Saturday, 5 November 2016

Vegetarianism - a call.

Sujatha Ramni
Call it a case, an appeal, what have you. I am penning things down, thats all. I havent done this in a while. A case, an appeal for minimal harm done.

A case to stop supporting and endorsing factory farming (a system of rearing livestock using highly intensive methods, by which poultry, pigs, or cattle are confined indoors under strictly controlled conditions to produce meat, eggs and dairy). 

So lets exclude the "fishing for trout in a stream by the mountains, or hunting for elk in arctic wilderness". They are minimal, and besides the point.

A good 95% or more of our animal based food comes from factory farms (a good 90% or more of our plant based food comes from similar factory farms, and I will talk about that in a separately).
The extent of cruelty and mindless suffering that animals go through in a factory farm defies the very imagination. They are "commodities" with no inherent value, other than the price they fetch for their "bodies". The simplest translation to a human equivalent of this scenario is "trafficking". Men/women and children traded for their "bodies".

The meat/egg/dairy industry treats an animal as a commodity: buy low, sell high. Which means: cut costs (disregard suffering, cleanliness, throw out waste, repurpose "resources" to extract as much value as possible), increase shelf life ( disinfect, irradiate, contaminate etc) and sell for as high as you can.
Disregard any considerations of pollution, environmental damage, pay your politicians well and keep running your business.
People who own/run factory farms aren't "bad people". Wherever there is demand, there will be enterprise. Like the oldest business in the world.
I am rushing through some of these things in my eagerness to get to the real point.

Suffice to say, all I have said so far is that factory farming is violent, inhuman and exists only because there is demand for it.
So let us look at the demand for meat, dairy and eggs.
Enough numbers of people on every end of the spectrum will talk about protein, calcium, omnivorous ancestors and so on and so forth.
Lets first agree that we all need the protein and calcium. Have we really looked at how much we need, and whats the "best way" to get it, that's in line with our beliefs and our world view?
There's the argument that good health requires consuming some amount of these products. To shake that argument, all one needs is a counterpoint.
Roughly 0.5% of the world's humans don't eat animal products, and are mostly leading happy and healthy lives. That gives you not one, not two, but 30 million counterpoints to the above argument.
Statistically there is NO reason to consume factory farmed animal products to lead a healthy life. I wont get into the science of it, the data above is evidence enough.

Lets look at why we eat these products then: seems to me (from my own experience) that it is how one is raised (food is a huge part of ones cultural and familial identity). And a corollary to that is that we are used to certain tastes and gustatory experiences.
Often times someone tells me, "Id love to become vegan, but I cant compromise on my morning coffee" "Id love to, but I love my thayir (dahi) much too much"
Living in India, its ironic that we talk about holding on to old tastes, when everywhere we see around us, our tastes are changing. As a people we ate mostly millets 40 years ago. NOT rice or wheat. We didn't know of cheese or pizza 25 years ago. None of the hybrid vegetables, gala apples, american sweet corn, or oats were available 20 years back. And yet we consume them in copious amounts, having happily incorporated them into our "taste".
Given that our sense of taste is indeed constantly evolving, would it be that bad to embrace the possibility of a taste palate that excluded unnecessary suffering and cruelty?
Could we really justify supporting all that wanton killing and exploitation because we love our coffee, dahi and biriyani?
I dont mean to sound arrogant at all.... but I find it very strange to be in the midst of a conversation that goes "We could never give up meat because we are big foodies".

Heres another interesting path that some conversations jump to: plant pain.
The very act of consumption causes suffering. Some life form has to give up its life in order for us to sustain ours. So why be hung up on it? Plants feel pain, and so do animals.
I agree. Plants feel pain and so do animals. Our understanding of animal cruelty, and it being more emotionally charged than our understanding of plant cruelty should not lead us to being "speciesists", that we discount plant suffering but not animals.
Fair enough.
In that case, we have made progress. We have sufficiently warmed up to the idea of "minimal harm", ie not causing suffering if we can avoid it (be it pigs or peas or paramoecium)
Lets elaborate on this then: Can we minimise animal suffering? Can we switch to non factory farmed means? Can we hunt or procure our meat from the wild?
Can we minimise plant suffering? Can we avoid consuming factory farmed plants? (that use intensive methods of cultivating plants)
Can we avoid unnecessary consumption of plants?
To minimise plant suffering, we could minimise the reason why plants are consumed most inefficiently: to feed animals, who are then fed to us.
Can we break this cycle of inefficiency and eat plants directly, so that we can directly and scientifically minimise plant suffering?
At the end of the day, knowing that we are adaptable as human beings, knowing that we experiment with new ideas and lifestyles, knowing that this process enriches us and expands our world view....
Knowing all that, could we experiment with new things we could be eating and drinking, and evolving our needs for milk, cheese, steak and biriyani?
Could we examine concerns and worries about "not being able to give up what I love" ?
Are dominion, cruelty, exploitation, enslavement and killing fair prices to pay for ones gustatory comfort and delight?
A price that some other being pays, all their life.
If we talk of plant suffering, are we really sensitised to the issue, or are we merely throwing in an argumentative distraction? If we are indeed sensitised, are we willing to be committed to it?

What is our responsibiltiy here? Should we hold ourselves accountable?

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