7.4 The Vegan Metamorphosis

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The final change that will help dismantle the hierarchical system of the Caterpillar is when we transition to agro-ecologically grown, local, plant-based foods. To grow animal-based foods, humans had to create vast monocultures and an industrial infrastructure encompassing almost half the land area of the planet. Compared to the standard American diet, a strictly plant-based diet requires 18 times less land to grow! This is why the most effective act of rebellion against the hierarchical system these days is to grow your own produce and to go vegan. This change to a primarily local, plant-based food system needs to occur for the emergence of the Butterfly within the next 1-2 decades as the non-hierarchical solar energy system and the non-hierarchical, encrypted Internet communication systems both fall into place, also during this same time span.

At first glance, it may appear that the odds are stacked against this behavioral change in our food habits that needs to occur so quickly. Indeed, when we consider the historical behavioral trends in the case of tobacco smoking, we might get discouraged. The anti-tobacco campaign was initiated in the US, top-down, at the behest of the Surgeon General in 1965[54]. Despite the immense persuasive powers of world governments leading the anti-smoking campaign, the total world consumption of tobacco had not yet reached its peak in 2015, 50 years later[55]. The US Surgeon General's office was very emphatic in that campaign, insisting that people quit smoking entirely, explicitly guilt-tripping consumers on the second hand effects of smoking and even going so far as to run advertisements telling consumers that,

"Smoking Kills."

In our case, we need to achieve not just a peaking but also a substantial reduction in the world consumption of animal foods within the next 1-2 decades for the Butterfly to emerge. For this to occur, we either have to institute a strict top-down rationing of animal foods worldwide or a lot of us have to voluntarily reduce our consumption of animal foods to ZERO, i.e., go vegan. Leave aside top-down rationing, we can't even expect the same level of enthusiasm from the US Surgeon General's office or any branch of world governments in an anti-meat/dairy/fish/eggs campaign as in the anti-smoking campaign. If anything, it will be the opposite as most governments currently use taxpayer funds to subsidize and promote the consumption of animal-based foods. Derivative animal products are to be found everywhere in our consumer products, from the glue in our cars to the leather in our shoes to the additives in our processed foods[56]. Government food programs also indirectly subsidize these derivative animal products. Therefore, it would be tremendously disruptive to the current socioeconomic system if the main reason for animal husbandry disappears when people stop consuming animal-based foods. The oppression of animals and by extension, the oppression of indigenous people, is at the very base of the world economic engine that is keeping the current hierarchical system going. Therefore, the power elites in the hierarchical system will work to prevent this oppression from being dismantled since they will view its continuation as necessary for the continuation of their power.

But there are some key elements of weaknesses and contradictions in the current system that can help this transition happen quickly. In any long-standing systematic oppression, whether it is the oppression of colored people, LGBT people, animals or the destruction of the environment, there are usually 4 groups of participants:

1) The perpetrators;
2) The victims;
3) The onlookers; and
4) The moderates.

In general, it is the fourth group of participants, the moderates, who are critical in keeping that oppression going even when a majority of the onlookers want the oppression to stop. The moderates are typically widely trusted sources, who appear to be on the side of the victims and the majority onlookers, but they are indirectly serving to keep the oppressive system stable by enabling the perpetrators. But the moderates are also the most vulnerable part of the systematic oppression, for they are the ones who are caught in a cognitive dissonance and therefore, amenable to public persuasion. For example, in the case of the legalized oppression of LGBT people in the US, many members of the Democratic party played the role of the moderates and it was only by pressuring them and not the die-hard Republicans that the LGBT rights movement gained significant legislative victories[57]. In retrospect, it is only by raising the awareness of the "White Moderates" in his letter from a Birmingham Jail that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his breakthrough in the civil rights movement and there is a lesson in this for all of us[58]:

"I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

When the White Moderates, stung by this public exposure of their role in perpetuating racism, showed up in large numbers at the Washington Mall and supported the Civil Rights Movement wholeheartedly, it gained an unstoppable momentum.

In the oppression of animals, there are four kinds of moderates:

1) The faith moderates;
2) The ethical moderates;
3) The environmental moderates; and
4) The health moderates.

