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  • Ezra Silver-Isenstadt

Veganism is a Boycott

Almost all of us grew up eating animal products. Eggs, ham-and-cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, hamburgers, ice cream. These foods were advertised on T.V., served in schools, and promoted by everyone we know and trust to teach us right from wrong. Why give it a second thought? The animal agriculture industry spends millions on marketing to ensure we don’t.

Despite common tropes about veganism being unhealthy and expensive, every nutrient can be obtained on a vegan diet and a tight budget. In the United States, there is a very small minority of people who don’t have access to healthy plant-based food or who have a severe eating disorder making animal products a necessity. However, for almost everyone else who gets food from a grocery store, a restaurant, a dining hall, or some other developed infrastructure, it is possible to thrive on and enjoy a wholly plant-based diet.

The most common justification for eating animal products is that they taste good. This is an appeal to sensory pleasure, and would translate as, “Because I derive sensory pleasure from consuming the flesh of pigs’ carcasses, I am justified in paying for them to live a life of suffering, be put in a gas chamber to render them unconscious, and then have a knife pulled across their throat so they bleed out.” There are countless other examples in which people pursue sensory pleasure at the expense of a victim. Does sensory pleasure hold up as a justification in those cases? If not, then we must dismiss “It tastes good” as a justification in this case.

Another common justification is the circle of life and the food chain. Would we tell a lion to stop eating gazelles? The key difference between our situation and that of lions (and our ancestors) is that we simply don’t need to eat animal products. This makes the suffering we inflict on farmed animals unnecessary, and most would agree that inflicting unnecessary suffering is wrong.

What about animal products as an important part of one’s culture? We often bond with family and feel connected to a religion or ancestry through certain foods, but can culture alone be a justification? If a culture traditionally sacrifices non-consenting people, would that be okay simply because the culture has done it for a long time and finds meaning in the practice? Many practices around the world and throughout history have been both cultural and immoral. We are now (as people have always been) presented with an opportunity to adapt our cultures to more current ethical sensibilities.

In the egg industry, male chicks are considered useless because they won’t lay eggs and are of a different breed than those raised for meat. At birth, chicks are sorted by sex onto two conveyor belts. The females go to cramped sheds, and the males are dropped into a macerator, blended alive. If a farm doesn’t use this practice, it likely gasses the chicks or suffocates them in massive plastic bags. Just in the United States, 10 chicks are macerated every second. Globally, up to 7 billion a year. Consumer demand drives production and it is in the industry’s interest to keep consumers blind to these grotesque methods. Practices equally horrific are pervasive throughout all of animal agriculture.

Veganism is a boycott — a refusal to pay for the torture and killing of innocent beings. How can it be that so many of us who advocate for a better world continue to pay for one of its worst parts? Culture puts a moral blindfold on compassionate people. As kids, we cared for all animals — pets, barnyard animals, and wildlife. Since then, we’ve been told which ones are for loving and which ones are for gassing. Activist Angela Davis articulates the way in which our capitalist society keeps us complicit in these systems: “When they eat a steak or eat a chicken, most people don’t think about the horrendous suffering that those animals must endure simply in order to become food products to be consumed by human beings. And I think that the lack of critical engagement with the food that we eat demonstrates the extent to which the commodity form has become the primary way in which we perceive the world.”

Every day, with every meal, we have the power to critically engage with these tremendously consequential systems. Let’s never have to hear ourselves saying, “It was a different time.” Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.


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