Most meat eaters are good people. There, I said it. Meat eaters are compassionate, caring people just like you and me. They love their families, friends and companion animals. Most of them even love farmed animals and are delighted to play with chickens or pigs or turkeys when they have the chance. Most meat eaters love animals. It’s true. It’s also the main reason I am so persistent in my animal advocacy efforts – because I know that people who eat meat are good people who wouldn’t want to support needless cruelty to animals any more than I did when I was a meat eater.
I know that I may have gone about my animal advocacy the wrong way at times and I may have even given meat eaters the impression that I think they are immoral or even “evil.” But when I look at people who eat meat, I don’t see evil. I see myself. I see someone who would want to know what I know. More importantly, I see someone who deserves to know what I know.
I admit that I have made my fair share of mistakes. And we all know I am far from perfect. I grew up eating animals, loving the taste of meat and even making fun of vegans for being “squeamish” or for not understanding “the food chain.” Contrary to the common idea that we vegans refuse to “consider the other side,” most of us lived the other side for a good portion of our lives. Yet, somehow, it is often difficult for us to remember what it was like to be a meat eater. We sometimes forget how we felt when others accused us, directly or implicitly, of being cruel for eating meat.
It is important to remember that most of us, meat eaters and vegans alike, consider ourselves to be good people. And we are good people, most of the time. The problem with many vegans is that we forget this simple truth and we sometimes treat meat eaters as the enemy rather than as potential allies. And a problem with many meat eaters is that they often spend too much time trying to rationalize their behaviors or defend themselves against the perceived attacks of vegans rather than hearing what we are actually saying.
For me, and I assume for many vegans, it can be difficult not to become frustrated when meat eaters fail to “get it.” Similarly, it is difficult for many meat eaters not to become defensive when we vegans say that eating meat supports needless cruelty. So, in the interest of helping meat eaters “get it” and also in helping vegans to understand that meat eaters aren’t evil, please consider the following:
Let’s start by making sure we are all on the same page. I’ll assume that most people reading this blog are opposed to blatant cruelty to animals. We would never stand by and let our neighbors kick their dog or set their cat on fire. We simply don’t tolerate needless cruelty to animals.
Most people reading this will probably also agree that crush videos are blatantly and needlessly cruel. One might even describe them as “evil”. For those who don’t know about crush videos, I am talking about violent animal porn. Yes, there is such a thing. For momentary sexual gratification, some people will pay to watch small animals crushed to death by women in high heels. Here is a brief description of a typical scene from a crush video. If you are squeamish, feel free to skip past the following paragraph.
“A kitten, secured to the ground, watches and shrieks in pain as a woman thrusts her high-heeled shoe into his body, slams her heel into the kitten’s eye socket and mouth loudly fracturing his skull, and stomps repeatedly on the animal’s head. The kitten hemorrhages blood, screams blindly in pain, and is ultimately left dead in a moist pile of blood-soaked hair and bone.”
Of course, meat eaters and vegans alike can agree that what was just described is blatantly and needlessly cruel and the people who would pay for this type of thing could be called “evil”. But… is there really much difference between someone who would pay to have an animal hurt and killed for their own momentary sexual gratification and someone who pays to have animals hurt and killed for their own momentary gustatory pleasure?
The answer to that question is an emphatic YES. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between someone who would pay for a crush video and someone who eats animals because they like the taste of meat. People who eat meat do not intend for animals to be tortured to death. They don’t want animals to suffer. They just like eating meat. And there is nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.
Most people who like the taste of meat are simply disconnected, physically, emotionally and mentally, from the animals who suffer and die for their momentary pleasures. If the suffering of animals is brought up, it is usually quickly dismissed or joked about. Our culturally and biologically engrained defense mechanisms kick in. If we laugh about it, it’s not so serious. If we mock the messenger, we don’t have to take him/her seriously. If we don’t think about it too deeply, well then, we don’t have to think about it too deeply.
In the end, when we eat animals, our uncomfortable thoughts about how they may have needlessly suffered are pushed out of mind. In most cases, whether willfully ignorant or not, most people simply do not understand that animals on modern farms suffer at least as much, if not much more, than animals used in crush videos – and for similarly trivial reasons. Unlike many vegans, meat eaters simply do not consider the idea that they are supporting crush-video-level cruelty to animals every time they sit down to eat meat, dairy or eggs – all for the sake of their taste buds.
If you don’t believe me that animals on modern farms suffer more than animals used in crush videos, please take a moment to compare the description of a crush video above with the fate of more than 27 billion animals a year in the United States alone. http://www.meat.org/ Warning. If you are squeamish, please watch this beautiful and non-graphic video instead. http://www.nonviolenceunited.org/veganvideo.html But please consider this: if you can’t bare to watch how animals are raised and killed for food, can you justify paying for it?
So the question is this: how can a person who considers himself or herself to be a good person (a person who would never condone needless cruelty) be confronted with the notion that they are supporting crush-video-level cruelty to animals 3 times a day and not become instantly defensive? Of course they are defensive. I was defensive too the first time I considered this idea. Had it not been my newly vegan wife who exposed me to this reality, I may still be a defensive meat eater today. But because I knew Tammy thought I was a good person, I didn’t become defensive. I listened. And I allowed myself to consider the facts beyond what would help me to justify my own behaviors.
Sure, I went through the litany of questions about “humane” meat and local farms.
“There just has to be some way I can continue eating meat without supporting cruelty to animals” I thought!
But ultimately, it was Tammy’s patience and the fact that she treated me like I was a good person that helped me to “get it.”
She said, “Look into (our dog) Tessa’s eyes. You know you would do anything to keep people from hurting or killing Tessa, yet you are willing to pay people to hurt and kill other animals, who are really no different from Tessa, just so you can keep eating meat?”
When I really stopped thinking about myself, or about those self-righteous vegans, or about the dozens of excuses I could come up with to continue eating meat – when I really stopped and thought about the animals – I got it. And others will “get it” too, if we just give them the benefit of the doubt and have some patience.
In closing, my point is this… as far as the animals who suffer and die are concerned, there may be no difference between someone who pays to have them tortured and killed for momentary sexual gratification and someone who pays to have them tortured and killed for momentary gustatory satisfaction. Either way, the animals suffer extreme cruelty and die needlessly to satisfy desires for fleeting pleasures. But I know there is a big difference between crush video viewers and meat eaters. And as long as I know that difference I can continue to hold out hope for a more compassionate world – if only we vegans can just start treating meat eaters as potential allies instead of as enemies.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider going vegan (or mostly vegan) for a month and see how you like it. http://www.chooseveg.com/vegan-substitutes.asp It’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s the good thing to do.
The Author: Matt Rice
This article was originally published with the title: “In Defense of Meat Eaters.”