By Alex Wilmot, Volunteer
Meat was a food staple throughout my growing years, as it was and is for most people. I was well into my 60s by the time I decided to give up red meat, and more years passed before I eliminated chicken, followed later by fish. My decision to become vegetarian was prompted mainly by concern for my own health – dire warnings regarding the antibiotics and hormones being pumped into farm animals rendered that decision relatively simple. Although I had great empathy and concern for the treatment of dogs, cats and other pets, and found abhorrent the mistreatment and killing of wild animals, the cruelties meted out to farmed animals were barely on the radar.
My conversion to veganism began after watching a video showing the particularly gruesome punishment of chickens, from birth, through their short and tortured lives, to a brutal death. Ignorance was no longer an excuse for my consumption of eggs. More media coverage of the industrial farming of milk cows put an end to the conviction that dairy was okay.
Unfortunately, although most people by now have at least some inkling of what goes on in the factory farming industry, the connection between that and what goes on their plate is generally ignored. Consuming meat, eggs and dairy products is the norm and any diversion from that is often considered with some suspicion, even an affront, to those who refuse to contemplate an animal-free diet. Most vegetarians and vegans have, at one time or another, been subjected to ridicule and, occasionally, outright hostility, with respect to their dietary choices and, as a result, tend to avoid discussions with meat eaters about either the relative health aspects or, most particularly, the morality of our breeding, treatment and use of animals for food and other purposes.
To the rescue come Gary L. Francione, professor of law at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Anna Charlton, an adjunct professor at the same university, who together established the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic. They are prominent speakers – you can find lectures and interviews on the internet – and are co-authors of “Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals”, the premise of which is that animals have as much right to lives free of pain and fear as do we and that, therefore, our use and abuse of them to satisfy our own wants is just plain wrong.
The beauty of the book is in its simplicity. Its premise is explained by posing the questions that are asked about veganism. Questions such as, ‘Isn’t eating animal products “natural”?’, ‘Do animals feel pain the same way that humans do?’, ‘Aren’t there laws that require the “humane” treatment of animals?’, ‘Don’t we have to solve human rights issues first?’, and ‘Isn’t what I eat a matter of my choice?’, are responded to with succinct, factual answers. Comments like ‘We brought food animals into existence to be eaten; that is what they are here for’, ‘Animals eat other animals’, etc., and even those challenging hypotheticals, invariably accompanied by a smirk, such as, ‘What if I were on a desert island starving to death?’- the only edible, of course, being an animal – are each given several pages of thoughtful consideration.
Persuading humans to adjust their thinking, and subsequent behaviour, often seems an insurmountable challenge. However, with “Eat Like You Care”, Francione and Charlton provide intelligent and incontrovertible arguments against our current attitudes towards our fellow beings with which vegans and would-be vegans may arm themselves.