Many people love their pets like their own children, but don't think twice about eating animals that are not their own. They do not question this distinction. Some animals are for loving (namely cats and dogs) and others are for eating (cows, chicken, and pigs). There are some animals that are caught in between (rabbits and fish) and this is also not questioned. Loving some animals and eating others is just seen as the way things are.
Just the concept of simply not eating meat eludes people. I recently read an Express article about a recent American study that proves red meat contributes to heart disease. The second paragraph floored me:
"Scientists now hope their findings will help create treatments to block the process and prevent the killer heart condition - and allow people to include red meat in their diet."
The idea of just becoming a vegetarian is so foreign to most people that it isn't even on their radar. It isn't even an option.
This paragraph is followed by some quotes from the study's lead scientist, Dr. Stanley Hazen, who is hoping to find a way for people to "have their steak and eat it too." But knowing that eating steak can cause heart attacks, what sane person would continue to do it?
Almost all of us. We do not question why we stop for the ducks crossing the road on our way to KFC. Why we pet calves at the petting zoo and then stop by the hot dog stand for lunch. Why we sit on a couch and watch TV with our dogs while we chow down on a pepperoni pizza.
In fact, many pet owners consider themselves animal rights activists. A lot of them have boycott SeaWorld and other exploitative establishments. Many are against hunting, or wearing fur, and consider themselves knowledgeable about animal rights issues. They would be horrified to see hidden footage taken from inside factory farms.
Most of us justify meat eating by saying that rearing "livestock" is different than rearing pets. It's horrible to beat your dog, but livestock are systemically exploited. It's okay because it's regulated. When abuse does occur, these are one-off cases. The solution to stopping animal abuse is to treat our livestock more humanely, but not to stop eating meat.
These justifications ignore the fact that there is no humane way to kill. In a system where animals are raised for slaughter, these animals will be mistreated, and there is no amount of regulation that will stop it. The system cannot be fixed. It needs to be dismantled. The only difference between the pet cat in your lap and the steak on your plate is the social acceptance behind eating that steak, which gives us the false sense that what we're doing must be okay.
But what if we weren't talking about animals anymore. What if we were talking about people?
After all, some people are just different from others. Some of us are born free, and others aren't. This is how things are; this is normal and right and good. We don't mistreat those who aren't born with our freedoms, but because they are bred for a life and death in servitude, we treat them differently than we do others. Sure, hurting them unnecessarily is wrong, but not all slave owners are abusive. The trick is to just treat slaves better, not to abolish slavery.
Now the arguments begin to sound outrageous. This is because we already know that there is no way to modify a system like slavery. It had to be abolished for us to progress as a society.
As all people were created equal and deserve rights and freedoms, why shouldn't all animals also be treated the same? Why should we adore "man's best friend" while we condemn animals like chickens and cows to a life of torture? It isn't because dogs are better than cows, just like men are not better than women. Each man and each woman is a unique individual, just as each dog and each cow has their own personality. Painting everyone in a certain group with the same brush is how we detach ourselves from reality. It's how we have always justified destructive systems throughout history, and it's how we justify animal agriculture.
I love animals and I consider them to be my friends. Because I care about cats, dogs, birds, and groundhogs, I wouldn't eat them. Nor would I eat a cow or a chicken or a deer or bear. I'm anti-hunting, I think bullfighting is barbaric, and I never wear fur. The way that I feel about animal rights in these scenarios has translated into my day-to-day dietary choices.
I hope that by reading this, pet owners and animal lovers will take a step back and question whether their daily actions are aligned with their inner morality. If not, please do not fall into the same mind trap that Dr. Hazen and so many of us fall into. Please know that vegetarianism is always an option.