This opinion piece was first published on Mamamia on 17 October 2017.
Do you believe in kindness and compassion towards animals?
A majority of us do, so the statistics show. And in increasing numbers, people are starting to draw a direct line between how they feel about animals and how often they eat them.
And the reason for this might surprise you:
Acts of animal cruelty and suffering that until recently were hidden from view under a veil of secrecy are now on full display and free for anyone to see in just a couple of clicks. From the veritable torture of sheep in the live export trade, the bashing of joeys in the commercial kangaroo industry, to the appalling treatment of battery hens and pregnant pigs in intensive factory farming; thanks to social media, we are now all bystanders, witnesses. If we choose to look.
The animal movement is a new social justice movement and with the ability for people to upload and share content via YouTube and social media, animal advocacy organisations are suddenly multiplying, growing larger and stronger and employing teams of undercover investigators. What they find can be hard to watch but important to see. Several videos on YouTube, for example, capturing footage of the grinding alive (maceration) of unwanted baby male chicks in the egg industry have been viewed by over six million people. Hundreds of thousands have watched videos of the unwanted baby calves of the Australian dairy industry, one day old with their umbilical cord still attached, thrown into trucks for slaughter.
What do we do with all these scenes, so traumatic, unjust, violent and yet legal? We feel shock, grief and finally… anger. But, how do we transform our fury to action and stop the cruelty?
Many people are choosing to change their eating habits. Because, of course, once we reduce demand for inhumanly farmed products, we reduce the supply. And reduced supply equals fewer animals suffering for our food.
It seems like a simple equation. We find out there’s a problem, decide to act, and the industries close or adapt, solving the problem.
We are humans and we’re complicated, imperfect, with strong emotional attachments. And one of our biggest attachments is food.
Food is not just a simple source of nutrition and nourishment, it is part of our culture, family and social traditions. It’s a connection between us and our loved ones, treasured childhood memories and lifelong habits. Changing what we eat is hard.
Despite what we feel may be the right thing to do, many of us find it impossible to go from zero to vegan overnight. And many don’t want to go that far or even close to it.
And so we’ve created a multitude of other labels and ‘isms’ to help us live in the grey zone and feel okay with the in-between.
There are ‘reducetarians’ who try and reduce their consumption of animal products. Vegan before 6 (VB6), as the name suggests, eat vegan before 6pm and then anything goes after dusk. Vegan(ish) is increasingly popular – you can guess what that one means. Millions have signed up to Veganuary (eating vegan in January), Meatless Mondays and Meat Free Weeks. Flexitarians are people who eat mostly a vegan diet, but not strictly, and it’s said to be the biggest food trend this year. And finally, there are the garden-variety vegans and vegetarians, who can be combined into an umbrella of, veg*an.
How do you tell kids where their meat comes from?
We eat about 1,095 meals in a year. If we are 100% vegan we save, so the number-crunchers say, about 200 animals a year (by not breeding and killing them) and if we are vegetarian, around 100.
Saving animals from a lifetime of suffering is still saving lives, if it’s one or a thousand. Any reduction matters. It matters to the animals and strangely enough, according to the latest research, large numbers of in-betweeners incrementally cutting back on their meat and dairy may end up changing our world faster than a minority of pure vegans.
Changing our eating habits is a journey, a long winding road with ups, downs, u-turns, slips, blunders and backflips. Sometimes we live in the grey area for months or years until we find the mental and emotional strength to continue towards a more total plant-based diet. And that’s okay.
Eating fewer animals or choosing to be some sort of vegetarian doesn’t have to be black and white, all or nothing. Go easy on yourself. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
As long as we are making our decisions consciously, trying to do our best to be true to our values and close the gap between our belief in compassion and what we put on our forks, we will create a kinder world and an end to the suffering of billions of animals.