Traces of pigs and up to 29% of horses have been found to compose the content of burgers on sale in Ireland and the UK. A lot of money is being lost to the animal foods industries on foot of this furore which is being described as making people feel ‘uncomfortable’ and being ‘distressing’.
What is it exactly that is making people uncomfortable or distressing them? After all, they are being reassured that this does not per se constitute a higher health risk than consuming burgers made from cows. What is so upsetting about these animals being found in meat products? In terms of being used as food for humans, other animals are equally inappropriate whether they be cats or dogs, horses, pigs or cows, fishes or chickens. They are equal in their capacity to suffer when bred and killed for food. They are equal in the devastating effects that their rearing for food has on world hunger, on the destruction of the environment that we share with other animals for our survival, in the vast resources they consume, and in the risk of ill health they pose to the humans who eat them. They are also equal in terms of the multitude of ways in which human rights violations take place within the context of other animal rights violations, for example, in the fast food industry, on farms, in slaughterhouses.
So if all non-human animals are equally unsuitable for use as food, why are people expressing horror at finding horses and pigs in their food, when they only expected cows? The answer may lie in the social and psychological processes whereby socio-cultural norms are transmitted and learned. After all, in the Irish context we express horror at the notion of eating dogs, whereas in a Chinese context equal horror would be expressed at drinking the milk of another species. In the Irish and UK context it is acceptable to whip horses and subject them to the gruelling danger of horse racing, but apparently not acceptable to eat their slaughtered bodies. Socio-cultural norms can be unlearned with just a little effort and given the arguments in favour of a plant-based diet it seems that that little effort is very worthwhile.
Of course, people may be outraged for reasons dictated by religious beliefs. People may also be outraged to discover that the food industry does not always tell the truth about what is in the food we buy and eat. But all these reasons underlying what the media is referring to as being ‘distressing’ for meat eating members of the public are extremely trite when one considers the distressing life of a sentient being bred for the sole purpose of being used by another species, and the suffering he or she endures during the short life between orphaned infancy and death by slaughter in childhood. There is no way that other animals can give us their bodies or the products of their bodies, to be our food, without costing them enormous suffering and their lives. Is there a higher price that anyone can pay for anything than the price that the animals reared for food pay to feed us?
There is no property of other animals that humans require as food, that they cannot get from non-violent plant based sources. World Dietetics Societies confirm that vegan or plant-based diets containing no animal products are healthy and nutritionally adequate for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. They also state that vegan diets provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
So, if we do not need to eat other animals, then why do we? Again, the answer lies in the socio-cultural context in which we are embedded. We are born into highly speciesist societies where we are fed other animals, even prior to having a language with which to think about food or rights. Then we learn a speciesist language that further camouflages our similarity to other animals and attempts to justify the vast differences in how our rights are respected or violated.
A plant based, vegan diet is enjoyable, healthy, and inexpensive. More importantly, it is a way of eating that greatly reduces the amount of violence and suffering in our world. There are active vegan groups in almost every county in Ireland and the UK, as well in many other parts of the world. Most offer free advice and support to those who wish to make the transition to this non-violent way of life.
There is no excuse for being uninformed about the lives and deaths of the animals in your food. There is no excuse for not being vegan.
The changes to our lifestyles that veganism entails do not demand much of us. Yet these small changes grant something of monumental significant to other animals: their right to liberty from our oppression.
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