I Don't Eat Animals

I thought I had done the vegetarian thing in my idealistic youth. I lived on lentil burgers, fried rice, pasta and bread from 17 when I first refused my mum’s lamb chops until 27 when I weakened and started eating chicken and fish, mentally adjusting my guilt with the rationalisation that I was now more mature, realistic and conventional, no longer the strident, embarrassing, non-conformist rebel.

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However five years ago, in 2010 at the age of 53, I got re-educated about the abject cruelty of the meat industry by mustering the courage to watch the harrowing film Earthlings and the brilliant expose, Food. Inc. and reading the personal soul-searching of Eating Animals.

I then found the inspirational, resource-rich website of Viva! (Vegetarian International Voice for Animals), a dynamic UK campaigning organisation led by passionate Founding Director, Juliet Gellatley. Viva’s courageous, radical work educates consumers about the horrors of the meat industry and the moral and health benefits of going veggie.

I decided I could no longer ignore and be complicit in the suffering of billions of innocent animals in grotesque factory farming. I opted to become vegetarian for ethical reasons.

The Scale of the Slaughter

Eating animals in the 21st century is now a worse crime than when I became a ‘veggie’ as a teenager in the 70s. The heart-wrenching, graphic facts convince me that vegetarianism is the most urgent global environmental cause of our times, not merely a quirky personal moral issue or a selfish, personal health issue.

The volume of animals slaughtered for food has escalated over the last 30 years with the rampant proliferation of fast food outlets that tantalise the insatiable human appetite for animal flesh.

According to Adaptt 150 billion animals are killed every year to feed a population of seven billion humans. To continue this way is unsustainable.

In 40 years, the population of earth is predicted to be 9.2 billion and we are trying to feed this many humans with dead animals. Of all the ways we could produce food, breeding and killing animals is the most inefficient and destructive means possible.

So globally 150 billion animals are killed for food every year. Pause for a moment to let this figure sink in. This staggering volume of animals including cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, ducks, turkeys, fish and seafood is unimaginable and incomprehensible.

The masters of consumerism in the US, unsurprisingly, excel when it comes to sheer numbers of animals killed. In hidden slaughterhouses dotted across the country, life is drained from so-called “food animals” 10,000 times a minute.

Americans eat as much chicken now in a single day as they did in an entire year in the 1930s. Millions of birds are killed every week to keep up the demand from KFC, McDonalds and other fast food pushers. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, turkeys are massacred en mass, ironically to celebrate these heart-warming, wholesome occasions.

In the UK, 850 million animals and hundreds of millions of fish are killed every year to put meat on British tables; that’s more than three million animals a day.

According to Viva! the average British meat eater chomps through four cows, 18 pigs, 23 sheep and lambs, 1158 chickens, 39 turkeys, 28 ducks, one rabbit, one goose, 6182 fish and 3593 shellfish in their lifetime. This is a total of 11,046 animals.

To keep up with the rapacious demand for animal flesh, factory farms now “manufacture” meat through the intensive breeding, raising and slaughtering of animals in abject conditions.

Small, independent family farms are relegated to the idyllic rural past. More than 90 per cent of meat consumed in developed countries comes from factory farms. And China and other developing countries are following the trend.

The Depth of the Misery

Actor Joaquin Phoenix narrating Earthlings in his calm voice of reason, names human prejudice against other living creatures as “Speciesism”. He likens it to racism and sexism where humans with power exploit those without power.

Humans are waging war on animals on land and sea. Out of sight of ignorant consumers, in disgusting hidden abattoirs, unprecedented torture and slaughter is underway on a mass scale every day.

In slaughterhouses, cattle are stunned with a steel bolt to the brain and hoisted upside down while still alive and their throats are cut.

In pig factories, sows are kept permanently pregnant so a single factory can ‘manufacture’ up to 600,000 pigs a year. Starving and crazed pigs cannibalise each other while piglets drown in waste pits.

Brutally de-beaked infant chicks endure unrelenting suffering crowded in poultry factory floors amongst up to 90,000 birds. Hens are squashed into battery cages before being transported for slaughter by clubbing, decapitation or bled to death while dangling upside down.

