For REFLECTIONS AND QUERIES:
ARE WE TAKING OUR PEACE TESTIMONY SERIOUSLY IF WE DO NOT TAKE NON-HUMAN ANIMALS’ SUFFERING SERIOUSLY?
Some of you know that this question is very close to my heart: I have been ministering periodically upon this matter for some time now (as, in one way or another, have a number of other Friends).
I believe that we cannot seriously claim to be living in a peaeceful manner, to be abjuring the use of weapons of violence, if we are complicit every day with the violent way in which most non-human animals who encounter humans are treated. If you are ignorant about that treatment, then you might try reading Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation’ (or J.M.Coetzee’s ‘The lives of animals’, for a more literary approach). In very brief: I am talking about the branding and debeaking of animals, the wrenching away of young from their mothers, narrow confinement, long journeys by motor vehicle, deliberate death in an appalling place by means of blunt and sharp instruments; plus the experimenting in innumerable horrendous ways on animals; the suffocating and spiking and hooking of animals in the water (the next time you see a fisherman fishing by a river, and enjoy the tranquil scene, and perhaps then you pick a blackberry from a bush by the riverside to eat -- then try imagining what it would be like to be suddenly wrenched off your feet out of the air and down into the water by means of a hook through your hands and mouth...for that is what a fish’s mouth is to it, it is its hands and mouth all in one)...
I have been moved finally to write by two pieces in the latest Norwich and Lynn Monthly Meeting Quarterly Newsletter. In one, Molly Stacey wrote movingly of our responsibilities towards animals, ending her piece thus: “Animal creation should be recognised to its full extent... To safeguard, to treasure all living things.”
In the other piece, Jenny Moy, wrote about why she is not a vegan. Her piece I thought useful and honest, but it contains at least three fallacies which are so often ranged against those who speak out in favour of radically altering our attitude toward animals:
1) Jenny has doubts “about the desirability of a world entirely covered with arable crops, where human beings were the only large mammals visible outside zoos.” But this is exactly where we are heading if there ISN’T a worldwide movement toward vegetarianism! Much of the world is covered with crops ... to feed our huge and nutritionally inefficient herds of ‘cattle’. If more people went veggie, then more cropland would be able to be returned to the wild.
2) Calcium: Many people, Jenny apparently one of them, think that drinking cow’s milk will ensure good calcium levels in their bodies. In fact, there is some evidence that drinking cow’s milk is a contributory factor leading to osteoporosis!! There are many much less hazardous vegetable sources of calcium.
3) Finally, Jenny writes that we can take the issues of animal cruelty and factory farming seriously, while continuing to eat animals. Well maybe. But let me ask you this: could you take the issue of cruel treatment of concentration camp inmates seriously, while continuing to buy shoes made out of human skin?
How dare I. How dare we compare animals, mere animals, with humans. How dare we spit on the human victims of the most appalling racist oppression, etc., in that way, etc. etc. .
But how dare you say that the holocaust that animals suffer every day is not real, is not a pressing issue? Your grandchildren may well condemn you for this blindness. And what would you say then? That you ‘didn’t know what was happening’, that you ‘didn’t know how bad it was’? That you were ‘only obeying orders’? But no one even orders you to eat animal flesh. You do it because you choose to. Because, let’s be honest, its socially convenient, and you ‘like the taste’.
Last year, in the United States, approximately 800 million chickens and turkeys were raised and slaughtered, most of them in quite horrific conditions (and even the well-treated ones weren’t exactly singing merrily as they were taken off to be killed). 800 million a year. Doesn’t that make you think?
What would you do if you liked the taste of human flesh? Or if you only liked the taste of virgins’ sex?
And if thousands or millions of other people agreed with you, would that make it O.K.?
We owe non-human animals more than this. Children understand this: many children are appalled when they find where half of their meal comes from. But children are ‘educated’ out of this ‘emotional reaction’, in most cases.
After all, we are only talking about animals here. They’re ‘only animals’. And after all, don’t animals treat each other this way?
Well, no, actually. Non-human animals do not raise vast quantities of other animals in intensive conditions so that they can be eaten.
‘But in the end, Rupert, don’t you care more about humans than about animals; and isn’t that quite right? If you were in a lifeboat, and there was room only for your child or your dog, wouldn’t you throw the dog overboard?’
Maybe I would. But maybe if the other being in the boat was a terminally-ill adult, or a dangerous criminal, rather than my child, I would throw them overboard instead.
Or what if the choice was between my child and a random old-age pensioner? If I then asked the OAP, who had not got long to live anyway and had a full life behind them, to sacrifice themselves, would that imply that I henceforth had the right to intensively farm old-age pensionsers?!
The point is this: Just because I don’t think my dog is quite as precious as
my child, doesn’t mean that I have the right to factory-farm dogs (or cows, etc.).
I think that Quakers should question whether anyone has the right to factory-farm non-human animals, or indeed to treat animals in any way that does not involve treasuring them and cherishing them; unless one is really in extremis. If I had to eat my dog to survive, I might even do that. But we do not have to eat any meat or dairy at all to survive, or, indeed, to be healthy.
I want to urge all Friends to think about this very seriously. This seems to me a pressing concern.
I believe that no friend can stand up and say that they support our Peace Testimony, if they are not taking steps to eliminate their own complicity with animal suffering, if they are not taking animals seriously as beings. One cannot be a friend of peace, or of love, without orienting oneself quite differently to the beings who are all around us (even if many of them are conveniently hid away inside large buildings, behind locked doors.). Having a real go at going vegan would be a good start.
I have a proposal, which I would like us to consider corporately in the appropriate forum, as a first step: I suggest that all Norwich Quaker based events should have as a rule that there is to be no factory-farmed animal product present, on the table, at the event. This I call a first step: it seems to me a pretty minimal step, but it would be a corporate start. One reason I think that all can afford to agree to this is that there are, thankfully, very few people left who actually think it a moral imperative to eat meat or to exercise dominion over animals. So, even those among you who are not convinced ethical vegetarians should not I think have much trouble agreeing to this suggestion. It is a suggestion which, if acted upon, would raise the profile of animal suffering amonst us, and actually effect a small but real reduction in the amount of misery in the world.
I hope Friends understand why I feel passionately about this. If I have offended anyone, then I am sorry.
But I am even sorrier that it is necessary to write things like this in the first place.
I hope that the Quakers will be on the forefront of what may be a historic opportunity: the creation of a new covenant with non-human animals. Our message of peace could be central to that new covenant, which I think the world desperately needs.