“To the animals, all people are Nazis. To the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.”
This quote by 1978 Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer validated what I had been thinking, but dared not articulate: that we are all capable of oppressing others and that animals are the most oppressed sentient beings on earth. This is why I resolved to devote the rest of my life to fighting all oppression, starting with our oppression of animals raised for food.
Well-meaning folks have challenged my decision. Why animals, they contend, when so many human problems remain unsolved? When 800 million people go hungry, and 21,000 die of hunger each day? When half a million Syrians are massacred before our own eyes? When millions of refugees languish in wretched camps throughout Asia and Africa?
Because animals are the most vulnerable, and therefore, the most oppressed sentient beings on earth. Theologians have long debated whether there is life after death. But animals raised for food don’t get to experience the joy of life before death:
- As millions of male baby chicks are hatched, they are ground up alive or suffocated slowly in plastic garbage bags, because
they don’t lay eggs. The females are crammed five to a small wire-mesh cage that tears out their feathers and cuts their feet.
- Mother pigs suffer a lifetime in tight metal cages, as their babies are torn from them and neutered with no anesthesia.
- Dairy cows cry for days for their babies torn from them at birth, so that we can drink their mothers’ milk.
Because oppressing animals is the gateway to oppressing humans. When we tell a child that the family dog on his couch is to be loved and cared for, but the pig on his plate is to be tortured, slaughtered, dismembered and consumed as food…
When that child learns that society can arbitrarily decree that one sentient living being gets to live, but another must die… This is when we plant the first seed of oppression in that child’s mind. That mind is now potentially open to oppressing others.
Because they are an integral part of our fondest childhood memories. Toy animals were the very first objects we handled. Our favorite fairy tales revolved around animal lives. Our family dog gave us unconditional love when our schoolmates or even our siblings would not. It was only the greed and callousness of the meat and dairy industries that turned our favorite living beings into a commodity to be exploited and oppressed.
Because they share our own feelings of joy, affection, sadness, and grief. Because they can suffer, just as you and I do. This is why they deserve our empathy, consideration, and respect. Undoubtedly, many of us have experienced this at first hand with a four-legged member of our family.
Because we can. Because, each year, each of us has the awesome power to spare 100 land and aquatic sentient living beings just by choosing a diet that also happens to be better for our personal health and the health of our planet. Unfortunately, none of us have that same power to save human victims of oppression.
Deuteronomy advises us: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now, choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Every time we shop for food, we literally make a choice to subsidize life or to subsidize death. We can choose cruelty-free, healthy, eco-friendly, life-affirming plant foods. Or, we can choose animal products, with their deadly impacts on animal oppression, our health, and the health of our planet.
Choosing plant-based foods is the first step in our own personal battle against oppression.