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Vegetarianism: The Ethical Choice
Vegetarianism is not just what you eat or even what you believe. It’s “who you are,” it is a totalizing identity. A vegetarian is an expression of one’s ethical orientation. When thinking of a vegetarian, one does not envision a person just like everyone else except that he or she does not eat meat. A person who has a certain philosophical outlook, whose choice not to eat meat is a reflection of a deeper belief system in which killing animals for human ends is considered unethical, is associated with the term. Humans make an ignorant choice when they decide to harm the environment, animals, and themselves, through the consumption of other living beings. To become a vegetarian, is to better the world as a whole. The most important reason to become a vegetarian is to end the suffering inflicted on innocent animals.
The most important reason to become a vegetarian is to end the unfair cruelty subjected on animals. Ninety-six percent of Americans think animals deserve legal protection (Foer). More than 99% of animals are raised on factory farms (Foer). The ethic for the treatment of animals forbids cruelty to animals, that is, deliberate, sadistic, useless, unnecessary infliction of pain, suffering, and neglect on animals (Rollin 5). Speciesism is the view that any or all human animals, no nonhumans, should get moral protection. A difference drawn between animals and some humans cannot be made to justify only using animals for food, only a preference for members of our own species. Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1975, which became the touchstone of animal liberation movement. In Animal Liberation, he writes:
“The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race The sexist violates the principle of equality by favoring the interests of his own sex. Similarly, the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.” (45)
He believes there is no moral justification for mistreating animals. Suffering deserves to be considered no matter the being. The fact that non-humans lack the same intellect and moral understanding is irrelevant.
No living individual deserves to suffer for the benefit of another. The animals are treated as products, not beings with lives and feelings. Ninety-eight percent of layer hens are caged (Singer In Defense of Animals 107). They are placed 8 birds in a 67 square inch cage but require a 71 to 75 square inch space. Farmers force molting to produce eggs. They reduce the light to alter the environment and starve the chickens for 10 to 14 days (Singer In Defense of Animals 107). Pigs are as intelligent as a small child but are in no way treated as such. Eighty-three percent of female pigs are in total confinement (Singer In Defense of Animals 108). They are placed in gestation crates for four months where their normal behaviors are suppressed. Living in small spaces where they cannot turn around, boredom and lack of stimulation make the pigs go insane. They cannot build a nest and are fed every two days or so. Eighty-two percent of piglets are in total confinement nurseries (Singer In Defense of Animals 109). They stay in a “finishing” building until they reach the slaughter weight of 250 pounds (Singer In Defense of Animals 109).
In 2001, North American and Europe raised 17 billion animals to be killed for food (Singer In Defense of Animals 13). This is justified by rationalizing nonhumans do not deserve moral consideration. All individuals’ interests must be considered. The interest of animals is to be free of pain. A lack of rationality, intelligence, and language does not give the right to ignore inflicting pain because of a preference to humans who are more rational. Babies, the severely retarded, and the brain damaged could be used for our consumption as well. The difference in our choice of diet is that we are classified as Homo sapiens and nonhumans are not.
Demeaning nonhumans is for human profits and leisure. It took until 1820 for an anti-cruelty law to appear in Britain. The law did not put limitations on uses of animals but stated cruelty should not be enforced when not necessary. A farmer could decide chickens needed to be in a quixotically small cage, because it was essential to producing more chickens. Humans must go beyond a speciesist morality, and give equal consideration to all interests of all beings who can feel pleasure or pain, irrespective of species (Singer Rethinking Life and Death 174). Peter Singer states, “From an ethical point of view, we all stand on an equal footing -- whether we stand on two feet, or four, or none at all” (In Defense of Animals 6). Must humans always triumph?
The pain of factory farmed animals is much greater than the pain experienced by the pets we euthanize. There is no nutritional need for animals. The overriding interest is the taste of flesh. Factory Farming is the largest direct cause of animal abuse in North America and Europe (Singer In Defense of Animals 21). A person consumes 15,000 to 25,000 factory farmed animals in a lifetime (Singer In Defense of Animals 21). The animals suffer physically by becoming injured and diseased, and physiologically by becoming severely stressed. The stress can be seen in the abnormal behaviors known as stereotypies. Sterotypies are repetitive meaningless motions such as chewing air, shaking the head and biting the bars of the cage (Singer In Defense of Animals 124). Early weaning, debeaking, dehorning, tail docking, and castration all without pain killers contribute to stress. Animals are crowded and agitated. Relieving boredom cannot be fulfilled and the stress induces aggression. In pigs, this causes cannibalism or tail biting. They cripple, mutilate and sometimes kill the pig they are biting by continuing to eat further into the back (Singer In Defense of Animals 21). Pigs drop dead from stress, known as Porcine Stress Syndrome. Caged Layer Fatigue occurs in layer hens when the calcium demand for eggshell production is drawn from bones and muscles. Acute Death Syndrome is when a bird jumps in the air, squawks and falls over dead. Calves are naturally with their mothers for one year but in factory farming only one day. Piglets stay with their mother for 19 days instead of 56 (Singer In Defense of Animals 21). Europe has accepted the negative effects of the environment factory farming supplies. They have banned gestation crates, veal crates, and batter cages. America should follow Europe’s example.
Eating animals is bad for our environment and health. The meat-based diet supports severe abuse of animals that it would warrant felony cruelty-to-animals charges if dogs or cats were treated so horribly. Farmed animals are as intelligent and sensitive as the dogs and cats more familiar to us. Reducing our resistance to witness carnism can be achieved by valuing integration over ignorance (Joy 143). If humans no longer feel entitled to kill and consume animals, our identity as human beings comes into question witnessing challenges our sense of human superiority; it forces us to acknowledge our interconnectedness with the rest of the natural world, an interconnectedness our species has made every effort to deny for thousands of years (Joy 143). As intelligent and rational beings, humans must not be ignorant of the carcasses they place in their body nor of the cruelty they condemn by eating those bodies. Value health, the environment, and animals’ lives--become a vegetarian.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. "Eating Animals." Author Event Series. Free Library of Philadelphia. Parkway Central Library, Philadelphia. 10 Nov. 2009.
Joy, Melanie PhD. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Berkeley: Conari Press, 2010. Print.
Rollin, Bernard E. Farm Animal Welfare: Social, Bioethical, and Research Issues. 1 ed. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003. Print.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. 1975. Reprint. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001. Print.
---. In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. 2 ed. Chicago, Illinois: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2005. Print.
---. Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics. New York, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1996. Print.