Monday, November 25, 2013

Is Being Vegetarian Important?


Last year, Anne (right) and I spoke at the Vegetarian Society of El Paso's Compassionate Thanksgiving dinner. This time of year  especially this week  can be hard on many of us. In part, our presentation consisted of an version of this edited essay, to try to keep in mind the big picture.

Have you ever been in so much pain that you thought you were going to die?

Have you ever suffered so much that you actually wanted to die?

Every year, hundreds of millions of individuals in the U.S. suffer to death.

Egg-laying hens packed in tiny wire cages, unable to move because of how crowded they are, can have their wings or necks stuck in the wires, keeping them from getting to food or water.

Pigs, transported in open trucks for hundreds and hundreds of miles in all weather without food or water – can freeze to death.

Chickens raised for meat, bred to grow so large so fast that their legs break under their own weight, leaving them incapacitated and unable to get food.

Words simply cannot convey the horrifying conditions that bring about these slow, agonizing deaths – how the animals are bred, how they “live” (so to speak) on factory farms, and, for those who survive this inherently brutal system, how they are butchered in industrial slaughterhouses. No verbal or even video description can begin to capture it; even visiting these confinement warehouses and slaughterhouses can’t begin to convey what it is like to live one’s entire life there, and then to be callously slaughtered.

It is enough to know that modern agribusiness is so inherently brutal that it will kill off, even before the slaughterhouse, hundreds of millions of animals through slow, agonizing means, simply as a cost of doing business. This is a system of cruelty so vast, so intense, that it really is beyond comprehension.

This is the system we support and endorse every time we purchase its products. Consuming flesh foods from modern agribusiness not only pays others to exploit and butcher our fellow feeling beings; it not only affirms the view that animals are simply cogs in the machine of profit; but our purchases are what give agribusiness the resources needed to breed and brutalize more of our fellows.

This is enough to compel me to be a vegetarian, to make a daily, public statement against the breathtaking brutality behind meat, eggs, and dairy.

For me, being a vegetarian is not the conclusion of an impartial set of utilitarian calculations, nor the endorsement of a certain formal philosophy like “animal rights.” Rather, being a vegetarian is an irresistible statement about the person I choose to be. I simply could not live with myself if I were to be a part of such unwatchable cruelty to animals. The phrase is: How could I look at myself in the mirror? And that is literally how it happened for me – looking in the mirror and realizing I couldn’t consider myself a “good person” if I continued to pay others to brutalize animals so I could eat them.

Taking the road less traveled does not mean denial and deprivation. We can make our lives a part of something larger – a part of bending the arc of history toward justice. Choosing to be a vegetarian makes a public, powerful, ethical statement – a statement about more than the animals’ suffering, but about who we really are.

But who we are extends far beyond the plate.

The average American consumes a few dozen land animals every year. By choosing to be a vegetarian, you will accomplish a great deal over the course of your life – you will spare many hundreds of animals from the malicious maws of modern agribusiness.

But get this: In just one hour, you could accomplish much, much more!

This may sound like an informercial scam, but it’s true – for every person you convince to go vegetarian, you double the impact of your life’s choices. It’s simple math!

Close your eyes and think about everything you will do, every day, every year for the rest of your life, so to make sure you don’t support factory farms. Every label you’ll read, every special shopping trip you’ll take, every dish you’ll bring to a gathering – everything you’ll do to avoid causing animals to suffer.

Now, if you hand out 50 booklets to new people, and just one decides to go vegetarian, you will have saved, in only one hour, just as many animals as you will save with every single choice you make over the rest of your life.

In other words: if we agree that being a vegetarian is important, then we must also recognize that being an effective advocate for the animals is many times more important. Effective, efficient outreach has truly enormous potential, and can change the world far, far more than our personal food choices.

Each of us can do this. You don’t need to start a group. You don’t need to pass a law. You just need to make the choice to join with the all the others who are dedicated to making a real difference. Vegan Outreach can provide you with lessons from decades of experience and all the tools you need. VO exists to help everyone and anyone, in every situation, be the most effective advocate possible – for a world not just a bit less bad, but for a fundamentally better world.

But leaflets don’t print themselves! Vegan Outreach is dependent upon the financial support of those who recognize the central importance of effective advocacy.

There are many demands on our limited time and money, and we must choose to invest our scarce resources to do the most good. Working to expose and end the hidden horrors of factory farms is the best possible investment. Every new vegetarian pays huge dividends every year, in terms of their food choices and the example they set.


This isn’t just a pitch. For all the activists involved, distribution of booklets is directly tied to donations. As donations go up or down, so do the number of new people we reach. This means that every donation you make really does make a real difference, and writing a simple check or making an online donation can multiply your life’s impact many times over! A donation today leads to more booklets to more people tomorrow, which leads to more new vegetarians and more animals spared this year – and every year!

We hope you will join us!



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