So much has been written about how 2020 knocked us all for a loop with the coronavirus pandemic, nothing that I could contribute much to, but it has also exposed multiple points of entry for building a more compassionate and sustainable world. I thought I would explore just four of these areas of opportunity and what this could mean for the animals and a future with less needless cruelty.
1. Revamping How Vaccines and Medications Get to Market
At present, it is impossible to get a vaccine or take a medication that is entirely cruelty-free because even if the final products do not contain animal-derived ingredients, they have all been tested on animals to be approved for market. I am fortunate enough to not need any medications, but my husband, recovering from leukemia and a bone marrow transplant, is on several. He is also immunocompromised. Both of us will be getting the vaccine and I explored why in this essay from December.
Due to the need to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the public as quickly as possible, though, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines skipped long trials of isolated animal testing, opting instead for testing on humans and other species simultaneously.
“They overlapped preclinical studies with the early phases of the trials,” said executive director for the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. William Moss. “In fact one of the reasons we are even talking about vaccines now just 10 months later is that some of the phases in which vaccine development normally occurs were overlapped rather than done sequentially.”
In this way, simply as the result of needing to get the vaccine out much faster than usual, there is actually less cruelty to animals that went into the making of it than would be typical. (The two aforementioned vaccines do not appear to contain animal ingredients.)
I am not a scientist nor do I play one on Medium, but I do know that the bypassing of the usual streams and standards by which this vaccine was approved for market offers an opportunity to examine the time waste and excessive cruelty of medical development and testing. Do all medicines and vaccines need to go through this prolonged animal experimentation process? Or is this possibly what is done because that’s the way it’s always been done? The need for this vaccine blew a hole into the normal glacial speed of medical development and presents an opportunity to support organizations and businesses — through promotion and our dollars— working to circumvent animal testing for ethical reasons as well as reasons of efficacy and modernization.
2. More People are Exploring Vegan Proteins and Replacements
Last year — ah, how good it felt to type those two words — found people exploring new ways of thinking about their food as grocery suppliers were strained by multiple stressors that resulted in the industry’s inability to meet demand. As a result, consumers who probably wouldn’t have changed their eating habits much during a normal year started dabbling in plant-based proteins and other replacements for animal-origin grocery items to the point that multiple sectors saw exponential growth and predict more of the same.
“This new data shows that consumers are turning to plant-based food options now more than ever,” said Julie Emmett, senior director of retail partnerships at the Plant Based Foods Association. “Even after the highest panic-buying period, plant-based foods growth remains strong, proving that this industry has staying power.”
3. People are Cooking More
Related but separate from the previous point, with work environments radically and quickly changing and the hospitality industry thrown into chaos and uncertainty, lots of people who previously didn’t normally do much cooking started preparing their own food as a way to save money and reduce the risk of catching the virus. Many people also realized for the first time that cooking can actually an enjoyable hobby. With so much of the world in flux but also living much more confined to the home, there was never a better time to experiment with new plant-based ingredients that may have sat unused before.
This rise in home-cooked meals is being studied and it is not likely to go away when the pandemic has lifted. According to a survey cited in the New York Times, 54 percent of respondents said they cook more than before the pandemic, 75 percent said they have become more confident in the kitchen and 51 percent said they will continue to cook more after the crisis ends.
Of course, this is not exclusively plant-based food that people are cooking more of, but growing interest in cooking presents an opportunity to shift some of our old habits and embrace new foods, and an opportunity for vegan advocates to remove as many barriers as possible to those who are curious.
4. There is a Growing Awareness of how Animal Ag Creates Conditions for Pandemics
While there is still far too little attention to it, the connections are starting to be made to how this pandemic, like the avian flu and the swine flu, has its origins in the practice of people eating animals. Thought to be a zoonotic spillover infection, COVID-19 has wreaked enormous and deadly consequences of a scale and scope we have never seen before. Going vegan will not slow the spread of the virus nor will it prevent someone from getting sick or dying, but shifting away from animal agribusiness will be essential to reducing the likelihood of unleashing another pandemic like this upon our planet. If we don’t pay attention and modify our ways, we are on borrowed time until the next plague emerges. (I should say here that not all zoonotic diseases are a consequence of animal agriculture: West Nile and lyme disease are two such examples.)
As more attention is paid to the undeniable benefits of moving from unsustainable and dangerous agricultural practices, we also need to be amplifying the work of those who are connecting the dots and creating lasting change.
Harrowing words indeed, but also an opportunity if we heed and amplify the call to create change.
These are just four opportunities for creating change for the animals. I am sure there are many more. Let’s take advantage of them to help the animals and the planet.