The faith moderates are perhaps the most important class of moderates as they have the potential to change very quickly and have tremendous grassroots organization capabilities. Most are respected members of the community who say the right things and have their hearts in the right place regarding the oppression of animals, but they contradict their words with their actions, thereby giving the green light to their followers to do the same. For instance, Pope Francis wrote in the Laudato Si[59],

“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

But despite these words, Pope Francis has continued to consume animal foods. For instance, he was reported to have eaten a veal and lobster dinner during his visit to New York City[60]. This made it seem as if it is necessary to eat animal foods for human wellbeing even though the American Dietetic Association has clearly said that it is unnecessary to eat animal foods of any kind at any stage of our life cycle[61]. Just as Pope Francis did wonders for the acceptance of climate science in the Laudato Si, he now has the power to step forward and do the same for the acceptance of nutrition science and help save humanity from planetary scale catastrophes.
In the past, animal foods were consumed mainly on special occasions and religious customs were in place to ensure that these special foods were shared with all members of society, including the poor. During those days, people relied entirely on locally grown foods for sustenance. It was probably necessary to consume the flesh and secretion of animals that metabolized most of the vegetation in the local area so that humans could get all the essential nutrients for their sustenance. Otherwise, the vegetables, fruits and grains alone may have left people deficient in certain nutrients. In fact, during his speech to the London Vegetarians Union in 1932, Mahatma Gandhi lamented that he tried going vegan several times and failed because of health reasons[62]. But in modern times, we have the technology to grow almost any plant-based food anywhere and we have access to an abundance of non-local plant-based foods in our supermarkets. We can synthesize plant-based equivalents for almost any animal food. This is why it is perfectly feasible to lead a vegan lifestyle especially in the global North and there is absolutely no need to eat animal foods of any kind at any time. Besides, it is particularly unhealthy to gorge on animal foods as we have been habituated to do these days, since the planet is marinating in toxic effluents from all our industrial activities. Those toxins are working their way up the food chain, increasing their concentration by orders of magnitude at every step.

The second class of moderates, the ethical moderates, are typically Animal Welfare advocates, who can be found decrying the oppression of the animals, while they negotiate with the perpetrators to "reduce the suffering" of the animals. They unconsciously play the "good cop" role vs. the perpetrators "bad cop," but the net result is that they prolong the oppression well beyond the time when a majority of the onlookers have stopped tolerating it. For instance, such moderates can be found in Animal Welfare organizations that certify various levels of “humane” treatments for slaughtered animals.

A unique aspect in the oppression of food animals is that most of the onlookers are also indirect oppressors since they are paying the perpetrators to do the oppression for them. But when such onlookers feel that the oppression is going too far, it is such ethical moderates who step in to assuage the guilt of the onlookers, telling them comforting stories about "humane meat," "grass-fed beef," “cage-free eggs,” etc. Or they tell distracting stories about other cultures that deflect attention from the oppression that's occurring right under the noses of the onlookers. Since such distracting stories raise donations from outraged onlookers for the ethical moderates, this becomes a self-perpetuating action. For example, TIME magazine had this blaring headline recently[63]:

"The World's Largest Animal Slaughter Festival has begun in Nepal!"

The story had to do with a local festival that occurs once every five years in Nepal. It was about some obscure, ancient, Nepalese festival, involving a miracle that someone experienced, following which he sacrificed a water buffalo and donated the meat to the hungry[64]. The practice has now been continued for centuries, with the result that thousands of buffaloes are sacrificed in this “Gadhimai” festival once every five years in Nepal. This blaring headline in TIME magazine got animal rights activists in the US outraged over the "barbaric practices" of Hindus in Nepal, while distracting them from the slaughter of 60 million turkeys happening locally in the US for Thanksgiving, at exactly the same time. Clearly, the magnitude of the Thanksgiving slaughter dwarfed the “Largest Animal Slaughter” festival of Nepal, but that fact got lost in the outrage. Such distractions serve to perpetuate both atrocities and thereby maintain the status quo.

Firstly, it is easy to get activists in one culture riled up over seemingly strange atrocities in another culture. It is always much easier to bash "others" than to do soul searching at home. Meanwhile, the Nepalese will naturally resent foreigners judging them over the barbarity of their animal sacrifices in the thousands, especially when those same foreigners are murdering turkeys in the millions while giving thanks on a single day. When such resentment is bred, the practice will gain support in Nepal out of defiance. The activists in the U.S. raised substantial funds to spend their energies focusing on the Nepalese atrocity instead of focusing on their local atrocity. The cycle continues.

