Turning a blind eye on food: our eating habits
As a society, we are very accustomed to ‘turning a blind eye’ when it comes to our food. We refuse to acknowledge what has had to happen in order for the food we eat to get to our plates. We do not consider the process, all we see is the nice packaging it comes in and how it has been processed and displayed in a way that makes us believe it is okay to eat it. So we are so convinced that we have good eating habits that we don’t even think about them.
As a species, we are not meant to be carnivores, a topic that is controversial to many people. In the past, our ancestors hunted animals for meat because they had to. In today’s world, in richer countries, we no longer need meat to survive. We have become masters of manipulating the world’s resources to satisfy us, but not always in a good way.
In poorer countries where the luxuries of choosing what to eat is not an option or farming is the only way to make a living, this situation is entirely different. This is where eating meat is for survival, not pleasure. But if you have the option to boycott industrialized cruelty, abuse, slaughter, and pain, why wouldn’t you?
The answer to this question is simple. People do not want to support it, but they do. They do because they choose to look away, choose not to believe that what is happening is real. That’s because it inconveniences them. Many people who are guilty of this are not bad people at all, but simply too unwilling to change for the benefit of animals. Society also must adapt in order to make changing into a more compassionate lifestyle affordable, easy and enjoyable.
I have been an animal lover for as long as I can remember, and throughout my teenage years, I had always considered going vegetarian, because I loved every animal and didn’t want to eat them. But if it was put in front of me, my mind wouldn’t jump to the fact that I was eating a dead animal which had emotions, intelligence, a family, things that it liked and disliked, characters similar to a human.
In this day in age, the demand for meat is so high that even in places like the UK, meat and dairy farms can be awfully inhumane and cruel simply to make things more efficient for the supply of meat to supermarkets and restaurants. Chickens kept in cages that barely fit them inside and stuffed with hormones and fat to make them grow. Cows and sheep not allowed to roam free and have their throat cut to kill them slowly. Pigs electrocuted or put in gas chambers to kill them in disgusting overcrowded conditions. And turkeys reared about 10 weeks before Christmas before their lives are cut short for our festive dinners.
What people do not realize is that the animals they eat on a daily basis are no different from every other animal in the world.
In the UK, many people are horrified to learn that in Asia there is a big market for dog meat – but this is only because we have randomly decided that dogs are a human’s best friend, whereas cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and turkeys are for food and therefore do not deserve love and respect as dogs do.
Yet chickens can understand 30 different messages which they use to communicate with others and can form and remember their experiences, for example when choosing a mate. Mother hens also worry about their chicks and will panic until they know they are safe, just like a human parent. Pigs have higher intelligence than dogs (at the same level as an elephant) and can learn faster than primates. Cows can harbor feelings of anguish towards those who have done them harm in the past, and remember the exact trauma they have experienced. Sheep will stick up for their friends in fights, and studies have also shown that they can recognize facial expressions and prefer a smile to a frown. Turkeys will play with their food as a type of socializing before eating it and have been found to have heart attacks when seeing another turkey slaughtered.
Society has mistaken our misunderstanding of animal behavior for a lack of intelligence and feeling. However, ‘misunderstanding’ implies that we have tried to understand and failed. But in reality, we haven’t even thought that these domesticated animals are worth the research, worth the understanding, and we, therefore, have not mistaken, but rather ignored the information for our selfish habits.
Even the information I just referenced is probably only scraping the surface of the complexity of the animal experience which we fail to acknowledge.
My decision to become vegetarian and try to eat as vegan as possible has firstly come from my love of animals. It has become about the environment as I progressively found out more about it. However, I do believe that as a society our first thought should be for animal welfare if you choose not to eat meat.
We claim that we are one of the most empathetic species on the planet, but how can we be compassionate and also turn a blind eye to the horrors of the meat and dairy industries? How can we choose not to find out more so that we can continue at their expense without feeling guilty?
We simply have no idea about the complexities and meaning of the lives we take by the billions, and unless you are willing to go against the current dictates of society and stop letting yourself be manipulated, this will never be realized.
The idea that everyone needs to be vegan overnight is also, unsustainable and unrealistic. But, the idea that everyone could cut down on meat and dairy, and eventually transition to where they rarely eat meat or dairy, is sustainable and feasible. Eating habits can be changed.
