I’ve always found it a little strange when my fellow progressives scoff at the idea of veganism. After all, aren’t progressives supposed to be open-minded? I’m usually not surprised when conservatives deny the concept of veganism and compassion for animals – because many of them do not even possess compassion for all people, nonetheless animals. I think it is fair to say that most conservatives are generally opposed to effective, government programs that help the poor, the elderly and the downtrodden. Some are even opposed to equal rights for LGBTQ folks (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer / Questioning) and often support strict laws against immigrants who are seeking better lives and opportunity in this country. Not all conservatives are like this though. Many conservatives are independent-minded and support much more moderate approaches to public policy, and good on them for it. I even know a number of conservatives who are vegetarian. Despite this, it is not difficult to see why most conservatives have trouble extending compassion to all animals. Progressives on the other hand, have less of an excuse.
Progressivism is a noble cause and one that I most fundamentally identify with. It is the notion that all people deserve equality and ought to be treated with fairness. Progressivism values the environment and seeks to protect it. Progressivism is practical, and rejects wastefulness. Progressivism is a line of thought that all people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, should be treated with respect, dignity and at the very least, should be spared from cruelty and suffering. Yet many progressives contribute greatly to cruelty and the suffering of animals. We’ve been fooled into thinking that animals are too “stupid” to matter, or that their interests either shouldn’t be taken seriously or are so far below the interests of humans that it is laughable to question the matter. The fact is – animals do matter. Their interest in living a good life, free from pain and suffering and the threat of dying is greater than our fleeting interest in tasting their flesh.
Discrimination is the idea that it is somehow acceptable to use others or to not take their interests into account because you believe you are superior to others and therefore your interests should always be considered first. When Anglos enslave and deny rights to people of color this is called racism. When men deny women the right to vote or treat them as sexual objects or inferior this is called sexism. When straight people deny gay and lesbian people the right to marry or adopt children this is called heterosexism. When humans refuse to consider animals’ interests and instead treat them as objects meant to be eaten for pleasure, this is called speciesism. Specieisism is so common because we are taught since childhood that it is normal to only view animals with the purpose of satisfying human interests. This is easy to do – because the majority of people in our culture accept this form of discrimination, and it is personally challenging to speak up on behalf of the oppressed when everyone around you agrees with the oppression. It’s a lot easier just to go with the flow rather than stand up for what is right. But like all other forms of discrimination, the reasoning for treating certain animals as objects is arbitrary and baseless.
Speciesists disregard the interests of animals because they are not of the human species and are different than us in some ways. But we know through our relationships with dogs and cats that animals do have interests, and therefore any distinction we make between dogs and pigs, or cats and chickens is false, based upon nothing, and morally irrelevant. Eating animals is illogical, and runs against our better sense to see what interests we have in common with animals – not arbitrary differences. After all, humans are animals. Humans, like animals, don’t want to feel pain. We don’t like to suffer. We don’t like the threat of death or being killed. We enjoy living a peaceful life, free to be with our families and free from those who would harm us. Animals are exactly the same. Many of us are unfamiliar with the intelligence and emotional side of farm animals because we have never had the opportunity to meet them, and we are encouraged by those around us, beginning in childhood, to believe that farm animals are “dumb” and don’t feel anything. Well, it’s time to wake up and smell the fair-trade coffee! I have had the opportunity to spend time around farm animals, and I can tell you that it is an eye-opening experience. They are exactly like dogs and cats in that they like to get their neck rubbed, play chase, sit next to you and just be your friend. This can only happen though if you allow it to – you have to open your mind, and think about animals differently than you did before. Speciesism is the belief that the superiority of the human species discounts even the most basic consideration of animal welfare or decent treatment. Are you a speciesist?
There are far too many progressives who spend their days running animal shelters while eating bacon (which is made from the belly fat of pigs who are more intelligent than dogs). There are far too many progressives who try to end world hunger, but every time they eat meat, dairy or eggs are eating 20 times the amount of resources of a vegan meal. There are far too may progressives who campaign for the protection of the environment, and yet partake in a diet that is incredibly destructive to our water and land resources and contributes more to global warming than all transportation combined. There are far too many progressives who demand fair treatment of workers, yet purchase animal products from factory farm corporations that routinely abuse their workers, deny them the right to collectively bargain or form unions and subject them to some of the most dangerous working conditions in America. There are far too many progresives who admirably defend a woman’s right to choose and make decisions regarding her own body and sexuality, yet who choose to eat dairy and egg products that are the result of incessant forced pregnancies, and the abuse of the female reproductive system in mother cows and hens. There are far too many progressives who call for universal health care in order to make sure that all people are insured, yet eat and promote a meat-based diet and lifestyle that directly contributes to the #1 cause of preventable death in this country: heart disease. Why is this?