In the same way, Sea Shepherd's focus on Japanese whaling perpetuates both Japanese whale hunts as well as the incidental killing of thousands of whales in drift nets during Western industrial fishing[65]. The Japanese resent that Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd appears to be focusing on their "relatively minor" whaling atrocity, when compared to the industrial carnage in commercial fishing. They prefer that Capt. Watson tell American and European fishing fleets to clean up their acts first.

Now, if only a Japanese national had been leading Sea Shepherd, then the Japanese might heed his or her words better. That is, even though Capt. Watson is undoubtedly sincere about trying to protect all whales, he serves as an ethical moderate when he focuses on Japanese whale hunts, since there are many intersecting oppressions, racism, sexism, speciesism, etc., of which speciesism is just one. But by raising the consciousness of such moderates, it is possible to make headway, for most of them truly want to be effective.

With respect to raising the awareness of environmental moderates, Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn's documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, is destined to become a cultural phenomenon in the annals of environmental history[66]. After watching Cowspiracy, Chris Hedges, the noted author and social justice activist, and his family, decided to go vegan recently[67]:

"My attitude toward becoming a vegan was similar to Augustine’s attitude toward becoming celibate—“God grant me abstinence, but not yet.” But with animal agriculture as the leading cause of species extinction, water pollution, ocean dead zones and habitat destruction, and with the death spiral of the ecosystem ever more pronounced, becoming vegan is the most important and direct change we can immediately make to save the planet and its species. It is one that my wife—who was the engine behind our family’s shift—and I have made… We have only a few years left, at best, to make radical changes to save ourselves from ecological meltdown. A person who is vegan will save 1,100 gallons of water, 20 pounds CO2 equivalent, 30 square feet of forested land, 45 pounds of grain and one sentient animal's life every day. We do not, given what lies ahead of us, have any other option."

The facts about the environmental impacts of Animal Agriculture that Cowspiracy presents are nothing new. But facts alone don't sway people. The way Cowspiracy presents the facts, by first shedding light on the world's big environmental organizations grips the attention of the audience. We realize that the environmental organizations appear to be deliberately ignoring the impact of Animal Agriculture on the environment, thereby facilitating the destruction of all the world's forests and all the fishes in the ocean within the next two to three decades, contrary to their stated missions. Catching these organizations in their evasions and half-truths and then finally getting them to admit that Animal Agriculture is indeed the primary cause for the environmental ills on the planet, sets the stage for the later part of the movie as the audience becomes more receptive to the facts being presented to them. Otherwise, the facts alone could have been conveniently ignored as "Vegan propaganda" by an audience that's naturally averse to being told that they are doing horrible things to the environment every day through their daily habits. For instance, it was important for Cowspiracy to get the California Water Resources Board (CWRB) officials to admit that Animal Husbandry had, by far, the largest water footprint among all human activities. Then the audience becomes more receptive to the fact that every hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce, especially since the CWRB officials don't dispute this figure in the movie. Finally, when the movie is finished, we realize that there is no way to consume animal-based foods of any kind without adversely impacting the environment.  

Fortunately, the public exposure of these inconsistencies is a tremendous motivator for change. As Johann Hari documented in his excellent investigative article in the Nation magazine, it is only those environmental organizations that accepted corporate funding in the 80s that grew large and became the “Big Green” organizations of today[68]. They accepted funding from the big polluting corporations in exchange for some green credentials bestowed on the corporations and chose to look the other way when it comes to issues such as Animal Agriculture. As a consequence, millions of acres of forests are being destroyed each and every year with little or no protest from the Big Green organizations, with all the attendant hardships towards indigenous communities and wildlife, not to mention the destruction of the planet's biological treasures, those still-intact ecosystems.

In this post-Cowspiracy era, the Big Green organizations are being confronted in the social media when they do any business-as-usual promotions of animal foods these days. When Al Gore's Climate Reality Project partnered with Ben and Jerry's ice creams to support a "I'm Too Hot" campaign to "serve up climate truth," the strong reactions in the social media happened just one month after Cowspiracy premiered[69]! Since then, the awareness of such linkages has been growing exponentially. Such exposure of the environmental moderates strengthens the Vegan movement from the ground up.

Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn are planning to release a follow-up documentary to Cowspiracy called “What the Health[70],” which shows how health-care organizations such as the American Diabetes Association are failing to inform the public about the health impacts of animal-based foods. These organizations are the “health moderates” that round up our moderate list.

