Have you ever noticed how language affects people’s perceptions? How it reflects how people and society in general think as well as influences the thoughts themselves? I’m sure that you have, and I’ve given this a fair bit of thought lately. As a vegan, I sometimes have to watch the way I phrase my words so that other people are not offended. It’s not that the content of my speech is untrue or the concepts they represent are foreign to the people I’m speaking to. It’s simply a matter of bluntness and a reflection of the difference between how most (AR) vegans and omnivores view the world.
When I look at someone eating a chicken sandwhich, I don’t think “chicken/food” sandwhich. I think a sandwhich made from birds/chickens. So while an omnivore might say they eat “chicken”, I would say “chickens.” You’d be surprised how that one extra letter changes people’s perception. I remember once, my family went to Denny’s. I gave the waitress a “Go Veg” card and she asked me if I ate meat. “No,” I answered. “I don’t eat flesh or secretions.” “Wow! That makes it sound really unappetizing!” was her response. Well, yeah. And the funny thing was, it didn’t occur to me that I was saying anything odd. That’s honestly how I view meat and dairy. I mean, that is what it IS. But when you phrase things to reflect the being that existed BEFORE he/she became someone’s food, it chips away at the little wall that people build up around the whole subject of animals and food.
My little 8 year old son made a similar observation not long ago. We went to a festival and overheard a woman talking about her rabbits. She kept talking about how “it” acted, what “it” liked and didn’t like, how some were good for food and others for pets. My little boy turned to me and said, “I don’t like when people call animals ‘it’!” It’s another manifestation of cognitive dissonance. If someONE becomes a someTHING, it’s okay to do whatever you want to them; right? ‘It’ can be used for humans too, especially when the gender is unknown, but generally people refer to animals as ‘it’ even WHEN they know the sex.
I was almost thirty before I decided that eating meat (and later dairy) was not a moral thing to do, especially when we can live just fine (and in most cases BETTER) without animal products. It took slow chips over my lifetime, and eventually a couple big dents, to destroy my cognitive dissonance so that I saw the animal on my plate. Our whole society tells us it’s okay, so it’s only natural that people shield themselves from the unpleasant truth about meat and dairy. Chickens become “chicken.” Cows become “meat”, “beef”, or “steak”. Cow’s milk simply become’s “milk” and baby cows become “veal.” If we are truly okay with the way we treat animals as food, then we shouldn’t be afraid to call them by their proper names. It’s not extreme, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s simply honest. And if we can’t be honest about our own actions, perhaps we should rethink them.
About a year ago, on our way to Farm Sanctuary, someone told me that something I said was “Extreme.” So I wrote a poem about how I felt. I think it ties in to this subject perfectly, so I’ll end by reprinting it. I hope you like it.
Extreme… what does that word mean anyway?
You use the words that others don’t use
Live what you think, and mean what you say
Call things what they are and not hide your views
Dairy and cheese are secretions from cows.
Meat is flesh. Call it by its proper name.
“Beef” once was living, Pork- hogs, piglets, sows.
Nice euphemisms are used to kill blame.
Walk past the mass grave marked “Meat Department”
Put “Go veg” cards on the Live Lobster tank
Feel their cold prison with your fingers bent
doomed to die so butchers go to the bank
In a world where innocents have no voice,
being extreme is the only sane choice.