Lets take a look at the facts:
Meat, dairy and eggs are the only source of cholesterol, a leading factor in heart disease.
People who eat a vegan diet live on average 7 to 10 years longer than meat-eaters and they are much less prone to develop preventable diseases including heart disease, weight issues, diabetes and even some cancers.
People who eat well-planned vegan diets get all the nutrition they need, and usually get above-average protein, calcium and iron.
Animal agriculture is the #1 cause of global warming and climate change according to the United Nations. Even more than all forms of transportation combined.
A vegan could leave their shower running 24/7, 365 days per year and still use less water than a meat eater.
Animal Agriculture is the #1 consumer of drinkable water, and also the biggest waster of water. Factory farms pollute rivers and streams.
One of the primary causes of rain forest deforestation is to clear land for cattle to graze or to raise crops to feed to animals.
It uses so many resources to produce animal products, that every time you eat a meat-based meal, it is like throwing away 20 plates of food.
It takes 16 pounds of grain and 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat. It takes 0 pounds of grain and 60 gallons of water to produce one pound of fruit or vegetables. Producing animals for food is inefficient and wasteful – counter to progressive values.
40,000 people starve to death every day – most of them are children, yet the average American is using 20 times the amount of food resources at every meal. Think about how many more people could eat if we didn’t use so much.
99% of meat comes from corporate factory farms where cruelty to animals is the standard – not the exception. The other 1% comes from smaller farms, where animals are still killed in inhumane ways.
95% of Americans say they are against cruelty to animals, yet 95% of Americans contribute to cruelty to animals by buying and eating animal flesh and dairy secretions at grocery stores and restaurants.
Over 10 billion animals are killed each year in the US for food. This does not include fishes.
Animals that are killed for food are just as capable of feeling pain and suffering as dogs and cats are. They are equally as intelligent as dogs and cats and enjoy being loved by humans like your dog or cat.
Being progressive includes keeping an open-mind. It also includes not turning your eyes from cruelty when it occurs. Educate yourself about the food you eat everyday at restaurants and your own kitchen by watching this short video:
As progressives, we will only be successful when we champion all of our issues in unison – they are as interdependently connected as we are with each other. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union and declared freedom for all people, and he was also a vegetarian. Gandhi worked for independence and peace, but also animal rights. Cesar Chavez demanded that minorities and immigrants be treated with respect and fairness, and he was also a vegan. Many of the great progressive leaders who have come before us have worked on multiple progressive causes simultaneously and that included animal rights and welfare. So, why aren’t you a vegan? Advocating for animal rights has a rich tradition in progressivism. Many people may think it is strange to care so much for animals, but I think it is strange to treat animals with disregard and wanton cruelty. There’s nothing strange about compassion.
We must not fall into the trap of tradition. Simply because something has always been one way, doesn’t mean it always will be or that it always should be so. It used to be tradition that women did not have political power. It used to be tradition that children were used for hard manual labor. It used to be tradition that people were segregated by their skin color. As progressives, we challenge out-dated “traditions” and demand a more fair and equitable society. Let the conservatives cling onto the status-quo as it inevitably fades into the past – we’ve got work to do. Many people tell me that their family members are involved in animal agriculture, and therefore they can’t become a vegan. I challenge this notion. First of all, some of my family has been involved in animal agriculture – and that doesn’t stop me and thousands of others from giving up meat, dairy and eggs. Some of them have even worked in factory farms. This logic is ultimately flawed though because people rarely employ it to defend other choices. If your uncle worked in a Hummer factory, would you be compelled to buy and drive a Hummer? No. You wouldn’t, and because you’re a progressive you’d probably drive a more sensible car, maybe a hybrid or even ride your bike. The same principle should apply to what, or who, you eat. Eating a vegan diet, regardless of whether or not your grandparents have a dairy farm, is a very progressive thing you can do. Our decisions should be dictated by our conscience and our rationality – not our uncle’s job.
Isn’t it about time that progressives grew a backbone, and made a stand for the environment, world hunger, health, worker’s rights and animals? Eating a vegan diet is the easiest thing you can do as a progressive to create positive change in the world. Most people live in large cities where vegan-friendly restaurants abound and where there are sure to be grocery stores that offer limitless vegan options. There is simply no excuse not to try it. It literally requires no effort at all, and it does not take away from your advocacy on other progressive issues. To the contrary – it increases your advocacy for many other progressive issues many times over. By withdrawing your support from massive factory farm corporations and by adopting a plant-based vegan diet, you are showing that you are not only a progressive during the day, but also at the dining table. Don’t set your values down every time you pick up a fork.
Join millions of other progressives in adopting a vegan diet. You’ll be healthier, the environment will be cleaner, workers will be treated better and animals will be spared from needless cruelty. Thanks for reading, and please post this on Facebook and Twitter.