I was reading someone’s blog post recently where they were explaining that they were beginning to transition to vegetarianism, and wanted to eventually make their way to veganism. The cruelty in the factory farming was the issue for them, and it was recognized to exist in the dairy industry as well, thus the goal of veganism.
I am always happy to hear that someone is making the transition, and while I worry a bit about people’s focus on cruelty, I know that many if not most of us actually started there. An initial focus on cruelty often moves from that point to a broader ethical position where we see the inherent problem with exploitation and use of all kinds, not just with the gratuitous and gruesome cruelty of the factory farming.
So, sure, cruelty is sometimes a place to start, the wedge that opens the awareness.
But at the same time I cringe, because focusing on cruelty opens the door for the happy meaters to convince you that you can eat cruelty-free animal products.
And sure enough, the happy meaters came to write their name on the wall of that particular blog post.
I think back to myself in my formative vegetarian years, but that doesn’t really apply. It was not the cruelty or the treatment, of which I didn’t actually let myself think, but it was being responsible for an unnecessary death that I could no longer be a part of that made me give up meat. And I was stubborn, there wouldn’t have been anything that could have made me waver once the decision was made.
Whether he was just being nice to the happy meat people or not, he responded to the “look at how nicely I raise the animals I have in my freezer, and let me assure you that their deaths were instantaneous and kind” comment graciously and with a statement about how he’d think about their points.
I don’t know this person well, I don’t know what is in their mind, not really. I don’t know whether he could be convinced that killing an animal that trusts you, that treating them like a thing, is being nice to them. It is possible – we’ve all seen it before. A friend’s coworker was vegetarian for about five minutes after seeing that Ingrid Newkirk documentary that came out recently – what was it called? “I am an animal”, or something like that? So my friend’s coworker was really serious that she couldn’t eat meat ever again after she saw that, and a couple weeks later she said “it is just too hard” and gave up on her vow.
Though I’m rambling, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that while focusing on cruelty seems to open the doors on one level, it also opens the door to the myth of the small happy farm with the animals who whistle on their way to slaughter. Yet I’m not sure most people really listen to the rights arguments unless they are already feeling uneasy about the overall treatment. It is just too abstract for us when we’ve spent our lives disassociating our dinners from the sentient beings they used to be.
Obviously if there was one answer for reaching people, if the magic formula had been discovered, vegans wouldn’t be in the minority.