This is what I have done. It’s hard sometimes when someone else has made me food, but when I buy for myself, I choose vegan products. And that is what we need to normalise. Accept being imperfect. If you don’t think you could give up a certain food product, but you could give up others, give up the others and keep eating that one thing you like so much.
Some changes are better than no changes at all. Consumers really have no idea about the power their choices have, and the effect that they could have on these huge industries.
In the USA, dairy companies are starting to realize that cow’s milk might not be the best product to produce anymore, as the demand for it has significantly lowered in recent years in favor of plant-based kinds of milk such as almond and soy. If we can make the meat and dairy industries less profitable, it can, and will, create real change.
After all, the reason why animal welfare is so bad in meat and dairy farms across the world is that the companies simply want to make a profit, nothing else. These dairy corporations need a high turnover of babies in cows because (if you don’t already know) cows are mammals which only produce milk when they have given birth. Therefore, the more babies, the more milk. But sadly for those babies, they are taken away from their mother 24-48 hours after birth, because otherwise, they would drink the milk that is supposed to be for them, but we take for ourselves.
As a result of this fact, baby cows are always separated from their mothers. They cannot stick around because they would drink the milk which the mothers produce. Mother cows spend their lives (which is naturally 25 years, but in dairy farms only 4-5 years) mourning the children they have birthed, who have then been torn away, a cruel and unjust cycle. The babies will either be sold to the leather or veil industries or even killed soon after birth if they are male, or spend the rest of their (short) lives as a dairy cow, constantly pregnant and routinely milked but never allowed to be a mother as their calves are torn away from them.
And that is just the way cows are treated. Other animals such as pigs and chickens face equally horrible welfare in farms across the world, even if we have been sold the lie of these animals being happy whilst they lived. Animal cruelty is everywhere.
So, if you think after learning about that, that you want to change your eating habits and try some vegan foods, that’s amazing. However, it might be difficult when there are plenty of misconceptions about vegan lifestyles out there and are spread around that are making you feel skeptical. They need to be squashed, and I’ll do my best to do so now.
I used to be one of those people who claimed that vegan food didn’t provide enough protein. Like many others who choose to believe this, I was grossly misinformed and had no right to claim this when I had no evidence at my disposal, other than the lies we have been fed by the meat and dairy industries our whole lives.
Many studies have found that on a normal Western, meat consuming diet, individuals consume far more protein than they need, which is actually very damaging for the human body. More and more reports are coming out which show that many of the diseases humans get such as cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases are associated with the overconsumption of protein.
Protein from plant-based sources, such as chickpeas, brown bread, soya milk (and other plant-based kinds of milk), lentils, most beans, peas, oats, chia seeds, nuts, nut butters (e.g. peanut butter), broccoli and other protein-rich vegetables can easily supply the protein needs of a healthy person.
If someone were to have peanut butter on toast for breakfast with a cup of tea and soy milk, and a lentil bolognese with some broccoli for dinner, they would easily get the needed protein for the day. Also, soy milk is a great source of calcium, and therefore you don’t need to get it from cow’s milk, which is biologically and naturally only meant for baby cows.
A staggering 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, and why is that? Because we are not meant to drink cow’s milk, or any other animal’s milk. Humans are as meant to drink cow’s milk as they are to drink the milk from dog, cat, rat, monkey, hippo or giraffe. In fact, drinking cow’s milk is not a natural eating habit for us. The people in the world who are not lactose intolerant have mutations that enable them to break down lactose, an ability that humans are not meant to have.
Soya milk is one great alternative to cow’s milk, however, there is often a misconception about it that is contributes to rainforest destruction. This is true for some of it, as around 75% of all soya beans grown in the world is fed directly to livestock, then to be killed and eaten by humans. The soya which feeds humans accounts for only 6% of the soya bean grown globally, most of which goes to Asia. Therefore, this fact cannot be used as an excuse to turn down plant-based milk.
So, there you have it, some myths about plant-based diets debunked. We must realize that the way we exploit animals at the moment is unsustainable, and most importantly, inexcusably cruel.
We have the choice to choose foods and other products such as clothing, which doesn’t require that innocent animals give their lives for us to have it. I used to think that veganism was extreme, and something you could only do if you were an ‘activist’ (which I used to think was a negative word). This is so far from the truth, as what is extreme about choosing not to participate in brutality, abuse and slaughter?
We have simply become too accustomed to turning a blind eye and living in ignorance. From starting slow journeys to plant-based foods, I hope society can change into being more compassionate and sustainable.