July 3, 2007

"Animals Are Not Ours To Use"

Posted in animal advocacy, outreach, vegan, veganism at 2:04 pm by nevavegan

I’ve written on this blog that I first became interested in vegetarianism out of concern for the environment. Many people might think that this experience on my part would mean I advocate only vegan outreach from an environmental perspective. But this is not the case at all.

I understand that most of the big decisions we make in our lives are influenced by thousands of little factors. We might have that one awesome moment of realization when we suddenly see things in a different way and the change in perspective practically knocks us over. But before the moment of truth kicks us to the curb, there are so many little things, little nagging thoughts on the outskirts of our awareness that influence us.

I had one moment of realization when I read about the destruction of the rainforests and resolved to stop eating beef—that was the big moment, which allowed me to understand a few weeks later that all industrialized meat production caused environmental damage, which led me to stop eating chicken and fish as well. Later I had yet another knock me over with a vegan imitation feather moment when I read the Alice Walker quote “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

That resonated with me so deeply and changed my thinking on so many levels. Nobody owns me and I don’t own the chicken whose eggs I steal, I don’t own the cow whose milk I take or the calf deprived of that milk. Something so simple, so eloquent, which just changed everything.

Before that moment of realization there were a thousand little things, tiny sparks of thought floating around waiting to be formed. There were moments of watching chicken trucks with exposed cages of miserable chickens barreling down the highway. There were moments of feeding cows over fences and rescuing stray kittens. There was sitting on the kitchen floor as a child holding and petting the beautiful head of the deer my father had killed, believing that this perfect deer was only sleeping, only to finally understand that he was dead. There were all these moments that showed me that animals are individuals with personalities and value of their own. And all those things allowed me to feel the full truth of that Alice Walker quote and to know all the way down in my bones that she was right. I own myself, no one else, that’s all. Nobody, no animal was brought into this world to serve me.

Because this meant so much to me personally I sometimes have trouble understanding the view that veganism is just a tool to reduce suffering. Sure veganism reduces suffering. Veganism directly reduces the suffering of farmed animals, veganism reduces our impact on the planet and thus reduces the suffering of wildlife and other people. But veganism is also a powerful statement that we recognize and respect the life in others and we know we have no right to extinguish that life. It’s a statement that we know and understand that enslaving others is always wrong, even if their bodies look different from ours, even if they have fur or feathers or scales. It is that fundamental value: Animals are not ours to use. They don’t owe us their bodies for our dinner tables, they don’t owe us their spirits to entertain us, they don’t owe us their skins to wear or their bones and horns as decoration. The accident of their birth does not mean we have any right to destroy them, break their spirits, steal the excretions of their bodies, or keep them in cages no matter what size those cages might be.

Sure it is not really possible in this world for us to do no harm, but veganism is the effort toward that goal. Should we throw away the goal, the value that animals are not ours to use, just because we are imperfect beings in an imperfect world and at times we might fall short of our ideals? Of course not.

We recognize in other ways that our faults don’t mean that values are irrelevant. None of us will get through our lives without hurting another person’s feelings. In fact, I’ll put money on it that all of us will hurt someone’s feelings by saying something incredibly insensitive, stupid and inconsiderate even. It happens. But does that mean that we should throw away all concept of kindness and just insult and verbally abuse everyone that crosses our path? No we hold to this idea that we should be considerate and kind, while recognizing that we might fall short and might find ourselves needing to apologize on occasion.

I’m all for reducing suffering, but for me there is something more. This basic respect we apply to other living things, a resolve to not destroy others for selfish reasons, a value placed on life. Animals are not ours to use sums it up so well for me.