My body will not be a tomb for other creaturesLeonardo Da Vinci
Reading a book under a tree in summer, a hot lavender bath after a long rainy walk, pausing to take a deep breath after a stressful day. These are all things that are good for the soul. There are also things that are not good for the soul. Focusing on negative thoughts, caring too much about money, and, for some, eating meat. The act of being vegan has gradually become more of a spiritual decision for me, and I’m not alone in this thinking process. Many people believe that killing and eating animals causes suffering for the consumer as well as the animal that put the meal on their plate, through absorbing the pain the animal went through and that becoming a part of you. But these beliefs are not founded on spirituality alone. There is a historic link between consuming meat and human health scientifically, too.
A quick bit of context for you before I dive into this controversial subject… While I have never been a “preachy vegan”, I find it harder and harder to condone the excessive consumption of meat and dairy in the world today, not just because of the cruelty to other living beings but because of the inexcusable impact it has on the planet. I have always been a firm believer that any change is positive, and that no one is perfect. No one has to immediately alter their diet to become vegan, and I want to make it clear that I appreciate that some people cannot make that choice (and if you are one of those people, I would suggest you stop reading!). But, in my opinion, you simply cannot be an environmentalist and continue with the consumption of animals. So today, I am going to release my frustrations that I try very hard to suppress most of the time in favour of not alienating anybody; I believe empathy and kindness despite personal differences always works and angry forcefulness does not. But today, I’m gonna let myself off and say what I wanna say.
Plant power is real. People do not realise how magical plants are; they hold everything we need within them. People claim to believe in the power of plants, and yet continue to consume animals. I don’t understand how anybody could recognise their innate connection to nature but ignore the suffering of beings much more important than we are, rather than learning from them. I simply cannot bridge that gap between loving nature and eating meat and dairy; it causes so much harm. But that’s really just how I feel; some people can compartmentalise better than I can. A quote I feel sums up my beliefs about this is “it doesn’t make sense to wish for peace while you support oppression”. Take David Attenborough – he recently released ‘A Life on Our Planet’ with Netflix which, no surprise, was another hit. It was a brilliant film focusing on the detrimental impact humans have had on mama earth, largely due to livestock farming. The documentary ends with the message that we all need to change our habits to protect the planet, and yet Mr Attenborough himself still eats meat. Shortly after the documentary aired, he acknowledged his own hypocrisy. But he has said nothing about cutting down his meat consumption. If the people who are leading these initiatives are not following their own advice, what hope do we really have?
Something I am really interested in is the historic connection between the suffering of animals and the meat that comes from them. Many people can understand this when faced with China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival, but for some reason struggle to apply that logic to other animals in other countries, especially their own. It is so easy to berate other cultures and not apply the same rules to ourselves. In China, some believe that the heightened adrenaline from torturing dogs before killing them makes the meat taste better (Valarie Ianniello, Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation). And I wholeheartedly agree that this is barbaric, but I can’t help but get angry at the furore around this particular festival. Do people not understand that it is just a difference of culture and that any animal putting dinner on the table has been treated with the same lack of respect?
The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is differentHippocrates
This link is recognised in other cultures too. Whether negative or positive; it is definitely interpreted that there is a relationship between animal suffering and the taste of meat. In America, the pork industry loses $275 million a year on meat that has to be discarded because of pre-slaughter fear and stress as they believe this makes the meat taste bad. U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization talks about this in its “Guidelines for Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock” stating that when animals are subjected to manhandling, fighting in pens, and bad stunning techniques, the fright and stress causes a rapid breakdown of muscle glycogen. This lightens the color of the meat and turns it acidic and tasteless, making it difficult to sell, so it is usually discarded. The Journal of Animal Science also recently confirmed that fear experienced during slaughter significantly increases levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in animals’ bodies. Human studies have already shown that the consumption of artificial growth hormones affects our reproductive systems among other things, resulting in policy changes in many countries. But attention is now turning to these naturally occurring fear-induced hormones as scientists worry that their consumption causes similar problems for us. This is a promising prospect for the future of animal consumption, but it is so disappointing that for anybody to want to make changes, it must be for human benefit.
A fascinating branch of these theories, down a more spiritual route, is the one that believes by eating meat, you are absorbing the inner pain and suffering the animals went through before they died. When I really take the time to consider this, I cannot imagine it to not be the truth. The ‘meat’ was alive, like you and I, and they experience horrendous living conditions before they even make it to the slaughterhouse. On the way to the slaughterhouse, 24-31% of pigs actually vomit from motion sickness and 50% display motion sickness symptoms such as foaming at the mouth. By the time they are electrocuted or shot, their body is pulsing with fear. It makes no sense that this would have no effect on the animal biologically, and therefore, our consumption of that animal afterwards. If not from an animal welfare point of view, look at it from a purely selfish point of view: surely the killing and eating of other creatures cannot be doing anything kind to our souls. It is an act of hate, of power and dominance. I often wonder whether it contributes to some of the more angry people I encounter in life.
