Saturday, March 6, 2010

Human Matters: I Am No Longer Eating 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.

However getting re-educated about the abject cruelty of the insatiable meat industry by mustering the courage to watch the harrowing doco,
Earthlings and the brilliant expose’, Food, Inc. and reading the personal soul-searching of Eating Animals, I can no longer ignore
and be complicit in the suffering of billions of innocent animals in grotesque factory farming.

Eating animals is now, in the 21st century, a worse crime than when I became a Vego in the 70’s. These three heart-wrenching, graphic reports 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.

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, life is drained from so-called ‘food animals’ 10,000 times a minute. 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.

Americans now consume as much chicken in a single day as they did in a year in the 1930s. In 2010, 8.5 million birds are killed every week in the US.

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.

Earthlings suggests, if slaughterhouses 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?

Just one per cent of animals are raised in the idyllic rural settings of our child-like imaginations while factory farms now control 99 per cent of meat production in the US.

Six powerful US corporations have a monopoly on the mass production of soybean seed and corn seed (used for feed), chicken, pork and beef and they are currently contemplating moving into Europe and the UK.

The shocking film Earthlings, freely available on the internet, 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.

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. There are many alternatives for protein. We are not lacking choices. We now have convenient and healthy
Redwood products, for example.

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 play on my maternal feelings like Bonny, my Labrador. However I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to hens and fish.

But 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 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 nervous systems and feel pain too.

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.

My dad was a hobby fisherman. He pursued beautiful, shiny, silver snapper in treacherous Port Phillip Bay around Victoria, Australia in a jaunty timber boat with a yellow cabin he called
The Yella Sub.

I remember watching Dad slam a gaff, a vicious hook on the end of a pole, into a writhing snapper as he hauled it in from the ocean. If I expressed any childish concern for the suffering of the fish, Dad dismissed it with a shrug. He had objectified fish. He had no empathy with their pain.

I have happy memories of fun times when Dad and Uncle Les, slightly boozed, took us kids out fishing for flathead. These marine adventures were the rare times I got Dad’s attention. I recall the sensation of the tug-tug-tug on my finger from the hand line and the excitement of hauling in a thrashing flatty and landing it on the floor of the boat and watching dad stab it and toss it in the box with the others to die slowly.

When my parents and brother moved interstate to sub-tropical Queensland, when I was 18, Dad hunted big game mackerel in the rolling swells of Moreton Bay.

Dad would set out, motoring for miles to his favourite deep ocean spots, in a succession of powerful, flashy boats; his self-indulgent hobby that my mum did not share. In fact she loathed his obsession with boats and fishing. But by way of compensation, she enjoyed cooking and eating the catch. Mackerel steaks seared on the barbie were, without doubt, delicious.

Our enjoyment of tasty food is understandable but there is a big picture here to take in. Livestock farming has a bigger impact on climate change than the whole global transport sector of cars, trucks and planes put together.

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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I know, isn't it so cruel. recently my hubby returned to Vietnam, he served there as a marine in the war. One thing that astounded him was a truck loaded with caged dogs....he felt they were going to grose..
    Currenty I am on the "Daniel Fast" and love all the fruit and vegies..