“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In discussing vegetarianism with people, it’s funny to see how similar everyone’s arguments are. Irrespective of political beliefs, social status, income levels, education, etc., everyone tends to debate in pretty much exactly the same way. Some people focus more on some things than others, but at the end of the day, everyone is doing it. And almost everyone tends to disbelieve the same facts, ignore the same questions, and disregard the same ideas. Entire books could be (and have been) filled with these facts, questions, and ideas that everyone seems to ignore, but one that I find particularly interesting is the idea that vegetarianism is necessary to lead a non-violent life. It’s interesting for two reasons: one, that pretty much every single non-vegetarian doesn’t even give this idea a chance. The second is that few vegetarians even promote or believe this idea themselves. And yet, I find it is one of the most powerful calls for becoming a vegetarian.
Yes, a good reason should be to stop the murdering of thousands of animals. The average American currently consumes 21,000 animals over the course of their lifetime – becoming vegetarian would therefore save 21,000 animals. To compare, Wildlife Rescue Center, a fairly large animal rescue center, has only saved 30,000 animals since it was first founded in 1979 – think about that, by giving up eating animals, you would be saving about two thirds as many animals as a massive animal rescue center has in more than 30 years. Yet 21,000 animals pales before the staggering 10 billion land animals slaughtered every single year in the United States alone, so many people say, “my not eating meat won’t really make that much of a difference, I’d rather donate some money to an animal shelter in the Amazon and save the animals there instead”. Now while that thinking is still flawed (why not do both?), it is still somewhat understandable.
Another good reason for becoming vegetarian is the tremendous benefits for the environment. One acre of land can produce only 165 pounds of beef, while it can produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes, for example. When it comes to lower land usage and a more sustainable economy for a growing population, veganism is the way forward. And yet here too people start talking about free-range beef, cattle that live their whole lives on marginal land not fit for anything but cattle grazing. Now while such a method of producing beef could produce nowhere near the amount we produce today, and at much higher costs, it would indeed be an environmentally friendly way of producing beef.
Yet at the end of the day we would still be murdering animals for our food. And this is something that deep down, everyone is very well aware of. We don’t consciously think of it very often – maybe never – but we still know it. If someone were to ask us where our burger comes from, we wouldn’t have to think very hard to reply, “from a cow”. So every single non-vegetarian, while rarely conscious of it, walks around every single day with the knowledge that their lifestyle is killing other sentient beings. True, we rationally excuse it, and most people are truly convinced that they are not doing anything wrong (although it is interesting that most of these people, so convinced that they are not doing anything morally wrong, will refuse to watch movies like Earthlings which simply show them where their food comes from. If they’re not doing anything wrong, why the big deal?).
I find it funny that most people will read this idea, that it is impossible to lead a non-violent and ethical life while eating meat, and find it completely ludicrous. Absolutely ridiculous. Insane. Radical. Probably not even worthy of some consideration, let alone serious consideration. And yet Gandhi believed this fervently. While no one ever talks about it, and it is never mentioned in any of his countless biographies or even in the award-winning movie made about him, he strongly believed that vegetarianism is a necessary step to non-violence. I mention this often in my countless debates, and people rarely even acknowledge that I said anything. For some reason, Gandhi is the top authority on non-violence and peace for literally everything, except when he talks about vegetarianism. Bring up Gandhi in any other discussion, and your argument immediately becomes substantially more powerful. Bring up Gandhi in a debate about vegetarianism, and you can barely get a response. Interesting.
For some reason, people seem to find it impossible that violence has anything to do with eating animals. But while I certainly don’t believe that it is the only cause of violence, I definitely believe it is a cause. One of the most common arguments against vegetarianism is that we’ve been eating meat for thousands of years. We’ve also had wars, murder, and rape for thousands of years. True, correlation does not imply causation – but there is definitely a correlation here. And why not? Leo Tolstoy famously said, “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields”. Pythagoras said, “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love”. And is it not commonly accepted that children who enjoy torturing animals are more likely to become serial killers? (There is, in actual fact, a very proven relationship – even the FBI sees animal abuse as a warning of a violent pathology, and the majority of serial killers and rapists have long histories of animal abuse). It certainly makes sense. Yet almost everyone enjoys torturing animals, albeit indirectly. Most people know that what happens in factory farms (99% of farms in the United States, 75% in the United Kingdom) is at the very least close to torture, they just don’t admit it to themselves or to anyone else. But most people know that something is wrong. And everyone enjoys it, in fact, they enjoy it a lot, because they love their fried chicken, their bloody steaks, and their triple big Macs – all products of torture.
Gandhi believed that a crucial aspect of becoming a truly non-violent person was becoming vegetarian. And he also clearly knew what he was talking about. So perhaps becoming vegetarian needn’t be all about saving the animals, or saving the environment – as much as those are worthy causes. Perhaps it should also be about a quest to better oneself, to take the step towards a truly more ethical lifestyle and helping to create a more non-violent world. It’s all great and exciting to shout about how terrible war is and why we shouldn’t have it, but maybe it would be more important to try and change something which has so far only been explained as ‘human nature’. While trying to resist the overwhelmingly logical argument of becoming vegetarian, people tend to focus on specific aspects and where the arguments apparently fall short. And yet if saving 21,000 animals isn’t enough for you, than what about reducing the huge amounts of forests that are chopped down every year to make room for growing soy and corn to feed our insane amounts of farm animals? And if trying to save wildlife and our planet isn’t enough for you, how about making yourself a truly non-violent person and perhaps finding yourself closer to inner peace? And if that’s not enough for you, than what is?
“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.” – Leonardo da Vinci
The easiest way to demonstrate why we should all obviously be vegetarian is the following: it is very easy for a vegetarian to put a non-vegetarian in difficulty in a debate. There are an overwhelming amount of different arguments, facts, and statistics. The non-vegetarian usually ends up talking about some weird, incredibly abstract, and totally unrealistic scenario in order to keep the debate going. And yet, what if we reversed the roles. Wouldn’t it be incredibly difficult for a non-vegetarian to create an argument for continuing to eat meat? It’s never happened to me. No one has ever flipped the argument around and tried telling me I shouldn’t be vegetarian – just that they don’t have to be. In fact, people usually say they commend me for my decision but that they couldn’t do it themselves. Meat eaters hardly ever say that being vegetarian is bad; they just say that not being vegetarian isn’t bad. Again; interesting.