Most people are compassionate and want to avoid causing unnecessary harm, but most of us also participate in a system that causes egregious cruelty. That’s because we grow up in a culture where eating meat, dairy and eggs is the norm. We learn from those around us, so if everybody we know eats animal products, we tend to adopt the habit as well, without really thinking about it.
Consumers growing up in developed countries are also bombarded by agribusiness marketing efforts, which lead us to believe that animal based foods provide essential nutrients and that we would be deficient if we ate only plants. Still, we are empathetic and distressed to learn about the cruelty animals endure on factory farms, such that when the topic comes up, people often say “don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.” But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can each make food choices every day that better align with compassionate values.
By eating plants instead of animals, we can avoid causing intolerable animal suffering, while also improving our health and supporting ecological sanity. Instead of consuming foods that make us sick, we can make mindful food choices that sustain health and wellness. It has been estimated that we could save 70% on health care costs in the U.S. by shifting to a whole foods plant based diet. In addition, eating plant foods is more efficient and could feed more people with fewer resources than growing crops to feed cows, pigs, chickens and other animals, who are then raised and slaughtered for our consumption. Animal agriculture is a top contributor to the most significant environmental problems facing our planet, including climate change, loss of species and the destruction of healthy ecosystems.
We grow up with habits undergirded by cultural norms, beliefs and economic structures. But, humans also possess empathy and conscience, qualities that have challenged and reformed cruel and unjust systems throughout history. The fact that humans have engaged in a particular activity for millennia doesn’t require that we continue with it, otherwise slavery would still be legal and women wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Confronting norms and breaking from the status quo can be frightening, but that is how progress happens. Today, we look back on institutions like slavery, and we are dismayed that it had been the norm in our society. In the future, we could look back on our wanton exploitation and slaughter of animals with similar remorse. If we can live well without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn’t we?
Consumers are learning about factory farming and increasingly seeking to align how they eat with their values and interests. We are now in the midst of a burgeoning plant based food movement, and it is very encouraging to see more and more people recognizing that farm animals can be our friends instead of food. I imagine many new vegans share the feeling of Franz Kafka who said, “Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.”
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