Most people who consume animal products and wear their skin do not give it a second thought. They do not notice that they are part of a group of people who share specific beliefs and attitudes around how they view animals. It is taken for granted. It is a given.
In the U.S., people are socialized to believe that it is wrong to kill cats for food and label other cultures that eat cats “barbaric”. At the same time other cultures see those who eat cows and pigs as “barbaric”. Most people are disgusted and disturbed by the Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China, but have not made the same compassionate connections with the beings they eat, who are bred and slaughtered in the U.S. by the millions each year for food, traditional celebrations, shoes, clothing and other products.
The animals who are killed for food, clothing, etc., share behaviors, emotions and individual personality traits that connect us to them. They, like us, feel pain, pleasure and fear, protect their young and form bonds with each other.
If most people value fairness, compassion and justice, then why do many participate in a system that is organized around unnecessary despair and death?
This practice of animal exploitation is part of a belief system that is rooted in ideas that people are socialized to believe as normal behavior.
In the U.S., the belief that people have a right to exploit animals is so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness that it is promoted through many industries including the healthcare, food, cosmetic and fashion industries. This collective consciousness, and the systems that support it, is called an ideology and, in this case, it is a violent ideology.
It relies on the belief that the practice of killing some animals, and not others, is normal, natural and necessary. And it is justified through ideas about tradition, religion, health, survival and intelligence. It conditions people to consider the feelings of some beings as worthy of our love and compassion, and create laws to protect them, but not others.
Consider the following examples that demonstrate unconscious ways of thinking that reinforce participation in animal exploitation:
Invisibility: Have you ever noticed that most people do not see or know where the animals who are exploited live? Many people do not think about the suffering they have to endure, especially in factory farms. As the saying goes, if slaughterhouses, factory farms and fur farms were made of glass, many people would think twice about participating in it. If we don’t see it, we don’t think about it. Invisibility keeps the system unnoticed and unnamed. It creates a sense of indifference to its victims and blocks people from finding alternative ways of living.
Disassociation: Referring to animals as “it’ instead of “she”, “he” or “they” helps to disconnect people from the reality that they are living beings not objects. Calling pig’s flesh, “ham” and cow’s flesh “steak” disconnects people from seeing them as actual living beings who expressed emotions and individual personalities when they were alive.
Categorizing animals into worthy and unworthy groups: Chickens have complex cognitive abilities. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs. Lambs are just as cute as kittens. But our laws protect some and not others even though all of these beings, like humans, are capable of suffering. In addition, are intelligence and cuteness good reasons to inflict unnecessary suffering? A reasoning we do not apply to people.
Beliefs about what is natural: Some people say, “It is natural to eat meat”. The term “natural” in this context implies that which feels natural and it is defined by the culture one is socialized in. There are cultures where people are socialized to believe that it is unnatural to eat animals and they have been surviving for centuries without eating animals. Furthermore, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Heart Association and many health practitioners recognize that a healthy 100% plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, and for athletic performance. This is evidenced by the many vegans today who are in their 40s who have been vegan since birth, including athletes, and others who are well into their 80s who have been vegan for over 30 years.
In order to break free from this system of unnecessary violence and re-connect with our deeper values of fairness, compassion and justice, here are some suggestions to consider:
- Read, watch and learn about the stories of the victims,
- Recognize it for what it really is (violent ideology, animal exploitation, oppression, speciesism, carnism),
- Recognize the value-based contradictions that go against our deeper sense of compassion,
- Challenge the faulty justifications that people are socialized to believe as facts,
- Make small changes to your behavior and build on it,
- Find or create communities (local and/or online) where you can get support and support others.
Please check out the “Transitioning to Veganism” section for information to help you along the way.