Whereas the vegetable kingdom should adequately sustain the body of man, the animal kingdom should feed his emotional needs only. This relationship of loving, learning and teaching is the true one, instead of the prevailing extraordinary exploitation, slaughter and cruelty enacted towards animals, which forms the basis of similar attitudes towards all the other kingdoms, producing the predatory world which we have today.Vera Stanley Alder, Finding of the Third Eye
A book that delves into this theory wonderfully is Finding of the Third Eye by Vera Stanley Alder. The above quotation from this book is one I find incredibly insightful and very difficult to argue with. Vera also discusses the “poisons” humans flood themselves with, such as fear, anger, worry, and envy, and that the emanations from terrified slaughtered animals should not be forgotten from this list. She says that we have a choice between whether to return to meat-eating and the strong warlike nature of our forefathers or to give it up and become more gentle and to provide the peace that the whole world is crying out for. Vera believes that no idealist or “advanced person” actually likes the idea of eating meat (though I know a few people who would disagree…), and that it is a barbarism which will gradually disappear. We can dream!
There are various other studies that explore this thought process, one being The Psychology of Eating Animals (2014). This study concluded that “meat-eaters tend to care less about animal welfare, to value masculinity, and to accept social hierarchy and inequality. They tend to reduce mind attribution to animals and see them as dissimilar to humans”. The Carnism Inventory: Measuring the Ideology of Eating Animals (2017) seems to back this up, stating that Carnistic beliefs seem to be associated with an attitude that approves of dominance within social structures and could thus encourage the development of prejudices towards certain social categories. The study found that almost 100% of people who eat meat believe human beings naturally have a position of dominance over animals – no shocker there, really.
I am repeatedly amazed by the lack of a recognised connection between feminism and animal consumption in the world today. Although, until I met someone a few years back, I probably would never have made the link either. But once you know, it’s difficult to see the issues as separate anymore. At their roots, all inequality issues stem from oppression. I don’t want to talk about racial injustice because I feel it would be an insult to even compare the two issues, but there is certainly a huge link between gender inequality and the exploitation of animals. My friend Sophie, who I met on a vegan retreat a few years ago, eloquently explains this in the below video. I have shown this to so many people and it never fails to get the point across.
Of course, I couldn’t write a blog post about my strong feelings on this topic without talking about Mother Earth. More and more people are altering their diets to be more planet-friendly and I think climate change has probably played a big part in this. It’s not just about animal welfare anymore; people are starting to realise this could affect them, their children and their grandchildren in the future if nothing changes. One point meat-eaters love to make is that I am vegan but I still fly in planes and drive a car. I even had a vegetarian tell me that it would be better if I stopped traveling and go back to eating dairy. While emissions from transportation are of course a contributor to global warming (one upside to COVID is there were no flights for ages and Earth could BREATHE), raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector (What The Health – Netflix). It is also the leading cause of rainforest destruction, species extinction, ocean dead zones and freshwater consumption (Livestock’s Long Shadow). Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock (FAO, 2013) tells us that global livestock represents 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. It is simply undeniable anymore – if you want to stop climate change in its tracks and leave an inhabitable Earth for the people who come after you, the single most powerful thing you can do is to stop eating animal produce.
It seems justified to say that intensive animal-based production in response to the growing demand for meat and animal-based products contributes to the devastation of the natural environment and plays a significant part in climatic change.Selected Psychological Aspects of Meat Consumption (2018)
So, what do you do now? That’s up to you. If you find digital informational sources useful, here is a list of ones I would recommend:
- What The Health (Netflix): documentary outlining key bits of information about human health and planet degradation due to the consumption of animals
- 7 Worlds One Planet (Netflix): docuseries – or any BBC wildlife documentaries! To make you fall in love with nature and understand ways you can stop destroying it
- Blackfish (Netflix): a documentary about the injustice at SeaWorld
- Chasing Coral (Netflix): a more specialised documentary on the destruction of coral reef networks in our oceans
- Blood Lions (available to buy and stream online): a documentary on the breeding of lions for hunting purposes
- Okja (Netflix): a fictional film but beautiful none-the-less. Sheds light on real-life animal welfare issues
- How Not to Die (Book): an incredible, comprehensive run-through of the top killers of humans in the world and how each boils down to the consumption of animal produce, and how following a vegan diet changes that. Cannot recommend this book enough
- Finding of the Third Eye (Book): as mentioned in this blog post, this book offers a spiritual glance at veganism in amongst other issues
I could go on. The thing is, while I would highly recommend watching or reading any of those given on the list, they are not able to change the planet if you don’t act on what they teach you. It just isn’t acceptable to completely turn a blind eye anymore – and I don’t wish to shame anybody, I’m simply stating the facts. Going “aww!” at the cute cheetah cubs on Our Planet but employing selective hearing when David Attenborough tells you meat consumption is single-handedly destroying the planet isn’t gonna cut it. If my saying that makes you feel angry, ask yourself why, and really delve deep. Are you angry because you know I’m telling you the truth? Again, this is no personal attack – I am just passing on what I think is vital information. Everything I say comes purely from an intense love for nature; all I want is for that to emanate and hopefully be absorbed by even one person who reads this.