In the second half of the 20th century, global ‘meat’ production increased by nearly 5 times. The amount of ‘meat’ eaten per person doubled. By 2050 ‘meat’ consumption is estimated to increase by 160 percent (The World Counts, 2017). While global per capita ‘meat’ consumption is currently 43 kg/year, it is nearly double in the UK (82 kg/year) and almost triple in the US (118 kg/year).
Have you ever wondered how ‘meat’ became such a central part of the Western diet? Or how the industrialisation of ‘animal agriculture’ came about? It might seem like the natural outcome of the ‘free market’ meeting demand for more ‘meat’. But from what I have learned from Nibert (2002) and Winders and Nibert (2004), the story of how ‘meat’ consumption increased so much in the post-World War II (WWII) period is anything but natural. They argue it is largely due to a decision in the 1940s by the US government to deal with the problem of surplus grain by increasing the production of ‘meat’.
When social justice advocates argue that animal rights is not a social justice issue it makes me wonder, do they really believe this? Or have they just never honestly considered the moral value of other animals before. In the hope it is the latter, I put together an overview of some of the key arguments for viewing other animals as legitimate subjects of social justice. It’s the type of overview I wish I had come across before I went vegan. I like to think reading something like this might have made me reconsider (or rather honestly consider for the first time) my exploitation of other animals.
Many social justice advocates reject human oppression but exclude other animals from their anti-oppression stances.
This position is rooted in ‘speciesism’, an ideology which uses the morally arbitrary characteristic of species to justify oppression.
All other social justice movements are based on the belief that all humans are equal. This is extended to all humans because humans are sentient.
The principle of equality leads to the ‘principle of equal consideration of interests’ (Singer, 2015). To apply this principle consistently all sentient beings, including other animals, must be included.
Regan (1983) argues that other animals have capacities beyond sentience that make them ‘subjects-of-a-life’ who possess moral rights. These rights include that they be treated with respect and not as resources for others.
Francione (1996) also takes a rights-based approach but argues that sentience is the only characteristic needed for a being to have moral value. He argues the one right that must be given to any right-holder is the right not to be considered property.
Like most vegans who spend time on social media, I have seen my fair share of ‘mmm bacon’ comments on vegan posts. In fact, this flippant response is the one I see most often (along with ‘lions tho’ and ‘plants tho’). I have also had the ‘mmm bacon’ type comment from those I have talked to about veganism in person. I have even heard it from health professionals who really should know better. Especially given the WHO has classified processed meat, including bacon, as carcinogenic to humans.
I decided to look into the story of bacon. To find out the real reason bacon became so popular. What I found was a story of propaganda, manufactured demand and elite manipulation of our habits, beliefs and desires.
I became vegan because I wanted to align my actions with my belief that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering to other animals. Once I allowed myself to see the injustice I was supporting, I knew I had to go vegan.
Veganism is a social justice movement for other animals. It seeks to end animal exploitation, reject speciesism and promote animal rights. When I first became vegan it didn’t occur to me that it might have anything to do with other social justice issues. Recently however, I have begun to realise how interconnected our exploitation of other animals is to our oppression of humans and our destruction of the natural world.