Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Is Eating Animals a Personal Choice?

A few years ago, I thought of the decision to eat animals, or to be a vegan, as personal choices. People generally think of their personal choices as “their own business”, having consequences that don’t affect other people in any significant way. Since my veganism was a “personal choice”, I was less likely than I am today to make my veganism known, and to express and debate my reasoning behind it. I was somewhat less confident, less righteous, and definitely not a “militant” vegan.

About a year ago while searching the internet, I discovered a series of YouTube videos titled Roast the Vegan that unfortunately are no longer available. The host articulately and creatively presented various arguments for veganism. Most of those arguments were familiar to me and mirrored my views. But one point caught my attention because it hadn’t occurred to me before. She asserted that eating meat is not a personal choice. Then she explained that the collective result of a few billion people making that choice is the killing of many more billions of animals every year. I noticed that a few times during the videos she referred to a nonhuman animal as “someone.”

Suddenly I realized that I had overlooked something remarkably obvious. Living all my life in a culture where speciesism is so deeply and extensively rooted, and where the institutions of animal exploitation are largely taken for granted, even as an ethically motivated vegan, I had failed to recognize that eating animals is as far from a “personal choice” as there could possibly be. It’s a choice that profoundly affects the lives of sentient others. It’s a choice that results in systematic enslavement, suffering, mutilation, rape, and violent death, for no better reasons than entertaining our taste buds. Understanding this, my thinking about animal rights and veganism would begin to evolve.

While I believed that in an ideal world everyone would follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, until that point I hadn’t made the jump to thinking that abolition could ever happen. I never gave it much thought. Instead I was resigned to the idea that there would always be a substantial portion of the human population that would choose to eat animal products, even though I considered such a practice to be barbaric and archaic. In retrospect, that kind of thinking made it easy for me to buy into welfarism, which is the pursuit of more “humane” methods of exploitation.

Continuing my knowledge quest, I soon understood that the animal rights cause was about fighting oppression and discrimination; and that all forms of oppression, discrimination, and exploitation were similar and connected. I now felt an obligation to do more—specifically, to educate others about the consequences of our everyday choices.

It’s now fully apparent to me that whether you prefer your bird eggs scrambled, sunny-side-up, folded into an omelet, or boiled in the shell; is a personal choice. How thoroughly cooked you like your pig muscle tissue and how you like it seasoned, and whether you decide to have chocolate ice cream or strawberry ice cream for desert; are personal choices as well. But deciding in the first place to consume the eggs, the meat, and the dairy, is clearly not a personal choice.

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