I remember the first time I saw a truck full of livestock heading for the slaughterhouse. I was a nine-year-old child, riding in the car with my parents on our way to visit relatives in Ontario, Canada. Due to the traffic congestion, our car rode alongside the trailer for several minutes. Those minutes were long enough for me to look into the eyes of the animals crammed in there like holocaust victims. I saw the terror in their eyes; saw they were unable to move even a centimeter. One of the calves caught my eye for more than ten seconds and in that ten seconds that animal let me know everything I didn't want to know. That animal was feeling its reality as hard as any human being ever could. I shudder as I write this, because somehow I think it felt it even more than we could. In the backseat, I began to cry. Up in the front seat, locked into their own oblivious world, my parents asked what was wrong. I told them to look at the trailer full of miserable creatures beside us, suffering in the sub-zero temperature, their terror radiating out of them like a neutron bomb.
My mother glanced over at them and without even raising an eyebrow just sniffed and told me to stop being so sensitive, that those stupid animals hadn't a clue what was going on; that they were as dense as fence posts. Furthermore, didn't the Bible say that god put them on the earth for us to eat so who was I to think I knew better than god anyway?
When she finished her lecture she turned to my father and suggested we stop at McDonalds for lunch to get me a Happy Meal to cheer me up. My father said he thought that was a good idea. I looked back at the calves and shook my head. My mother was wrong. Those animals were just as sentient as I was. To the annoyance of my parents, I refused to eat the Happy Meal. That night I dreamt of those calves with their haunted eyes. To this day, thirty years later I can still see them as clear as anything. Tell me that's not real.
But this is my personal experience. There will be those of you reading this who will agree eating animals is wrong and are likely vegetarians or even vegans. Good for you, I wish there were more of you. But the vast majority will be meat eaters and will look upon my view with varying degrees of sympathy to outright disdain and ridicule.
When I started this blog, I never ate any kind of fast food at all but I did eat meat raised in ethical farms. I live in rural Sweden and the meat bought for our table came from a small local farm where we could go and see the livestock living in completely natural surroundings. I was comfortable with this because I felt I was not contributing to the industry. That was until I found out the animals were still sent in trucks to be slaughtered at the same place as the factory farmed animals. I am now a vegan. I am not militant, but for me, personally, it is vital my existence does not cause suffering and/or pain to another sentient creature.
There is a wealth of proof readily available online to show the incredible misery factory farming inflicts on innocent creatures. Animals brought into the world for one purpose only, to be kept in confined, poorly-lit spaces, where they are abused and beaten by their handlers until they are eventually killed and sold to become someone's dinner. It's terrifying to think how much meat is thrown away. Meat is a dead animal. Meat is not separate from an animal. So when a supermarket has to throw away tens of kilos of meat that has not been sold in time, that is a life that was wasted. A life that lived in utter misery, a pointless existence devoid of socialising, warmth, freedom or love - an existence that despite animal awareness groups' efforts most people prefer to have almost no knowledge of. Well, here it is: That sentient being had one purpose. To fill a shelf in your local supermarket and be passed by until it becomes too old to be sold and is thrown away for incineration. If it was 'lucky' someone bought it, cooked it well and then ate all of it, enjoying every bite. But here is an interesting question, how can any animal raised in such an environment ever provide truly nourishing meat?
If that is not reason enough to seriously rethink one's 'need' to consume meat, then here is a another one. Climate change is greatly affected by the animal agriculture industry. If we were all to decide to cut meat out of our diets, we could congratulate ourselves for single-handedly saving the environment.
Animal advocacy groups got a big boost when a report from the UN stated that animal agriculture does more harm to the climate than all cars, planes, trains, and ships contribute to the world combined.
Giving up meat is not difficult if one believes what they are doing is meaningful and has purpose. Perhaps the next time you walk through the meat section of your local supermarket you will remember this post and consider what had to happen to get that package of meat to sit in that chiller cabinet, even if just for a moment. Let those who died at least have your awareness of the terrible life they led. When the price of their life is worth no more to us than ten minutes of eating, it cannot be too much to ask.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Feb 18 2011