And in the egg industry, worldwide five billion sick, deformed and distressed hens are incarnated in cages to lay eggs. In US intensive egg production is maximised in hideous sheds, which each house up to 50,000 screeching birds, in a vision of insanity.

As Earthlings suggests, if slaughterhouses and factory farms had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians. However the cruelty is perpetuated by psychological denial. Who wants to spoil their roast dinner or burger by knowing where the meat came from?

I have always been squeamish about red meat, dripping blood, so obviously a chunk of cow flesh. I love cows; docile beasts with eyelash-rimmed, big brown eyes and their deep, comical voice that goes moo. They played on my maternal feelings like Bonny, my Labrador. However I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to hens and fish.

But back in 2010 I started asking ‘Why should I discriminate against chicken and fish?’ Because chicken have feathers instead of fur, beady eyes instead of big brown eyes, a smaller brain than mammals? Chickens have five senses and nervous systems and feel pain too.

Why should I not feel compassion for fish? Because they don’t have legs and arms, because they have scales and can’t smile? Because they are silent and live in mysterious watery depths instead of graze in fields? Fish have five senses and nervous systems and feel pain too.

Animals, birds and fish feel both physical and emotional pain. They are all feeling, social creatures that form family bonds and live in groups. They suffer fear when threatened and grief at the loss of their young, their parents and their mates.

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer tells us that the technologies of war are now used in the fishing industry. Radar, echo sounders (used to locate submarines) navy-developed electronic navigation systems and satellite-based GPS give fishermen unprecedented abilities to locate fish, which are then captured with baited hooks on long lines that stretch for 75 miles and nets of 30 miles in length.

A single trawler, the size of a football field, has the ability to haul 50 tons of sea animals in a few minutes. The oceans are being emptied of sea life at an alarming rate, and not just the target fish but the by-catch.

Earthlings shows Japanese fishermen luring mother dolphins and their calves into a cove, hauling them onto land and hacking and mutilating them while still alive and writhing in agony. Dolphin meat is sold as a delicacy for diners with discerning palates and no concern for these beautiful, gentle creatures.

Nor is the dairy industry the idyllic picture of contented cows grazing in lush fields. Viva’s ground-breaking Anti-Dairy campaign has smashed the milk myth.

Over-worked cows live in misery. Incarcerated in concrete pens, they are kept permanently pregnant and have their calves traumatically removed days after giving birth. Emaciated cows are forced to produce up to 40 litres of milk a day from grotesquely swollen udders infected with excruciating mastitis. Milk containing high levels of growth hormones, antibiotics and pus can be sold legally.

Why Care?

Food animals are considered by the cold-hearted, efficient meat industry as ‘objects’ and money-making commodities, rather than living creatures with a right to life as much as humans. Animals feel acute emotions and physical pain just as humans do.

If we extended the same love we feel for our pets to “food animals”, we could never accept these daily atrocities and would not contemplate eating animal flesh. Imagine for a moment the horror of killing and eating your pet dog.

Joaquin Phoenix implores us: “We must learn empathy; to see into the eyes of an animal and feel their life has value because they are alive.”

If you are hard-hearted and sceptical, watch Earthlings. You will never be the same again. You will no longer be able to plead ignorance. Now decide if you can continue eating animals.

Earthlings, factually, without embellishment, explores the human use of animals for pets, food, clothing, entertainment and science. It is a tragedy beyond belief. That humans are capable of consistent daily abuse of millions of defenceless animals reveals our collective depravity. That the rest of us allow it reveals our collective ‘bystander’ position.

But Can I really Make a Difference?

Protesting against animal cruelty and killing is the easiest and most direct action we can takes as individuals. As the film makers of Food, Inc. point out we get to vote against the abhorrent industry three times a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As consumers en masse we have the power to stop the demand for dead animals as food.

When you stop eating meat you literally save animals.

Becoming a vegetarian (meat and fish free diet) or even better a vegan (meat, fish, egg and dairy-free, plant-based diet) is the most effective, radical action an individual can take to boycott factory farming and reduce the slaughter of animals.

