The thought of eating meat disturbs me and always has. From my mom’s fried chicken to a ham sandwich, I always picked at and pushed aside the meat on my plate. Chicken was tolerable on some occasions, but pork even less so. Staring down at my meals, I always pictured an animal that, before its slaughter, would maybe run and play, unaware that its life and fate had already been decided at birth. Dairy never sat well with me either; taking a mother’s milk away from her and her child without her permission could not be the right way to do things. I always thought there had to be some way around it, some way around consuming not just animals, but any animal based product. It turns out there is a solution, it is called veganism.

Mama pig. (Photo courtesy of Corey Ralston on Flickr Creative Commons)

When you are from a small town in the foothills of South Carolina, the idea of becoming a vegan is far-fetched and perplexing. I did not even understand what Veganism really is until my senior year of high school when I started talking to my vegan, soon-to-be roommate. Animal products make up a large part of Southern culture. Meat and dairy are integral parts of every meal; they bind soul foods together. The more cheddar in a macaroni pie, the better. The more bacon in a pot of green beans, the better. This is how I grew up, learning that meat and dairy are necessary to make any meal a good one. I grew up hearing that it was necessary to eat meat to get the protein your body needs to function, that it was necessary to drink cow’s milk to get calcium and have strong bones, but this is just not the case.

While it is true that humans require certain proteins to function, all of the proteins that come from eating meats can be obtained from eating alternative, non-animal products. Most varieties of nuts, beans, grains, and vegetables contain these proteins, and are often healthier, cleaner alternatives to meat products. As far as calcium goes, a single cup of collard greens contains more calcium than the suggested daily serving of milk. Also, most meats are full of toxins and fats that increase your risk of developing heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses. Dairy products are even allowed to have a certain amount of pus, semen and blood in them and still get approved by the FDA approved. Becoming vegan does not mean giving up the nutrients that are essential to your body’s functioning; in fact becoming vegan allows you to get all the nourishment you need in an even healthier manner.

Calf, tagged. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie and David on Flickr Creative Commons)

Becoming vegan does, however, mean giving up products that involve extremely inhumane treatments toward the animals involved. The average pig has the cognitive abilities of a three-year-old human child. They are thought to be smarter than dogs and cats. Pigs are playful and intelligent by nature, but in the meat industry they are often forced into cages so small that they are unable to turn around. In these cages, the females are forcefully inseminated, and then forced to nurse their piglets through the bars of the cage, unable to ever have physical contact with their own children. After living out most of their lives in tiny cages, pigs are then packed into trucks and moved to slaughterhouses where they are hung up by their feet to bleed out, all while conscious. Cows face a similar fate, as they are put into a rape rack and forcefully inseminated, only to have their calves ripped away from them at birth so that they will produce milk for dairy products. This process is carried out repeatedly until the cows are too old to be of any use. All of this is done to animals who feel pain, who can feel scared and who aren’t any less deserving of a happy, free life than any other living creature in the world. This is the life of almost all animals in the meat and dairy industry; it is a reality that is hard for most people to hear, but these animals have no choice in the matter.

There are not many differences between pigs and dogs, but a major one is that one is seen as a snack while the other is a pet. I can’t speak for everyone, but I daresay that most people wouldn’t ever dream of eating their dog. So what makes a pig any different? Where do you draw the line between pet and food? Dog or pig. Horse or cow. Parrot or chicken. They are all animals, they all feel pain and they all deserve a chance at a full and happy life.

The most human trait of all is our ability to empathize with others. So, why do we not empathize with other creatures of the Earth who enjoy life as much as we do? Empathy is realizing that animals, who are far more innocent than we are, do not deserve to be tortured and slaughtered. Channel empathy, protest the meat and dairy industries and stand up for animals who have no voice. Try kindness, try veganism.

 

 

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