Moderation is never a valid response to a moral issue. We don't pledge to refrain from gay-bashing one day a week. We don't pledge to refrain from lynching black people before 6pm each day. Therefore, moderate steps such as the pledge to go Meatless on Mondays[71] or Mark Bittman's pledge to go "Vegan Before 6pm (VB6)[72]” are appropriate only as intermediate steps on the road to eventual Veganism. They are inappropriate long-term responses to the suffering of animals, the suffering of indigenous communities and the destruction of the environment, not to mention our own ill health. For why would we want to ruin our health, torture animals, oppress indigenous people and destroy the planet on six days each week or after 6pm each day? As long as the forests of the world are being destroyed and the ocean is continuing to be overfished, every incremental morsel of animal-based foods consumed anywhere should be rightly seen as a bad idea whose time has past.

Moderation is never a valid response to addictions either. This is why there are no organized smoking moderation programs, but only smoking cessation programs. From a neuro-chemical point of view, animal foods like meat, fish, eggs and cheese are indeed addictive substances. When we consume these substances habitually, we rapidly and reproducibly alter the bacterial composition of our guts[73]. But unlike alcohol, tobacco or drug addictions where the victims are ruining their own health and perhaps the well being of those around them, our addiction to animal foods has planetary scale consequences, not just personal health consequences. The worst part is that most of us were involuntarily enticed into this addiction when we were children and deserve to be treated with compassion and with the necessary support to help overcome it.

This is why the faith community is key to making the Vegan transition happen quickly. When the faith community responds affirmatively and shoulders this responsibility as the planet requires, then it would make religion more relevant to the youth of the world as well. The Hindu faith community has taken the first step already in the 2015 Hindu Declaration on Climate Change. This is the first major religion declaration that has explicitly called for the worldwide adoption of a plant-based vegan diet. Unlike the vegan transition at the grassroots, which is being led by the younger generation - the Miglets, it is truly comforting to see one of the oldest wisdom traditions in the world take the lead on this issue within the faith community. For as the Canadian journalist, playwright and novelist, David Macfarlane wrote [74]:

““Because we all liked cheeseburgers so much” is going to sound pretty stupid when humankind is hauled into the principal’s office and asked to explain how the planet got destroyed.”

Perish the thought of ever having to deliver such an explanation. In our story, the Principal had always been in charge! This power of Love is so strong that despite the blatant obfuscations of governments, the environmental organizations and the media and despite the extremely addictive qualities of the animal foods in question, millions of people have been adopting this compassionate lifestyle! The metamorphosis is exponentially increasing in its rapidity and intensity, year after year. 


[54] http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/history/

[55] http://www.tobaccoatlas.org/topic/cigarette-use-globally/

[56] Here’s a list of 15 surprising things that contain animal products: http://read.bi/PXAdYQ. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

[57] The Network of Equality Giving was instrumental in targeting the dog-whistle politics of the Democratic establishment: http://www.equalitygiving.org

[58] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_from_Birmingham_Jail

[59] https://laudatosi.com/watch

[60] Pope Francis’s meal selections were reported in http://fxn.ws/1Fzjwvz

[61] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864

[62] Gandhi’s speech is transcribed in its entirety here: http://www.ivu.org/news/evu/other/gandhi2.html

[63] This headline was taken from Time Magazine in Nov 2014, http://ti.me/27KEDp9 . The Gadhimai festival takes place every five years and the organizers have announced that it will be discontinued in the future: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadhimai_festival

[64] http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/12/427/

[65] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drift_netting

[66] http://www.cowspiracy.com

[67] The article on Chris Hedges’ transition: http://bit.ly/10NeAin

[68] Johann Hari’s article is here: http://www.thenation.com/article/wrong-kind-green-2/

[69] Here’s the announcement of the partnership between Al Gore’s Climate Reality project and Ben and Jerry’s ice creams: http://bit.ly/241n3IW

[70] http://www.whatthehealthfilm.com/

[71] http://www.meatlessmonday.com/

[72] Bittman, Mark, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good, Clarkson Potter, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0385344746, http://amzn.to/1U5vYGv

[73] Here’s an NPR segment on this issue: http://n.pr/1QN9qHA

[74] http://www.ucobserver.org/society/2016/05/vegans/

 

Sailesh Rao

Dr. Sailesh Rao is an Electrical Engineer, systems specialist, Climate Healer, author of "Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies" and "Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis", and Executive Producer of "The Human Experiment", "Cowspiracy," "What The Health” and “A Prayer for Compassion.