4.3 Our Vegan Conundrum

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Unfortunately, humans are not biologically equipped to be like carnivores. Our biological characteristics such as our colons, intestines, saliva, jaws and teeth, which have been relatively unchanged for the past 200,000 years, are not designed for the consumption of animal flesh. It is only through cooking with fire that we make animal flesh edible and digestible for our bodies, but even this causes harmful changes in our livers and in our digestive systems. Therefore, prior to the discovery of the controlled use of fire, it is safe to say that our ancestors subsisted primarily on foraged plant-foods and perhaps, small animals and insects, just as chimpanzees and bonobos do today. Says David Nibert, a Professor of Sociology at Wittenberg University[27],

"Few people are aware that, for most of our time on the planet, our species foraged and lived primarily on plant-based diets. Our communities were egalitarian and there was ample time for leisure and social activities. This long period has been referred to by anthropologists as “the original affluent society.” However, this era ended when humans began routinely to hunt large animals – primarily a male pursuit. As our species does not have the biological make-up of a predator, this hunting could only be accomplished through the creation of weapons. Those men most successful at such killing exerted growing power. Social hierarchy began to emerge, and the status of women began to decline."

It is the controlled use of fire that allowed humans to expand their range from out of Africa to span the entire globe. Fire extended the foods available for human consumption, especially meat, which made it possible for humans to survive even in cold, harsh climates. During the past 200,000 years, the Earth's climate has undergone several dramatic changes, swinging from ice ages to warm interglacial periods in a few thousand years, a geological blink of an eye. But over the past 10,000 years, the Earth's climate has been relatively stable, spawning the agricultural revolution and the controlled production of grain crops with the help of domesticated animals. As pockets of stable, steady state human civilizations grew in various parts of the globe, it is the Westerners who had migrated to the cold, harsh climates who developed the tools and science-based military technologies necessary to conquer and forcibly reunite the human family globally during the last few centuries.

Since the conquering class consumed plenty of animal foods, such consumption has now become a sign of upward mobility globally. But there is considerable angst evident in our decisions to consume such foods. Fundamentally, though our species was baptized in fear, we possess the capacity for the dual emotions of both fear and love, just like most other complex species. We are born with a capacity for fear in order to escape predators and with a capacity for love in order to nurture our young. Our long 200,000 year journey from the savannas of Africa to our technologically connected global presence today has been a journey from fear as our predominant emotion towards love and compassion as our predominant emotion. This is what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., alluded to when he said[28],

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

But remnants of our past create mass cognitive dissonance within us along our journey. We eat animal foods, but we tell ourselves stories about such choices that no longer match reality. We had formed partnerships with some animal species, such as dogs, but now we treat them as family members in most countries around the world, while we skin them, cook them and eat them in the Far East. Anyone who has lived with dogs as pets would empathize with the beseeching eyes of the dogs in the Far East as they are being carted off for slaughter, packed in the dozens to a single bicycle carrier. We wonder why the consumers in the Far East cannot see these same eyes of the dogs and not be moved to tears. Yet we fail to see the same emotions in the eyes of the cows, pigs and chickens that we exploit and slaughter en masse in other parts of the world.

Compassion is at the very core of our being. Would you ever deliberately hurt an innocent animal unnecessarily? So far, among the thousands of people that I have asked this simple question, not a single person has come forward to say, “Yes.”  Of course, I have probably never spoken to trophy hunters like Donald Trump, Jr., who famously cuts off an elephant’s tail and poses with it after shooting the elephant dead. Or perhaps, the trophy hunters among my responders were ashamed of their hobby! In either case, this goes to show that compassion for all Creation is coded into every fiber of our human being.

That’s who we really are! Therefore, is it any wonder that many religious texts of the world proclaim that Man was created in the image of God? After all, God is commonly defined to be all compassionate, in addition to being omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. God is Love. And so is Man, except that Man’s ego can blind him to that truth. But every human being has the potential to realize that truth as a lived reality. That is our destiny on the road to sustainability.

But among those same responders to my question, very few admit to being vegan, even though by definition,

Veganism is a way of living where we seek to never deliberately hurt an innocent animal unnecessarily.

Many people, especially in the older generations, feel repulsed by that word even though its meaning is part of their identity. That is because the word “vegan” has become closely associated with diet and many of those who would “never deliberately hurt an innocent animal unnecessarily,” do continue to eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. They were raised on cultural stories that the consumption of these animal foods is necessary for human well-being, even though the scientific evidence is now overwhelming that this is false.

Members of the American Dietetic Association and the Canadian Dietetic Association wrote a scientific paper recently clearly stating that it is now unnecessary to eat animal foods of any kind at any stage of our human life cycle[29]. Yet, animals that had been domesticated over thousands of years to provide muscle power for our ploughs and manure for our fields, are now being raised strictly to provide meat and dairy for our consumption and raw material for our clothing. These animals are now treated the equivalent of crops, as they are forcibly reproduced, raised and harvested in their youthful prime, in giant industrial operations. We were told stories to justify the institutionalized deliberate violence that is modern animal husbandry. Some of us were told that the animals lived a good life grazing on pastures and then experienced one bad day when they were slaughtered for meat. Some of us were told that the animals themselves offered up their bodies, even going so far as to place their necks on the butchers' knives, without any coercion. Some of us were told that eating animals is normal, for that is what predators do. It would be natural as well, so long as we thank the animals for giving their lives and we consume all parts of the animals without any wastage. We suspect that these stories are false, especially when we become aware of factory farms and feedlots, but we soldier on with our consumption regardless. In my case, I was raised a lacto-vegetarian and I was told when I was young that we take milk for human consumption from the mother cows only after their calves had finished drinking. That is the "Ahimsa" way, where nobody got hurt. In fact, I was told that we were only consuming the excess milk that we anyway had to drain from the udders, for otherwise the mother cows would suffer from mastitis. Therefore, drinking the cow's milk was really an act of compassion, not exploitation!

I really, really wanted to believe that!


[27] Quote taken from Tuttle, Will, ed., Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, Vegan Publishers, Jan 2015, ISBN-13: 978-1940184067. http://amzn.to/1TsYKAO

[28] Dr. King channeled these Theodore Parker’s words concisely on several occasions, including at the Wesleyan University Baccalaureate ceremony in 1964. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/15/arc-of-universe/

[29] Please see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864/