-fishing, and sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.
4. Livestock’s impact on the environment is already huge, and it is growing and rapidly changing. Global demand for meat, milk and eggs is fast increasing.
5. United Nation’s unequivocal message on Climate Change is aptly emphasized in the headlines, *3 “UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet”,
*4 “Go vegan, save the planet”, “Shun meat, says UN climate chief” in The Guardian, CNN and BBC respectively. Worldwatch Institute goes even further than UN in stating the impact of livestock sector on the environment.
*5 — “Recent analysis
…finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for … 51 percent of annual worldwide green house gas emissions.”
There are some difficult questions we must ask ourselves. Despite the existence of these facts, why is the environmental impact of one’s diet not common knowledge? Why do topics such “carpooling, fixing leaky taps, switching-off lights” dominate the so-called awareness campaigns and not diet? Why are our dietary choices not a part of climate change discussions?
Recently, CSA organized a “Water Scarcity” week in Kengeri campus. It comprised of plenty of lively events including a “Water March” and a play organized by the Drishti team. These events featured rhapsodic chants and slogans calling for immediate action to save water. It was quite a spectacle.
Unfortunately, the livestock sector’s contribution to the problem was never broached. Is it not the the tragic failure of our education system when it fails to impart knowledge about the leading cause of “the most serious challenge facing the human race” (according to UN)?
While some claim that “The Vegan Movement” is the fastest growing global movement, the term is virtually unheard of in India. “Veganism” is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of animal products in one’s diet. Being a vegan is different from being a vegetarian, a common misconception. A vegan diet excludes dairy as well as meat. Most people shudder at the thought of adopting this lifestyle and justifiably so. Meat and dairy is so deeply rooted in our culture that the thought of giving it up seems antithetical to our identity. It seems impossible to give up chicken, paneer, cheese, mutton, ice cream among plenty others! However, the choice becomes instinctive when one really takes a good look at the facts. Some of them have already been mentioned.
The global dairy and meat consumption is not only destructive for the environment, but also advances poverty and hunger. It is as much an animal rights issue as it is a human rights matter.
*8 “Beef is terribly inefficient as a source of food. 157 million metric tons of cereal and vegetable protein is used to produce 28 metric tons of animal protein.”
“The water necessary for meat breeding comes to about 190 gallons per animal per day, or ten times what a normal Indian family is supposed to use in one day, if it gets water at all.”
In a nutshell, production of dairy and meat is a highly unsustainable and wasteful process. Large amounts of input yield low output and immense waste. Most of the feed crops that are grown on land are fed to livestock which results in worldwide hunger and poverty.
According to a study done in 2012, “We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People”.
*9 Why then, do poor die of starvation if we produce surplus food? 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.” writes Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of the book “Comfortably Unaware”
It is truly overwhelming to be faced with these facts. Could it be that our diet is responsible for hunger, starvation and the perpetuation of poverty? Are we responsible for water scarcity, deforestation and species extinction? Is it not the corporations but us who are to be blamed for the degradation of this planet? If we are blameworthy then, is it not the height of hypocrisy to call oneself an environmentalist or social activist?
There’s another aspect to this discussion that gets lost in the barrage of facts which cannot be ignored. Animal cruelty. There is a common misconception that growing cows for milk is harmless. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
*6 The continuous process of artificial insemination gradually leads to a decrease in milk production in cows. After this, they are labeled “spent” and killed. The natural lifespan of a cow is 20 years whereas a dairy cow would only survive 4 years. Moreover, a cow lactates only when she is pregnant. Therefore, dairy industry produces milk and calf!
A female calf is separated from her mother and is destined to share the same fate as that of her mother’s. A male calf is sent to the leather or meat industry. It is crucial to realize that the dairy industry is the meat industry. While some communities argue that eating “beef” is unethical, the fact remains that the dairy industry is much worse. Most of us would like to believe that the food we consume came from an animal without inflicting pain but unfortunately, it is a dreadful illusion. It is noteworthy that our country is the largest exporter of beef in the world.
*7 Animals raised for meat undergo savage processes such as — branding, dehorning, debeaking, tail breaking, ear clipping, teeth cutting, throat slitting, drowning, castration, electrocution and so on. Most of these processes are administered without painkillers or an anesthetic as a result of which, the animals scream in horror. As for the living conditions, they are kept in tightly-packed, over-crowded cages or gestation crates for days without food and water. Sometimes, their only recourse is cannibalism.
Few develop cage madness while others die of exhaustion and disease. Words can never come close to describing the nightmare and dread that animals go through to satisfy our insatiable appetite.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, wrote in his book Enemies: A Love Story — “In their behavior towards creatures, all men were Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they’re the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought.” When confronted with this information, we become defensive and offer justifications. After all, how much do we really think about what we eat and where it comes from? Meat and dairy is ubiquitous, hence invisible. There are many arguments against veganism one of which is the “natural argument”. The claim that it’s natural for humankind to dominate over other beings. It becomes important then, to point out that slavery was considered “natural” once and was even ratified by the legal system. The colored races were treated as commodity, like animals! Women were deemed inferior and were subjected to various injustices. Then there were the Nazis! The past is a clear mirror for mankind.
It is important to address these questions. Is rape not natural? Isn’t war natural? The powerful dominates the weak. Natural, is it not? Why then do we avoid wars? We have chosen ignorance as our defense. We have done it for centuries and still do. If we do not know where and how our food is produced, we can’t be blamed. Ignorance is indeed, bliss. The vast majority of people would be happy not knowing what happens in slaughterhouses but it is time we meet our meat.
“It is not the inability to find out what is going on, as much as a desire not to know about facts that may lie heavy on one’s conscience, that is responsible for this lack of awareness. — Shaun Monson”
Documentaries such as “Speciesism”, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainable Secret”, “What the Health” and “Earthlings” have done well in extending veganism to the world. There are many different facets to this discussion which are beyond the scope of elaboration in this article. This piece of text is merely meant to bring to light, the power of choice and our acquiescent role in an ongoing holocaust. The preponderance of evidence regarding the harmful effects of meat and dairy on our environment and health is starting to get mainstream media’s attention which is a good sign
*11 but is not nearly enough. The human race must learn empathy. How long can we go on living by killing?
Transforming a culture is difficult and often times uncomfortable. However, progress is the product of convergence of human knowledge, technology and society. It requires a world that allows an open and honest discussion as a prerequisite. A world where independent and objective thought is allowed to proliferate without being undermined by powerful groups and their selfish interests. This is possible only when sound information is accessible to all, a domain where the Internet has a pivotal role to play — the subject of another article!
“So a change is inevitable. Either we make it ourselves, or we will be forced to make it by nature itself. The time has come for each of us to reconsider our eating habits, our traditions, our styles and fashions, and above all, our thinking. — Shaun Monson”
It requires exceptional courage, not to mention unwavering conviction to follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. What we need now more than ever is uncompromising principles and sturdy values to guide us in the age of gluttony. The world does not demand superheroes to save the world. It needs ordinary individuals to show extraordinary resolve. It does not need superman to save people from burning buildings but ordinary people to save the world by simple choices.
No batman to fight crimes but only the fortitude to fight ignorance and cruelty. The citizens of the world must become cognizant of their superpowers, the power of choice and the responsibility that comes with it. We must unite … the Earthlings.