Diamond's epigram often brings a knowing chuckle to those who hear it, but it really mirrors an uncomfortable reality: as a society we collectively—and often unconsciously—raise children to go against their better nature, which is to care for other sentient beings and, instead, teach them to hurt others, particularly farm animals.
Perhaps unwittingly, parents are raising children to participate in cruelties that children would never otherwise support themselves if they were privy to the truth, and were not indoctrinated to toe the line of industries and advertisers. Children look up to their parents but adults betray this confidence and their children's innocence by encouraging insouciant savagery through the consumption of animals and animal products, thereby compromising their children's innate compassionate selves.
Case in point: On a recent episode of a home-buying show, a family with three young boys were looking to live on a ranch in Montana. The realtor, like many residents in Montana, also owned his own cattle ranch. (There are about three cows for every one person in Montana, indicating exactly what drives Montana's economy and the people who live there.) In one clip, the boys were introduced to the realtor-rancher's cattle and went happily up to the fence to meet the cows. When the boys kindly inquired about the cows, the realtor-rancher told them that he feeds them and gets them big and fat. One of the boys innocently asked, "Then you let them go?" The realtor-rancher cheerfully said "no!" and the adults all had a good laugh at the expense of both the children and the cows. The clip abruptly ended.
Some years ago, a friend and I taught a Girl Scouts class on veganism. We introduced the children to vegan options and discussed various foods and ingredients. Our culture so cleverly disguises the origins of animal products using innocuous-sounding euphemisms like bologna, ham, beef, etc. The Scouts, who considered themselves animal lovers, were shocked and horrified to discover that these foods, and many others they ate, were derived from the bodies of nonhuman animals. It was redolent of when I was a child, and I mistakenly ate pepperoni one Friday during Lent for the same reason—I just didn't realize who I was eating.
Melanie Joy expounds on these primal introductions to carnism in "Why Eating Animals is a Social Justice Issue":
When we are growing up, forming our identity and values, nobody asks us whether we want to eat animals, how we feel about eating animals, whether we believe in eating animals. We are never asked to reflect upon this daily practice that has such profound ethical dimensions and personal implications. Eating animals is just a given; it's just the way things are. Because carnism operates outside of our awareness, it robs us of our ability to make our choices freely—because without awareness, there is no free choice.
It is discouraging and disappointing to see children being taught to be uncaring and unsympathetic regarding the interests of farm animals. How many parents take children to local farms so they can interact with farm animals and then fail to see the connection between the living beings on the farm and the violent remnants of those very similar bodies on their dinner plates at home?
Besides the inherent cruelty in eating animals and their secretions, non-vegan parents are throwing caution to the wind, forsaking the only planet their children will likely have to call home. What's more, they are setting their children up for a lifetime of health issues, dooming them to repeat the same horrible habits and suffer the same dreaded consequences resulting from the consumption of animal products: disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc. A study in the British Journal of Cancer found that the only thing more dangerous than the consumption of meat is smoking. A person's chances of developing pancreatic cancer increases 19 percent for every sausage or two bacon strips eaten. Likewise, the American Institute for Cancer Research found that daily consumption of processed animal meats like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, and cold cuts can increase a person's risk for colorectal cancer by 21 percent, bladder cancer by 33 percent, diabetes by 41 percent and an early death by 44 percent. And this is what we choose to feed our children? Is this not also an atrocity?
Two pediatricians recently went on record saying the meat industry is killing kids. Doctors Jerome Paulson and Theoklis Zaoutis published a report in the journal Pediatrics contending that the overuse of antibiotics in the production of live-stock is what is driving superbugs, which are particularly dangerous to children. According to their report, salmonella alone causes more than 120,000 illnesses and 38 deaths annually among kids younger than five. And the dangers of animal production affects all children, even those who don't consume farmed animals due to the presence of contaminated manure applied to agricultural soils and waste runoff to other farms. The doctors also noted that US live-stock producers fed an alarming 32.2 million pounds of antibiotics to farmed animals in 2012, which is more than four times the amount used to treat people.
Otherwise good people commit atrocities every day without batting an eyelash because the majority of people do it, too. Our parents meant no harm when they served us animal flesh and fluids, they were merely repeating what they were taught from their parents, but when is enough enough? When does the cycle of indifference and violence end? When will parents stop doing the bidding for the meat, dairy, and egg industries and their advertisers?
It is deeply depressing to see fellow humans go through life turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the injustices imposed upon our fellow creatures; it is disturbing to be a bystander to routine atrocities against animals held up by powerful customs, traditions and institutions, and it's maddening to watch good people promote and sustain barbarous practices and destructive ideas simply because that's the way it's always been. And worse still, they are teaching the next generation to do the same.
Fortunately, there is a better way. It's our responsibility to educate ourselves and others, and to show the next generation that there is a different path, one that promotes a peaceful and healthy coexistence with all life.
How Do I Go Vegan?