At a recent lecture in a spiritual bookstore, I covered some of the spiritual aspects of going vegan. Yet even if you’re not spiritual or religious, many of the same principles apply, simply because many spiritual traditions come down to everyday values and ethics.
So I began wondering about an ethical question: If you couldn’t go to a store or a restaurant to buy your meat, and instead had to go out and slaughter a cow yourself for that hamburger, could you do it? I don’t mean to be grotesque, but could you shoot a bolt through a cow’s head and watch it instantly fall to the ground? Could you slit a pig’s throat while it is squealing for its life so that you could have bacon for breakfast? Could you cut off a chicken’s head or drag it through an electrocution “bath” to feed your child chicken nuggets? What about catch a fish and watch it take its last breath as it flops around on your boat deck so you could enjoy some sushi?
I don’t ask these questions to be dramatic, but I think that they will shed light on your values, and here is why that is so important: We humans have an intense psychological need to feel that we are staying true to our values; however, we often create stories about our behavior that allow us to believe we are staying true to our values when we are not. For example, if we hold a value of being kind to animals, but we like to eat hamburgers and don’t want to give them up, we might create a story for ourselves that the government is making sure that the slaughterhouses are humane, and that makes us feel like we are staying true to our value of being kind to animals. Even if we hear that the slaughterhouses are extremely cruel, we will continue to believe our story that the government is protecting the animals so that we can go on eating hamburgers. We won’t even be willing to watch a video posted on Facebook in case it challenges the story we are upholding to stay aligned with our values.
If you want to challenge your values and you still eat meat, I highly recommend you watch the documentary Earthlings, or go to PETA’s website and watch some of their many short video clips on the factory farms. See if you still feel comfortable choosing meat products after seeing these videos. If you really don’t want to watch the graphic videos of slaughterhouses, dairy farm and egg factories, here is a question for you to ponder instead:
If you could not kill a cow (pig, chicken, etc) yourself, is it ethical to pay someone else to do it? Is it ethical to divert your money to support the behavior you will not do yourself?
The answer will depend on your own values – not mine – but I think that if you still eat meat, dairy and eggs, it is important to ask yourself this question. It truly is a matter of life and death.