Your Life as a Cow

Ok. I’m going to do that thing that non-vegans hate. I’m going to preach to you. Don’t worry, I’m only going to do it once, and it won’t take you very long. On the uh… cosmic scale that is.

But before I begin, I want you to consider this question: do you consider all humans to be equally valuable? Doesn’t matter what you put into “valuable”, do you consider all humans to be equal? Like, regardless of, well, anything, are all humans worth the same? If you don’t think that, well, I guess I’m not going to convince you of anything, so you might as well stop reading.

The rest of you are still here? Good. So. If we accept that all humans are equal, I want to ask, what makes humans more valuable than animals? Our whole society is premised on the idea that humans are worth more than animals, so it sure is worth considering. I mean, putting them in tiny cages for their entire life, forcefully inseminating them or kill them, and using them to test medicine and cosmetics is pretty strong sign to me that we don’t consider their lives valuable. So. What are we basing this on?

Like, honestly, what’s the justification for that? Why do we consider humans more valuable than animals?

Ok, I swear, this post is going to be more than just me asking rhetorical questions. Or is it? Yes. It is.

Getting back to my original question, you might answer that humans are smarter than animals. Sure, that’s true. Humans can make amazing artworks and feel bad about procrastinating. Can a dog do that? A cow? A cow can’t even procrastinate. It just eats that grass straight away, and it would never even occur to a cow to spend the whole afternoon ostensibly watching Netflix, but really just feeling bad about not eating that piece of grass. So that makes it ok that we eat that cow. My straw-man enemy might argue. Ok, I’m being unfair. Tackle the strongest version of your opponents argument and all that.

I’ll grant that there may be something qualitatively different about human and animal thinking. Humans have complex cognitive worlds, and are self-reflexive and though some animals seem to have a self-concept, most don’t. Even so, this line of argument is connecting worth as a being to cognitive capability.

Let’s just think about that for a second. Because if we apply that to humans, that doesn’t seem quite right. We don’t think some people are worth more as people because they have a higher IQ. We don’t think babies, children, or people with cognitive deficits are worth any less. Again, falling back to the point that humans and animals are qualitatively doesn’t solve this problem. It’s easy to imagine a human who suffers from brain damage or some other kinds of cognitive deficit making them cognitively equivalent to a cow or a dog. Does that mean that it’s ok to  kill that person and eat them? And if that’s not ok, then why is it ok to do that with a cow?

Obviously it’s not, and I think a lot of people know that deep down.

In fact, a lot of people now, have sense that eating animals is bad. I get the feeling that not being a vegetarian is something shameful. A lot of people are starting to eat less and less food every week. And that’s great! Every time you don’t eat some cow, that helps the world. Carbon dioxide decreases, and fewer beings suffer unnecessarily.

And I get it. If you’re used to doing one thing you’re whole life, just switching over suddenly is hard. I was in the “eating less meat” group for years before I went full vegan. It sucks! Guess what? Meat tastes great! A lot vegans will tell you that vegan food is both healthy and filling and that’s true, but guess what’s also true? It’s not meat. Sure, when you cut out anything animalic, what you have left is food that is, generally, healthier. The proportion of vegetables to non-vegetables in a vegan diet is way higher, but there are still tons of unhealthy stuff. There are lots of great meat-substitutes, but they are not meat. They’re not the same. My point is, becoming a vegan, and that’s what I’m asking you to do, is not a small ask. I’m not ask nothing from you. I am asking you to give up something. That something may not be as much as you think, but it’s not nothing and I get that.

Here’s a harsh truth though. You know when I said that eating meat feels shameful to a lot of people? Well those people are feeling right, because it is shameful. Eating meat is shameful, and if you do it, you should ashamed. If you eat animal products, you are propping up the systematic murder and torture of millions, billions of creatures. Creatures who, morally speaking, have the same rights to not be tortured as humans. That the countries and societies that view themselves as the most human and enlightened are complicit is this, responsible even is a goddamn moral.

I’m sorry, I know that I am coming off as the shrillest, most stereotypical kind of shrill stereotype of a vegan, but the simple truth is that as society we perpetrating an injustice on a massive scale, and I can’t not say anything about that anymore.

That said, that was really, really harsh, so I’m going to offer some comfort now. It is not your fault. I don’t blame you for not being a vegan. I really don’t. I want to make that absolutely clear. I don’t imagine myself sitting on the moral high horse looking down at all the moral peasants walking far below my moral horse. And you guys, I am flawed in so many ways, it would be weird for judge anyone. So I won’t. I don’t blame anyone. Not even you, Danny.

And the reason for this is simple. The entire animal industry, actually the entire system of capitalism is built around insulating us from the consequences of our actions. We are shielded from the ethical and moral implications of the meat and dairy industries incredibly effectively, in everything from packaging to commercials to the way our language is structure (we eat beef, not cow; we eat pork, not pig). Billions of money have been spent preventing you from having to worry about all this stuff. So how could anyone be mad when the odds are stacked against you in this way?

And if you think I’m contradicting myself, I’m not. You can still be ashamed, should still be ashamed, even though it isn’t your fault. Those are not mutually exclusive. Take me for example. I’m coded as “white” and “male”. That means I am raking in the benefits of the way other white men before me have systematically exploited and subjugated everyone else and continue to do so. That is not my fault, I had no nothing to do with those guys, but I am still ashamed of this and, furthermore, I have a responsibility to actively do what I can to make the world a better place.

And I guess that’s a pretty good place to end this piece. It’s not your fault, but it’s still bad and it’s bad if you are part of propping up the system. And look, let me leave you with this thought from Spiderman.

For those who don’t have youtube or can’t watch, what Spiderman says is “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”

The thing we can do is not eat meat. The bad things that happen is the terrible suffering of animals. Superheroes generally suck, but in this case one of them has a point. Let’s be Spiderman. Together.

One thought on “Your Life as a Cow”

  1. Hey comments. It’s me again, popping up in the comments. Because I have the power of having being a vegan for a while, I’ve predicted some of the most common responses. I’m going to pre-empt them to save you the trouble of writing it down.

    So, the first thing you’re probably going to say is “it’s OK, I only eat well raised cows who’ve had happy lives before they were killed and chopped up to bits.” My first respone is: do you really? Like honestly, do you? Because I tried that for a while. That shit is expensive.

    Ok, fine. I’m going to take your word for it. So instead, let’s talk about your assumption that it’s better to kill something that had a happy life? Because we don’t apply that to humans. If a 25-year-old Swedish person is killed, we don’t say “eh, it’s fine, they had a good life.” We put their killer in jail for years.

    Actually, this principle applies to a lot of the other arguments. If you’re not ok with doing something to a human, you better have a damn good reason to be ok with doing it to an animal. And actually, there are some cases where that shit is ok. Like, I would never keep a human cooped up in a tiny cage and force them to make honey, but bees, bees love that shit.

    Here’s another argument you might make if you’re a especially sophisticated. In Sweden, we need specifically cows to graze our field and keep our beautiful landscapes from becoming boring forests. Well, I’m being mean, I’m just going to accept the fact that open landscapes are good for biodiversity and what-not. I’ll give you that, you sophisticated person. Cows are doing us a service just by eating grass. Without them, no open landscapes.

    You know who’s also doing us a service, though? Teachers. Also, firemen. Police officers. Cashiers. Without those guys, no schools, fire department, law or paying for things. And here’s the thing no one is suggesting we eat our cashiers? So why is the only way we can have open landscapes to eat cows? The answer is, it isn’t and this argument is bunk.

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