Put yourself in the Unites States of America, year 1750. You live in an average middle class home with a loving family and a happy life. It’s normal to own slaves here, black men, women, children sold like commodities and enslaved for people just like you and your family to do housework, pull carts, or pick cotton. It’s happening all around you and it’s normal. It’s okay because it’s always been done and because your family’s livelihood depends on it. Do you have a problem with it? I’m sure you will say you do, you would have, but how do you know that? The practice was legal and normal, how do you know then you would have stood against it when doing so would mean you were ridiculed, even angrily chastised for suggesting it should not be?
Today, the concept of slavery goes against every fibre of our being, we know it’s wrong and we can’t fathom how people just like us accepted it as normal and morally acceptable. Much like the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, we can’t fathom how it was allowed to continue, legally, for so long. If you were around during either of those times, even if you hadn’t stood up actively to speak out against them, would you have been apathetic towards them? Or would you have at the very least, and in the face of public ridicule, refused to participate in the persecution of your fellow man by say, choosing not to own a slave yourself?
While today it is true that no human being, legally at least, may be enslaved any longer on the basis that they are inferior and therefore not worthy of protection from imprisonment and harm. That’s the way it should be. But even in today’s society, even with the emancipation of slaves and the condemnation of Hitler and his policies, still we enslave others routinely, institutionally, and regularly, and only a minority seem to have a problem with it, and those who do are often ridiculed or met with anger because after all, it’s normal isn’t it?
Of course I am talking about the meat and dairy trade, and if you find the line of argument ridiculous already, allow me address, quickly, some common misconceptions:
Animals don’t feel pain or fear
There is of course scientific evidence to the contrary, but let’s address this logically: have you ever stroked tenderly a dog or cat? Did they seem to enjoy it? Did they close their eyes, dig their paws into the sofa in delight, purr, wag their tail, lick your face, or stretch out on the floor so you can administer a belly rub? That’s because they feel pleasure and that is quite obvious. Why then would you deduce they don’t also feel pain or fear?
The meat and dairy trade is not cruel
If you can accept the fact that animals can feel physical pain, and you can accept the fact that having your legs broken, electric shocks administered, unwelcome anal or vaginal penetration, severing of limbs, un-anaesthetised tooth extraction, kicks and punches to the face and body, parts of your face being cut off, suffocation, hypothermia, or extreme dehydration, are indeed painful, then to say the meat and dairy industry is not cruel is simply and obviously untrue. Indeed I will address further the fact that even the best practices induce pain and terror for each of the 150 billion animals put through this at our hands every single year. Here for instance is a set of videos, from the Chadwick Family’s abattoir. Some of the videos are marked for a viewing age of 12 and over and some 15 and over – why? Because they are abhorrent to witness that’s why. These videos show the best practice for stunning and slaughtering an animal “humanely”. If you cannot or will not watch the videos, I can tell you that the animals urinate whilst in the stunning cradle, this is out of fear, and to believe otherwise is simply denial – which I can understand fully if you are a part of it and do not want to face that, but you must, as they must.
Abuse over and above routine procedure is rare
Part of what is described above (legs broken, electric shocks, unwelcome anal or vaginal penetration, un-anaesthetised tooth extraction, suffocation, and extreme dehydration) are all standard practice and are essential to the transportation, insemination, and execution procedures that are essential to the meat and dairy industry – therefore you can rule those out as rare immediately.
The others mentioned are of course unauthorised treatment of the animals. However, are they rare? Every single undercover investigation done and every single experience of researchers on the issue, I’m afraid, proves they are not rare, indeed they are the norm, standard, frequent, expected treatment of animals used in the meat and dairy industry.
Animals are not like us, so they don’t matter
This was the argument used by white slave drivers to justify enslaving black men, women, and children. This was the argument used by Hitler and concentration camp workers to conduct painful experiments on Jews, to burn Jews, to gas Jews, to exterminate Jews. This is the argument used by men for generations to keep women subordinate. This is the argument used by people today, possibly yourself, to justify the captivity, the burning, the slicing, the electrocuting, the suffocating, and the terrorising of animals in the meat and dairy industry.
So to burst some bubbles – the meat and dairy industry is cruel, animals do feel physical and emotional pain, abuse over and above the already cruel practice is not rare, and animals’ pain, by virtue of it being present, does matter.
So ask yourself again: the you that sits comfortably back in 1750 USA, in your comfortable home with your loving family, sees the atrocities around you that are the slave trade – what do you do? Do you accept it as normal or do you speak out against it? How do you know? If you are sitting today in your comfortable home with your loving family and you know of the atrocities above, and you not only do not speak out against them but you participate in them, what makes you different from the people who accepted slavery, the people who accepted the Holocaust?
This is not about comparing the slave trade with the meat and dairy trade per se, and I echo the sentiments of Dr Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor and founder of Farm Sanctuary, in that rather than necessarily equating humans with farmed animals, we are “pointing to the commonality and pervasiveness of the oppressive mindset, which enables human beings to perpetrate unspeakable atrocities on other living beings […] It’s the mindset that allowed German and Polish neighbors of extermination camps to go on with their lives, just as we continue to subsidize the oppression of animals at the supermarket checkout counter”
but about highlighting a situation that we have seen before:
One group of living, feeling beings being systematically tortured, tormented, and used for the pleasure and convenience of another dominant group, and the oppression of one group being routinely accepted and defended, and a minority, in the face of ridicule and angry opposition, calling for its abolition.
It is not just Mr Hershaft who makes the comparison, but he does have more clout than a 33 year old Brit has in making it. So before you get offended that I am highlighting the very real similarities, ask yourself if you also have the authority to question those, such as Hershaft, who do have that clout you may be seeking.
You can find Mr Hershaft’s Ask Me Anything talk on Reddit, here
We look back today of abolitionists of slavery such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – the book oft credited with laying the groundwork for the civil war – as heroes and forward thinkers, beacons of light in a dark time. How do you feel about the upholders of slavery? Some were sadistic, some were kind, all were acting within the law and exercising their right to use men and women as their property.
If the meat and dairy industry are ever relegated to the history books as an unacceptable historic relic, on which side would you be counted in the history books?