Broadening the Boundaries of Our Compassion
Vegetarians usually cite a variety of reasons that
motivate them to follow and maintain a plant based diet.
These can include health, religious, and environmental
considerations, among many others, but no matter which
concerns take precedence, compassion typically is high
up on the list. Knowing that we can incorporate kindness
into something as fundamental as our food choices makes
us feel good about ourselves. Even if compassion is
not the primary basis for our vegetarianism, we still
enjoy the emotional and spiritual satisfaction that
comes from knowing we are eating a harm-free diet.
Sadly, for many vegetarians food is the beginning and
ending of their compassion towards other life forms.
They may feel that not eating animals is sufficient
and that they do not need to do more, or they may not
be aware that there are other ways to demonstrate compassion
in our daily lives. I became a vegetarian as a young
girl, and I did not know any other vegetarians. Because
I was on my own, I often made mistakes and ate prepared
foods that contained animal derivatives, although I
was unaware of it at the time. For me, as is the case
for most other people, vegetarianism was, and still
is, a learning process. The longer I lived as a vegetarian,
the more I discovered about the widespread use of animal
products in foods. I found out about "hidden ingredients"
such as beef broth in tomato sauce, gelatin in salad
dressings, chicken extract in gravy mixes, or whey (a
dairy derivative) in vegetable boullion. It was an eye-opening
and frightening undertaking. Suddenly my vegetarianism
was not just about avoiding meat but about asking questions,
investigating, and uncovering the truth.
A few years after I became a vegetarian, I was confronted
with some startling realizations that I had not previously
considered. A friend pointed out to me the ethical contradiction
between not eating beef but wearing leather shoes. I
had not thought about this before, and it jolted me
awake. It had not occurred to me that by purchasing
leather products I was negating the good I thought I
was doing by avoiding beef. I learned that there is
a direct connection between the foods we eat and the
clothing we wear. In countries where cow meat is popular,
leather is a widespread commodity. In other countries
sheep skin, pig skin, goat skin, or kangaroo skin is
prevalent. Animal skins are one of the residues of animal
slaughter. They are what the meat industry terms "byproducts"
-- parts of animals they cannot market as food. By selling
skin and other byproducts to various manufacturers,
the animal slaughter businesses can reap extra revenue
that directly subsidizes their dastardly operation.
It is an endless loop. Thus there is virtually no difference
between eating animals and wearing them. In fact, all
animals used as commodities -- even those that are not
immediately killed for their products, such as wool-bearing
sheep or dairy cows -- eventually end up on someone's
plate. Their flesh will be carved into lower-grade cuts
of meat or ground into burgers, their hides and hair
will adorn wealthy human beings, and their remaining
body parts will be sold to other industries -- such
as glue and gelatin factories -- to be made into myriad
Vegans are strict vegetarians who have come to realize
the interconnectedness of the animal slaughter industries
and who have made a personal pledge to avoid animal
exploitation in all its forms. This entails not purchasing
or wearing the by-products of meat production or any
other items that involved suffering or death including
the skin, fleece, feathers, shells, hair, or body parts
of any animal, bird, fish, or insect. Consequently,
vegans shun fur, down, silk, camel's hair, mohair, angora,
tortoiseshell, fish scales, snakeskin, ivory, bone,
pearls, and all other animal-derived commodities. To
vegans, these items are repulsive because of the cruel
and hideous manner in which they are obtained.
All vegetarians can and should make the move toward
greater compassion by eliminating the remaining products
of suffering from their lives. When we stop eating meat
but still support slaughter through buying items that
are closely aligned with meat production, we nullify
the good intentions behind our diet. Once we know the
truth, there is no way to ignore it without consciously
consenting to the exploitation of sentient beings.
For vegetarians who have compassion among their reasons
for eschewing meat, becoming vegan is the next logical
step. In the spirit of genuine compassion, there just
is no other choice.
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