If you are an ethical vegetarian, odds are that you are ovo lacto – meaning you do not eat animal flesh such as chicken, beef, or fish – but you do consume eggs, dairy products, and/or possibly honey. You wish to avoid harming animals by abstaining from flesh foods. But does avoiding these products alone save lives? The most common flesh foods consumed by Westerners are beef and poultry – i.e. cows and chickens, turkeys, geese, and various other fowl. But since animal agriculture uses these animals for more than one purpose, simply avoiding their flesh is not enough. While its obvious that flesh foods cause harm to the animals, Its not immediately clear why milk, eggs, or even honey would hurt any creature.
Dairy, beef, and veal are so interdependent that consuming dairy still supports the beef and veal industry. Since mammals only lactate to produce milk for their own offspring, a dairy cow must be kept almost continuously pregnant throughout her short life in order for humans to take her milk for themselves. After a short period of time, farmers take her calves from her. Male calves become veal, and female calves face the same fate as their mothers. After spending a life of continuous pregnancy, birth, separation from their babies, and lactation – what reward can a dairy cow look forward to? When her milk production declines or ceases, she will be sold for hamburger meat. It’s been said that in every glass of milk there is a little bit of veal. I think that it would be truer to say that every milk product IS veal and beef as well. The industries are mutually interdependent. They cannot exist without each other. If this is so, anyone who conscientiously avoids animal flesh should avoid milk products as well. For the sake of milk and flesh, we tear babies from their mothers and deprive other creatures of light and life. Is it really worth causing so much misery simply for our appetites?
A similar situation applies to egg laying hens. Since a chicken will produce eggs throughout her life, most people do not see any harm in consuming the eggs for themselves. However, the egg laying industry considers male chicks worthless. Hatcheries sell female chicks for people who wish to keep hens for egg production, but male chicks – byproducts of the industry – are either thrown into dumpsters or ground up in machinery. It isn’t profitable to care for a male chick that will never produce eggs or grow to a large enough weight for meat production. After egg laying hens are “spent” – an industry term meaning their egg production has dropped or ceased, they are either killed outright or sold for meat. Again, it costs too much to care for a hen that doesn’t lay eggs. While there may be individuals that care for small amounts of hens with access to sunlight, fresh food, and adequate space – that is the exception to the rule. The rule is that most chickens are kept in cages without room to even move or engage in normal behavior for their species. Unable to move away from each other and establish a normal social order, they will peck each other. This damages property (meaning the birds flesh) so that the industry attempts to solve this problem by “debeaking.” When a bird is debeaked, part of his beak is amputated without anesthetic. He may have pain and some experience difficulty eating due to the mutilation, but this is outweighed because cramming more birds into less space decreases the overall cost of egg production. Profits increase. Almost all male chicks are killed. Hens produce many more eggs than they would naturally because they are genetically manipulated to do so. This overproduction leads to nutrient depletion (since so much goes into laying eggs) and causes health problems. Hens are slaughtered when they no longer lay eggs. Eggs can hardly be said to be a harmless animal product. You save lives by living without them.
What about honey? This seems to be the most harmless and possibly frivolous animal product of all. It’s certainly easy to avoid, but why bother? The bees don’t seem to be suffering at all – flitting from flower to flower collecting honey. What most people fail to realize is that honey production is a major industry. Bees are sold through the mail, queens are genetically manipulated, and hives are smoked, all in order to increase honey production. Even if none of this was the case, bees collect the honey FOR THEMSELVES. We are taking their food source from them. It may seems frivolous to argue for compassion for bees, but it is also frivolous to cause unnecessary harm to other creatures. Especially for something as silly as curbing a sugar craving – a craving easily appeased by other sweets. Its the moral equivalent of pulling the wings off a fly simply because you enjoy it. So next time you want honey, why not reach for maple syrup or agave nectar instead?
Ethical vegetarians like you should be applauded for your commitment to alleviating the suffering of others. By avoiding flesh, you make a positive statement about how you feel about unecessary suffering. But by going that extra step of avoiding all animal products, you make more than a statement. You have a definite economic impact on the industries that harm animals for human pleasure. Veganism – abstaining from animal products as much as possible – is the natural extension of ethical vegetarianism. Perhaps you are someone who has always thought of veganism as extreme. But you now know the suffering and death that goes into all animal products. Wouldn’t it be extreme to continue to consume them?
Be extremely compassionate. Go Vegan. Now.