Veganism: A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. -The Vegan Society.
Veganism has grown significantly in previous years. During 2014 and 2017, U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6%, that’s a 600% increase. Nevertheless, the concept of ethical veganism is still not understood, even among some self-identified vegans. Understanding the reasons why eating and contributing to animal suffering is morally wrong is not an easy concept to easily talk to people about. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of people are depending on faith, personal whims, or emotion as their moral compass. Relying solely on these aspects as your moral reference can easily blind you of reality and objectivity, leading you to major moral inconsistencies, and possibly, harmful consequences. If you ask the average person what they think about dog abuse, specifically, the exploitation of dogs for food in China, what do you think their answer would be? I’m sure most people would condemn this behavior and be appalled by how cruel the Yulin dog eating festival is, but would vigorously defend why it’s justified to do the same for cows.
Meat-eaters usually like to say that they respect vegans and their choice to eat what they want, which is good, but as long as vegans respect them to eat their meat, i.e., “you do you”. Their justification for that is as long as they don’t hurt anyone, the necessity of something like eating meat is irrelevant. That’s true, choosing to do something that doesn’t hurt anyone should not be a concern. However, this cannot be said about meat consumption. You don’t just “do you” when you eat meat. This attempt at moral relativism is harmful to the animals, the environment, and, by extension, other people. Animals are sentient and conscious beings that seek pleasure and avoid pain, just like we do. They feel joy, pain, sexual pleasure, and emotional distress. We, including animals, have evolved pain receptors and sensory responses to danger. Eating meat contributes to the endless suffering and torture of sentient beings like cows, chickens, and pigs.
Needlessly killing an animal is immoral as it ignores the sentient desire of the animal to remain alive. However, sentient animals aren’t just killed needlessly, it’s accompanied by prior physical and emotional suffering up until the point of slaughter. Common practices found across animal factory farms are barbaric. Tail docking, tooth clipping, and ear tagging are done without any anesthetic. Animals in these cruel conditions can act out due to severe stress and anxiety. Pigs, for example, can become so stressed out that they’ll bite each other’s tails and feet and even resort to cannibalism. These behaviors do not occur in nature. Dairy cows are maternal beings. They carry and deliver their babies and form a close bond with them, similar to how we act. They’re protective and empathic towards their babies. Because cows are mammals, they must give birth to produce milk. Every year, a female cow gets forcefully impregnated by artificial insemination with manually ejaculated bull semen to keep milk in constant production. After a few hours of giving birth, newborn calves are taken away from their mothers so the milk intended for them is pumped out to us. Mother cows bellow in anger and misery for weeks on end, until their energy is so deprived and eventually lose hope of seeing their babies again. Male calves are constrained to a cage to minimize muscle movement so that they’re slaughtered at 5 days old for veal. Female calves are grown up to live the life their mothers did, a life of constant suffering and sexual violation.
Rights are an abstract human construction to guarantee a life of justice and fairness which leads to a better legal and moral system. Animals, for obvious reasons, cannot comprehend what a right is, similar to a child. Both animals and children have moral worth deserving of their right to be safe and live life in their subjective way. We understand that we can’t hold animals morally accountable for their actions but why should that be the metric for giving it moral rights? Would we hold a 3-year-old child morally accountable if he slaps an adult? No, most of us wouldn’t, but just because children don’t have moral accountability, it doesn’t mean we can strip them of their right to safety, life, and freedom from abuse. Similarly with animals, we should not deprive them of their right to live without being subjugated to abuse. How do we decide which rights to give to animals would that be an arbitrary decision? If we decide which rights are helpful for animals based on the consequences of establishing them, it wouldn’t be arbitrary. If we give animals the right to own property, for example, what benefit would that give them? None, the animal would be indifferent to it, no benefit and no harm. What about the right to life and be free from captivity and suffering? We can evidently calculate the consequences of applying this right. As we established, animals have the capacity to suffer, hence why this right would mean that animals would be free and live their intended life without being subjugated to physical or emotional abuse, making this a clearly beneficial right.
With all the ethical reasons why eating meat is immoral, we should never disregard context. For that reason, the deontological argument that meat consumption is always bad regardless of context is not a good argument. For example, eating meat by means of freeganism or roadkill are not ethical issues. The animal is already dead, eating it or leaving doesn’t contribute to anything, in fact, it would be a moral thing to do as it reduces waste that contributes to climate change. Of course, there is no necessity in doing that because you can be nutritionally healthy and satisfied as a vegan, but there is no ethical concern. We in the developed world have the luxury to choose what we want to eat. From fresh produce to mock meats and vitamin supplements. We can easily meet our nutritional needs without contributing to a cruel industry. However, there are people in developing nations and families in extreme poverty that have limited access to healthy plant sources of nutrition. Most people in these situations don’t have the privilege of choosing a plant-based burger over a slaughtered goat rationed to them, and probably cannot just walk into a CVS and pick up a B-12 supplement or just have it shipped to their door. The morality of eating meat, in this case, is not a concern because it’s very hard, or even impossible, to be healthy and satisfied on a vegan diet in this situation. We don’t want people to be martyrs for veganism.
In conclusion, basing morality on pure emotions would be illogical and extremely subjective. Therefore, it would be much more effective and objective to base morality on the consequences of our actions. I still cannot emotionally connect with animals and I’m still not emotionally affected by the sight of animal slaughter, however, I don’t hold this as a justification to be contributing to their suffering, and having an emotional connection with animals, or lack thereof, is irrelevant to the reality of animal suffering. Eating meat is not always inherently bad, context and consequences are necessary to determine the morality of an action.