My personal awareness and awakening that something was deeply and systemically wrong with our system of raising animals for food, was in 2001 with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. With the outbreak, followed the systematic killing of over 10 million cattle, sheep and pigs—essentially a mass extermination of farm animals that felt so completely horrifying, shocking and painful. It was essentially a holocaust of animals. The memory is like a wound that has never healed. With this one event, my consciousness was forever changed, my heart broken, and my hope for humanity put into question—how we can just annihilate and dispose of millions of animals like they don’t exist, they aren’t alive, they don’t feel and suffer—in a split second? Of these millions, only a very few had the disease. It was then that I became aware of how, over recent decades, animals are treated like commodities instead of the living, breathing, feeling, sentient beings they are. I realized that I no longer wanted to contribute in any way to their pain and suffering. Change often starts with one experience, one significant moment, and in that moment, I stopped eating meat from that day forward. I have since become a vegan. Old habits are meant to be broken.
Along with this commitment, has been my growing and deepening consciousness about how our culture has come to accept a food system that deeply and profoundly exploits animals. In fact, 11 billion land animals are raised and killed every year in the U.S. alone—hundreds per second are slaughtered for our food. And 70 billion worldwide are slaughtered every year for food. These billions of lives are treated like “production units or objects” from the day they are born into our industrial food system. They are the “other”—hidden behind closed doors, warehoused in dark enormous buildings and unnatural environments, made invisible and inaccessible to us, hidden from our landscapes as if they do not belong and are not somehow part of our natural world—our connection to the earth. Instead they are treated like “raw material” for us, not the beautiful, live sentient beings with personality and emotions that want to live and stay alive just as we do. But in our industrial food system, run by huge impersonal corporations—the daily and systematic torture, abuse, and exploitation of animals is horrific and unconscionable and committed heartlessly. Agriculture corporations today try to conceal this gruesome, inhumane treatment of animals at every level of the process to keep humanity ignorant of the truth, even creating laws that forbid and legally penalize the undercover photographing of animal abuse and cruelty.
My sadness comes knowing this reality and the observation that we have become a culture in deep denial. We have emotionally invested in using animals for food and profit, and collectively we have somehow justified our using them even though they are cruelly exploited and inhumanely treated and are forced to live lives that cause them deep suffering and unconscionable torture for our momentary pleasure. We try to stay ignorant and avoid looking at our food system that has become so cruel and is also making us sick. We don’t want to look at these truths for fear we’ll have to face and actually “see” the deep suffering our food choices are causing animals and our own humanity. We try to stay superficial and look the other way—so we don’t have to acknowledge, confront or take responsibility for the pain we are causing them, and the individual animals who suffer their entire lives for us—for the 5-minute meal we quickly forget. It’s not just about animal welfare and rights, but about human responsibility, human kindness and compassion. Our system of industrial farming is not only one of systemic animal abuse and cruelty, but is producing massive polluting animal waste, air and water pollution, destroying natural habitats and rainforests, causing species extinction, causing cancer and other chronic illnesses, is destroying the communities where the industrial animal farms are located, and is contributing to ever worsening climate change—essentially, our agricultural system is completely broken, unsustainable and destructive.
Unfortunately, there is no federal law that protects animals from cruelty in agribusiness—agriculture is exempt from the scope of state animal cruelty statutes. As a result, agribusiness corporations are permitted to disregard the well-being of animals for the sake of their economic profit and growth, giving no regard to the enormous suffering they force animals to endure everyday. It’s immoral, unethical, indefensible and unforgivable. If humanity accepts this cruelty what does this say about us, individually and collectively? Change starts with one person.
The chronic system of exploitation and abuse extends not only to industrial factory farming, but to canned captive animal hunts to big game trophy hunting to animals used in laboratory testing to puppy mills to wild horse slaughter (for ranchers) to the fur trade and to the massive slaughter of wildlife across the entire U.S. to benefit ranchers and farmers. Increasingly, our culture and country appears to be at war with animals—both wild and domestic. Animals are under attack today everywhere. They are being caged, shot, tortured, brutalized, and imprisoned in countless ways. Are we this oblivious and disconnected to other creatures that we can cause such inhumane treatment toward animals and disregard their interests—this much? Do we lack this much compassion? Have we forgotten they belong here, they are part of us, part of our earth, and part of our life—our existence?
Is there any hope for change? I believe there is, and that we will get there with each and every person making more conscious, compassionate, mindful, and different decisions that are reflective of knowing, seeing, and understanding the consequences of our actions and the personal questioning of deeply held, old, harmful beliefs. Just because we were indoctrinated with them, doesn’t mean that they are right, best, moral, ethical or shouldn’t be questioned. When practices are inhumane and cause brutality and torture to non-human animals, those beliefs and actions are nothing less than deeply immoral and unethical. The success of a system that raises, confines, abuses and kills billions of sentient animals every year around the world is — in a word, us. We do this—to them, to our planet, to our environment, and to ourselves by eating cruelty and suffering and exploitation.
Whether we consume the products, or patronize an establishment that exploits animals — we become part of the problem, we are responsible, we support the abuse—but we can stop consuming, stop supporting, stop endorsing, and change our mindset and practice stronger moral values. With individual change, comes collective change. It starts with each of us, changing.
Each one of us can make a difference in eliminating the suffering and exploitation of animals. Each one of us has the power to take a stand against animal cruelty—every time you make personal decisions—and shop, dine, eat and vote! The power to change their fate and our own — and to live a healthier, more kind, compassionate and conscious life — is in your hands.