SANTA CRUZ, June 12, 2013 — These days it is difficult to find anyone who does not know what a vegan is. At one time or another most people have made exploratory incursions into a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and, for millions, it stuck. There was a time when a diet free of animal products was considered fringe or extreme. Now, almost every restaurant has vegan options, Starbucks offers soy milk and you can find meat substitutes and soy or almond milk ice cream in most mainstream grocery stores.
Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Humans are imbued with a certain degree of compassion, both for each other and for the myriad other creatures which populate the planet. When people see someone abusing an animal, empathy is the perfectly normal response.
If possible, humans will put themselves in harm’s way to protect an animal. Families practically consider their pets relatives, indispensable members of the familial unit. They would be horrified if anyone were to beat, kick, electro shock or torture their pets. Yet these people will sit down to a steak or chicken dinner without even taking a second to appreciate the irony.
This blatant disconnect, so glaring to the practicing vegan, is seldom discussed openly among meat-eaters. It is the dark secret, a subject taboo among civilized folks. When a naturally inquisitive child asks his parents about what they are eating and how it got to their plates, many parents will become uncomfortable and try to change the subject. It is a battle of obfuscation growing daily more difficult with kids having easier access to information, not to mention the classmate or two who are vegetarian.
There are numerous reasons that people make the decision to go vegan. Many do it solely out of compassion, the realization of what goes on inside slaughterhouses and factory farms and the sickening awakening to their complicity in it. For others, it is because of the health benefits. At a time when Americans are becoming sicker and more obese, it is not surprising that many are looking to eat healthier. Finally, there is the environmental consequences of the meat and dairy industries which has become almost a call to arms for millions of activists. When someone realizes the tremendous amount of waste, pollution and unchecked rape of the land which is the by product of America’s meat habit, they become motivated to make changes.
It has been estimated that every vegan saves roughly two hundred animals a year, not to mention the reversal of water waste and topsoil erosion. Carbon emissions from factory farms and slaughterhouses are now the single largest contributor to so-called greenhouse gasses, which are linked to global warming. Taking into account the subtle shift in public awareness towards veganism over the last two decades, clearly a change is already taking place. All that is left to consider is whether humanity can ween itself off of meat and dairy before earth reaches a calamitous tipping point.
The change will certainly require a massive agrarian shift. Cattle ranchers and farmers have been supporting themselves with the current model for generations. A society and its government would need to be ready to supplement an entirely different supply chain as the land would slowly switch from raising livestock for slaughter to growing corn, soy, wheat, potatoes and whatever else. There would, in theory, be enough food for everyone and it would be sustainable and healthy.
Will it happen overnight? Not a chance. In America, meat-eating is an engrained cultural phenomenon. Advertising encourages it, assuaging people’s barely conscious guilt about what they are feeding themselves. Americans can only hope meat-eating goes the way of smoking, voluntarily given up as people begin to awaken to it’s environmental, humanitarian and health costs.
There is something magical that happens when people’s actions and consumption finally align with their natural humanity and compassion. There is an alternative and, for a sustainable future, it may be imperative.
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