Unless you were raised in a vegan household, you and I share a common past – one where chicken, cow, and pig were part of a daily diet. Perhaps you are an omnivore on the path to vegan enlightenment or a seasoned veteran of tofu and kale, but the fact remains the same, as children you and I bought into the lie that certain animals are meant to be eaten. As a vegan of several years, I often wonder how something that seems so obvious to me now could have once been so blindly overlooked. And so, I have searched high and low to come up with the answer to my past naïveté, and more importantly my indifference, toward certain sentient beings deemed “food animals.”
Have you ever felt like a patriotic American come the Fourth of July or do you have an affinity toward your Italian heritage? If so, culture may be at play. Sociocultural theory, an emerging theory in psychology, looks at the importance of society on an individual’s development. Sociocultural theory stresses that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large are responsible for the development of higher order functions. No wonder we eat certain animals! Generation after generation, Western culture has imparted on its young that certain animals – namely fish, chickens, pigs, and cows – are the animals that we eat. This also explains why in some Eastern cultures it is socially acceptable to eat non-human such as cats as dogs that you and I would never dare to eat. It is not that certain animals are meant for food but that certain animals have been used for food in certain societies for many, many years, becoming a part of that culture.
There are often two sides to every story. This is no exception for Genesis 1:26 of the Old Testament. As it goes, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” For those humans looking for an excuse to eat animals (or pillage the earth), this popularly quoted passage from the Bible seems to give them reason to do so. If God gave humans “dominion” over animals, many humans rationalize that it must be okay to eat animals. However, if the message of the Bible is one of love and compassion, how is it then that killing fits into God’s plan? Many instead choose to read Genesis 1:26 as God’s calling us to be stewards of the earth and her creatures. If God created the earth in his likeness, would he not want us treat all that inhabit the earth as he would want to be treated, with love and kindness? Many religions recognize God’s love for all beings and call their followers to eat a vegetarian diet. Those who practice Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism feel vegetarianism is an obligation to God and believe that their actions, such as inflicting pain and death upon animals, will have equal consequences upon themselves.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, we all have been influenced by media at some point in our lives – some more than others. Images of happy cows and chickens pecking at grass usually grace the packaging of dairy and egg products. However, the reality is that “food animals” generally live a life of misery. If cows lined up in filthy factories with metal milking devices clamped to their udders or chickens kept in battery cages too small for them to even spread their wings were the images placed on the egg or milk cartons, sales would plummet. But, the food industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that spends much of their money on hiding the reality from its consumers. Misleading advertising instead leads us to believe the animals we are eating have lived full lives – although even animals raised “humanely” for meat are killed much younger than their natural lifespan. It’s much easier to rationalize drinking the milk of a cow who spent her life grazing on a wide green pasture than to drink the milk of a cow who is constantly impregnated and forced to live her life indoors on a cold concrete floor.
False science is rampant nowadays. Behind every ‘drink milk’ campaign is usually fabricated scientific research funded by the dairy industry. Many of us were told from a young age that we needed milk to grow up big and strong. It’s true; a glass of milk contains calcium. However, milk – and all animal protein – acidifies the body’s pH, which in turn leaches calcium (an acid neutralizer) from our bones in an attempt to neutralize the acidifying effect of milk. So, don’t believe everything you read and do your research! Many of the studies showing the positive effects of a plant based diets are doctors who have no stake in any big business, while much pro-meat and dairy “science” is funded by the industries who have much to lose if you knew the truth.
How many of you met a pig on a farm as a child? I know I sure didn’t! The majority of us raised in Western society have a great disconnect with our food system. It is much easier to eat a cow when you’ve never had any interaction with one. On top of that, non-human animals we have deemed “food animals” are often given new names to create a greater disconnect – pig becomes bacon, cow becomes beef, and chicken becomes poultry. Many children these days don’t even realize till much later in life that beef ever even was a cow! The first time I ever met any “food animals” was in my twenties when I first visited a farm sanctuary. I had no idea pigs were smarter than dogs, I had no idea sheep loved to be pet the same way my cat did, and I had never realized the beauty and gentleness of a cow. Once humans create a bond with animals it because much harder to see them as food and much easier to see them as friends.