Every day, we choose what to do with our lives. We choose what to wear, where to go, and what to eat. Given that most of the actions we decide to partake in are completely under our control, we assume they all must be personal choices. Most of them are, for sure. However, in the globalised world we live in, it is virtually impossible to do something without affecting others. So, what about meat? Can we really say that when we choose to eat meat, nobody suffers as a consequence?
Meat is the new cigarette?
Eating meat is often compared to smoking on both sides of the debate; vegans say that meat is the new cigarette, with more and more evidence of its harmful effects in humans, and meat-eaters say that eating meat is just a personal choice, like cigarettes. Whilst sometimes this can be a good analogy, it fails when it tries to represent meat-eating as a private decision.
Personal choices, by definition, only affect the individual making such choices. With eating animal products, there are other sentient beings involved. It is not a personal choice to harm animals for trivial and unnecessary pleasures. Your personal choice ends where someone else’s choices begin.
The crucial difference between eating animals and smoking is that animals always get harmed in the process of becoming our food (see The Legality of Animal Abuse). This happens in massive factory farms all the way to organic, free-range and local farms. Besides animals, factory farms have a terrible track record of human mistreatment, too. In 2016 Oxfam reported cases in the US where poultry workers had to wear diapers on the job due to lack of toilet breaks. Furthermore, it is a well-documented fact that slaughterhouse employment increases the rates of crime and domestic violence (see study).
We have the right to damage ourselves, for example through smoking, but we do not have the right to damage other sentient beings.
Veganism is about understanding how our day to day choices, some not completely personal, affect others. This includes animals, but it doesn’t end there. Veganism, for me, has opened my eyes to all the other small habitual actions I have and how they might be negatively affecting other humans. If we begin to respect animals, not only will it be a better world for animals but also a better world for all of us.
So next time you’re looking to eat a burger, think about this: who am I harming with this choice?