Whenever you’re celebrating Mother’s Day with the lady in question and she entreats you to just ‘have a little bit of milk or an egg’, all I can manage to spit out is ‘I wish I could, but I can’t’. An awkward silence hangs in the air, and I feel like I’m being really disrespectful to her. I know I can’t do anything that could result in an animal getting hurt, but I never thought that doing what I thought was right would be something so stressful for my family, friends and even for myself. I’m sorry, but it’s no use, I’m just going to have yet more perseverance in my principles.
I love animals, I was driven to be a vegetarian out of sympathy for them. Gradually I came to understand that the concept of animal rights is a moral issue.
When I was in fourth year of university I ended up taking a service learning course with the NTU Animal Rights Development Society. I remember the first week they had us watch the film Earthlings -- a documentary I would watch over and over again as if atoning for my sins. It had a massive impact on someone like me who had taken eating meat as something that was a matter of course. I was being scolded without mercy, but there was nothing I could say in my defence, because I had done this bad thing and done it in excess. While I was watching, my brow was locked, my nose hurt from sniffling, and I felt incredibly guilty, and ignorance was no excuse. When the animals cried out as their throats were slit, the goriness of the scene was too much for some people and they had to excuse themselves. I lowered my eyes in an attempt to avoid the scene folding out in front of me, but I knew this was the hurt that I was causing, so I forced myself to look back up.
After a lot of self-recriminations, what I really wanted to find out was, with a complete lack of self-awareness, this arrogant human chauvinism could come about? There was a cognitive dissonance that allowed people to separate animals as food and animals as beings: we should look after little animals, but we should remember to eat animals for three meals of every day! Is this what we’re educated into believing? I know that meat tastes good, but I also know clearly that I can’t bear the burden of causing harm to animals. The day of the film I still stubbornly put my chicken nuggets in my mouth, but I couldn’t eat them.
I went on to take an elective taught by Andrew Young-Chang Fei entitled ‘Animal Rights’. This is when I really started to find out more information about the topic, in and outside of class.
‘The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear’ by Gary Yourofsky on Youtube was very moving, and left a big impression with me. Gary is an animal rights activist with a deep theoretical basis for his beliefs and a very commanding voice. He gave a few simple examples like, ‘offering a child a rabbit and an apple, the child wouldn’t possibly choose to eat the rabbit and play with the apple’ and ‘No other animal will drink milk after it has been weaned.’ I know about battery farming of hens, so I choose free-range eggs, but Gary is also against eating eggs. My friend wrote to him asking about this, only then did I find out that ‘in normal circumstances, a chicken only lay about 17 eggs a year.’ When chickens stop laying, they are sent to the abattoir. Milk cows meet the same fate, and their vaginas are regularly implanted with semen with long tubes to keep them pregnant so that milk will be produced. Milk cows live much shorter lives than the average 18-25 years, only living 3-7 years, and they make up 90% of the meat that goes into hamburgers.
After learning the facts, we decided to become vegans.
I once believed that if abattoirs were exposed for everyone to see, everyone would become a vegetarian. But whilst talking to a good friend of mine, I realised that actually, for her, giving up the desire for good food because of animal suffering was a lofty ideal. Therefore, being unable to meet this ideal simply meant you had the same moral standards as the majority of the population, and therefore it wasn’t a big deal. The majority dictate the standards, a conventional common sense protected from criticism. I am aware that merely passing on information is not enough, it is necessary to remind people that there are still those that care about animal suffering, and beg them not to turn a blind eye. When watching videos about fur clothing-which depict animals being skinned alive and their miserable cries of agony, still living after their skin has been reduced to a bloody mess-I can say that I have never experienced hatred that intense. But who do I direct this hatred towards? The workers that make the clothes? The salespeople who sell them? The governments who tacitly give their consent? A society with no empathy? At the end my anger always ends up being directed towards myself, and my incapability of changing things.
As everyone who supports animal rights knows, nobody will thank you for doing it, and often you feel dismayed and full of despair. I feel dismayed at the lack of respect mainstream society shows its fellow living animals, and I am full of despair at my own impotence. I am grateful for those around me that deeply respect me, and say: “This Monday, me and my mom ate vegetarian food”, or avoid eating meat as much as possible when they are around me. These actions make me believe that the world is still moving towards becoming a better place, and make me feel like I have the power to at least change some things. This is very important to me, your gentle strength supports me when I am tired. I have read many articles, data, and research reports, approaching the subject from the environmental protection perspective to that of animal rights. However many research papers there are is irrelevant though, those who do not want to believe still won’t believe them, in the same way as those who want to oppose animal rights will continue to do so. Author Zhu Tianxin came up with an interesting point of view: “Compassion can be acquired, cruelty can also be acquired”. If one is cruel to defenceless animals, it will be hard to prevent them in the future being cruel to weak, defenceless older people or children. If one is capable of being compassionate to animals, then they will probably act the same way towards their elders, this is what life teaches us. How to convince the majority of people to adopt this idea? The essence of animal rights is not really in scientific data, but rather in this sentence by Peter Singer: “Any arguments about human beings’ superiority to animals can’t change this fact: Animals suffer just as human beings do”. As fellow animals, we have the choice to not eat animals and to oppose the bloody nature of doing so, animals don’t have the basic right to live that allows them to protest against being slaughtered. I just want to help the animals by saying for them: “We don’t want to be cruelly massacred by people, we also feel pain.
Translated by Conor Stuart and Daniel Pagan Murphy
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