As consumers we wield immense power in our food choices by reducing demand and supply. We get to protest against the horrors of factory farming every day. We are not helpless victims of the system. We have the power to change our meat-eating culture.

The reason most meat-eaters refuse to give up their habit is not health but taste. Staunch carnivores will tell you defiantly they simply like the taste of meat! To justify mass suffering and killing for the trivial reason of satisfying taste buds seems immoral in the extreme.

Health Concerns

Eating meat is not necessary. There is a vast range of healthy plant foods that supply protein; legumes (also called pulses and beans) such as lentils, soya beans, chickpeas; grains such as rice, oats and wheat; nuts such as almonds and cashews and seeds such as sunflower and sesame (tahini spread made from sesame seeds is the basis of hummus and a Super Food).

These days an appetising variety of meat-free, ready-to-eat products offer an easy alternative to meat. Eaten with fresh veggies, we are blessed with an abundance of scrumptious foods. I am constantly amazed and delighted by the endless range of vegetarian meals I can make. And now I’ve started to grow my own veggies and eat straight from the garden!

Consuming animal products is dangerous. Meat, fish and dairy consumption is linked with cancer, heart disease and numerous other illnesses because these foods are filled with viruses, bacteria, toxins (such as heavy metals) growth hormones and antibiotics.

In Eating Animals, the author describes how chickens are dunked in water tanks he calls “fecal soup” full of filth and bacteria and that millions of contaminated chickens are shipped for sale to consumers.

Meat also contains bad fats, makes your system acidic and clogs the bowel.

It takes just 12 hours to digest plant food but 48 hours for meat to move through the intestines, putrefying along the way.

Many experts claim that human physiology, with grinding teeth and long intestines, is designed to eat wheat not meat.

Factory farmed meat is dangerous. A meat-free, dairy-free diet is healthy. Along with saving animals, going veggie means saving yourself by protecting your health and the health of your family.

Save The Planet

Most of us feel helpless when it comes to saving the planet and yet factory farming is at the very root cause of environmental destruction.

Viva! reports: “Rainforests are cleared for grazing; methane from livestock causes global warming; soil is eroded by cattle; slurry poisons waterways and the seas are laid to waste by overfishing.”

Safran Foer reveals that American pig farms produce 72 million pounds of manure annually – that’s 130 times as much waste as the human population. Most of it seeps into rivers, lakes and oceans killing wildlife and polluting the air, water and land.

Pig effluent contains ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals and 100 microbial pathogens that cause virulent diseases such as pfiesteria.

In the face of our collective helplessness about global warming, loss of habitat, species extinction, the pollution of land, water and air and threat of super bugs, it is empowering for caring individuals to understand the cause of these horrendous problems and know they can actually do something real on a daily basis to stop the destruction.

Save Others, Solve World Hunger

Viva! reports: “While 750 million people go the bed hungry every night, one third of the world’s grain is fed to farmed animals. A typical Western meat-based diet can only feed 2.5 billion people; a plant-based diet will feed every one of us.”

There is a mountain of shocking evidence about the atrocities of factory farming and the case for Going Veggie for any courageous person who wants to face up to where their food comes from and give up their taste for meat.

Once informed, you can no longer plead ignorance. You will be moved to feel empathy for other living creatures and confronted to make a choice. Please make it in favour of animals, the planet, the poor and hungry and your family and yourself.

As a Veggie, every day I feel empowered and good about myself for not participating in cruelty against innocent animals. I feel physically better for not having dead flesh inside me. I feel a new level of strength and vitality. And I feel determined to spread the message to Go Veggie.

Diane Priestley

Engaging storyteller, Prolific Journalist, Empowering People Matters

Hello Psychologies Tribe, Let me introduce myself! I'm an experienced journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Australia and the UK. I write about relationships, health and humanitarian issues. I'm a qualified Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator. I moved from Australia to the UK in 2009 and now live near the beach in Folkestone, Kent and part of the year in Kenya doing community work.