The routine abuse of animals across several major industries is well documented, but the vast majority of people in the United States continue to use animals as commodities in various aspects of their life. This is especially prominent in our diets; the average American man eats 6.9 ounces of meat per day and, according to a Tyson spokesman, overall meat consumption has steadily increased over the past five years. While plant-based eating is becoming more culturally accepted, still only about 3 percent of the population adopts a totally vegan or vegetarian diet.
One of the major rationales for going vegan or vegetarian — and arguably the most polarizing — is the wish to advance animal rights and welfare, the idea that eating animal products is cruel and unethical. In my eight years of being vegetarian, I’ve had countless conversations with meat-eating friends, classmates and family members about the ethics of meat. Arguments against vegetarianism/veganism have run the gamut from hypothetical scenarios in which I’m stuck on an island and, somehow, only have animals available as food to exasperated sighs of bacon simply being too good to give up.
Eating meat has felt, at times, like an even more delicate, difficult discussion among my social circles on campus, which are filled with progressive college students who often advocate for multiple social causes. I’ve heard time and time again a line of thinking from progressive friends who eat meat that revolves around how vegans and vegetarians unfairly ignore human issues. For example, I’ve often heard that vegans and vegatarians are hypocritical because they need to care more about underpaid immigrants who pick their vegetables — despite the fact that raising animals for slaughter requires significant crop production and workers in slaughterhouses often face post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues.
This kind of logic, depending on context, implies that vegetarianism/veganism is either directly at odds with human interests or that it’s too trivial to consider while we are battling against so many other forms of oppression. But growing up, my feminism actually materialized in part because of the mental work I was doing by transitioning away from meat — reevaluating my daily choices, examining the violent power structures in customs I had previously taken as a given, realizing how the erasure of a group’s voice can completely erase consideration of its interests. These thought processes, and the more intentional relationship I built with my food as a result of them, catalyzed a more progressive mindset as a whole in me.
Why are many of my peers — otherwise committed to recognizing the experiences of those with marginalized identities — quick to dismiss work on behalf of animals that suffer for our consumption? In an environment where it’s considered critical to raise awareness of discrimination against various groups of humans, why treat the oppression of animals and of humans as incompatible worlds, as being unconnected? Why is our gut instinct to draw a line in the sand when it comes to our relationship with animals?