Furthermore, many so-called animal lovers, who consider themselves to be religious and follow the commandment Thou Shall Not Kill, are once again able to justify the cruel treatment and gruesome slaughter of animals for food. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the commandment says anything about who you kill, it simply says not to kill. Conveniently, it has been humans who have made exemptions to that which is considered to be the holiest rule for most religious and spiritual philosophies.
It seems the only difference between farm animals and other animals is that they have the sad but unique distinction of being considered "edible." That's it!
In her book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, Dr. Melanie Joy explores the invisible belief system, called carnism, that allows people to make exceptions for their treatment of 10 billion farm animals (more than the entire world human population), who suffer unspeakable cruelties and barbaric deaths every year in the U.S.
According to Dr. Joy, because most people care about animals and don't want them to suffer, the fact that they continue to eat animals demonstrates that their behaviors contrast with their values and this causes them uneasiness and an ethical dilemma. Therefore, they have three options:
- They can change their values to match their behaviors (i.e. regard violence and cruelty),
- They can change their behaviors to match their values (i.e. respect all life, adopt a vegetarian diet), or
- They can change their perception of their behaviors so that they appear to match their values.
Some may think that they're not implicated in the deaths of animals because they don't physically undertake the torture or killing; they just eat them. But by continuing to eat animals, consumers use their purchasing power to maintain the demand for animal bodies, and therefore, animal suffering and death. Having no direct involvement does not absolve implication. As sociology teaches us, sometimes not acting on behalf of another can be just as bad as acting against that someone.
Back in 1964 a woman named Kitty Genovese became famous (albeit posthumously) when a man attacked her with a knife just outside her apartment complex in Queens, N.Y. Shouts from a neighbor scared the attacker away, but when no one came to her aid, the attacker returned 10 minutes later to rape and kill her. The case became widely known as a classic example of the bystander effect because of the number of neighbors who heard her screams but did nothing. According to the original New York Times article, one unidentified neighbor who saw part of the attack but deliberated, before finally getting another neighbor to call the police, said "I didn't want to get involved." Another neighbor reportedly turned up his radio to muffle her screams.
We can continue to be bystanders while animals are allowed to suffer and die, or we can match our behaviors with our values and do something to stop it. It's a choice each one of us makes every day as we sit down to the table.
Photo courtesy of United Poultry Concerns (UPC)