animals

October 20, 2020
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Something fundamental changes when one becomes vegetarian. The active choice to forgo eating animals – to pursue a cruelty-free lifestyle – has the potential to unleash a domino effect on the rest of our behaviour.

A simple shift has taken place over the last several hundred years. Humans have migrated predominantly into cities. In these urban environments, we accrue material wealth. The middle class is a relatively new phenomenon. Monetizing every aspect of life, from morning to night, 24 /7, is the calling card of the 21st century shared experience. It is all too simple to unconsciously buy into (literally) the system of consumerism without questioning the methods that allowed businesses to economize on production at the expense of their workers in the first place. The western marketplace facilitates fast food, fast fashion, and fast living. In the tireless pursuit of convenience, ethics have fallen to the wayside.

Or have they? Entering this new decade, we are seeing a rapid displacement of the economic status quo. 2020 has been a cataclysmic shift for all. To survive the tectonic changes in economic activity that Covid-19 has generated, businesses across the globe have had to rapidly adjust. Agility, flexibility, and opportunism are key traits in the new business environment.

To meet evolving demands of the public, businesses must update their marketing, production, labour, and sustainability strategies. Consumers are more aware than ever before. The cosmic leap in communication that the internet has facilitated must not be taken for granted. Knowledge is empowerment in our digital age. The same platforms that have allowed individuals to educate themselves on compassionate living – whether it be choosing a vegetarian diet or any other ethical behaviour – can create accountability systems between businesses and their customer bases. Is social media merely a promotional platform? Not to the savvy marketer. A social page is the medium by which a business interacts with its customers. What is the precedent for this immediate feedback loop? Individuals in this digital renaissance of commerce have much more power than they realize. Opportunity abounds for empowered consumers to make informed purchases. With direct links to company representatives, buyers can be crystal clear about evolving concerns and requests. Flash and dazzle are no longer the keys to success; entrepreneurs must concretely prove they provide value. For this reason alone, we ought to be optimistic about the future of commerce.

How do compassionate individuals act in alignment with their moral codes, in the face of a chaotic marketplace of temptations? It bears consideration to distance oneself from the product or service. We must act with confidence and certainty when we know what is right or wrong. Vegetarians live by the radical code that innocent creatures do not deserve to suffer and be killed for ephemeral culinary pleasures. As this moral positioning affects several daily decisions, it becomes a staple of the herbivore’s identity. If you abstain from animal products or exploitation in several areas of your life, you already know the experience of carefully examining each potential purchase. The evolved consumer is so much more than a purchasing machine. She researches a company and its products. She consults reviews and online forums. Perhaps she explores the business’ labour practices. How do they treat their employees? Are they environmentally responsible? These vital questions are kryptonite to corrupt enterprises that have traditionally benefitted from consumer ignorance.

Ignorance has been weaponized by the greedy and heartless to ravage the natural world and exploit the less fortunate. In 2020, people have woken up. We no longer have to live in a world of thoughtless abundance. We are afraid of the impact that negligent companies can have on their workers, animals, the environment, and overall future. Today, we have the option to enlighten ourselves, and battle for a better future. Consumers have so much more power than we realize. If there is no demand for a cruel or faulty product, it will not continue to be produced. When we purchase from responsible, diligent, sustainable businesses, we actively contribute to building the world we would like to live in. We can thoughtfully question each buy; “does the low price seem too good to be true?”, “what is the estimated carbon footprint of this item?”, “did any animals have to die for me to enjoy this?”, “how does this company treat their workers?”, “are employees paid a living wage?”. A few moments’ pause for consideration can have a tremendous ripple effect. Those who seek out meatless options practice this exercise in compassion on a daily basis. These are concrete ways we can vote with our dollars and fight for a kinder world. We cannot wait until we have exhausted all our natural resources to act. Make the empowered decision to walk the walk, and the earth will thank you for it.

 


July 4, 2020
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What is this utopia that the extremists campaign for? Would it ever even be possible to diversify human behaviour, push our neighbours and friends to forgo the pleasures of eating animals for the good of all life on Earth?

The environmental realities of 2020 leave human societies with some very crucial decisions to make. Although it is no small challenge to overhaul global diets, significant adjustments may become necessary to ensure future human prosperity. We cannot ignore the deforestation, desertification, pollution, sea level rise, biodiversity loss and countless other global crises as we favour wealth, greed, pride, and inaction.

Many who have chosen to follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet feel that meat consumption is linked to a larger carbon footprint (mainly due to the larger proportion of land needed to support livestock, in growing their feed and providing grazing/pasture land). In fact, in 2019 the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that drastically reducing worldwide consumption of animal products will help curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Livestock require more freshwater, land, and grain than the calories they provide. By 2050, Earth will face the enormous challenge of providing enough food and freshwater for 10 billion people. Even if one completely ignores the ethical realities of factory farms, the future of humanity depends on a radical dietary change.

If every person on planet Earth adopted a plant-based diet, global food-related emissions would drop by 70%. This could be a massive boon to the economy, as these emissions are valued at more than $700 billion. The diet of a meat-eater requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian’s, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In facing the demographic and environmental realities of our changing world, we must not ignore these remarkable statistics. As we learn to accommodate billions more humans within a planet of already dwindling and poorly distributed resources, any strategy that encourages energy, land and water conservation while saving billions of lives should be the obvious choice.

The populations of our favourite livestock species; cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, etc., grossly outweigh natural ecosystem levels. This was facilitated by removing these animals out of their habitats and sheltering them in human habitats for our own gain. Interfering to such a drastic degree in the population levels of these animals has had a profound effect on biodiversity levels of non-domesticated species, their habitats desecrated to serve the ever-expanding territory of factory farms.

Without the steep subsidies that fund cruel, overzealous slaughterhouses and meatpacking companies which enable them to keep consumer prices absurdly low and continue to profit off of torture, governments may actually be able to subsidize healthy plant foods for their citizens. Livestock subsidies could be redirected towards regenerative farming initiatives, support wildflower replanting efforts to provide pollinator habitats, and fund food programs for the food-insecure.

Additionally, as the over-consumption of meat is linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity, the move away from this diet could save billions in healthcare costs, or trillions globally. Heart disease and strokes alone cost the American healthcare system almost $200 billion annually. It is also worth accounting for the lost economic productivity that the sick populations could have otherwise provided. As a smaller country with a socialized medical system, Canada spends more than $20 billion on cardiovascular disease through direct and indirect costs. With a healthier population adequately nourished by plant foods, countries could redirect the exorbitant health expenditures towards more practical investments. The most vulnerable and poorest communities could be supported by national health and nutrition programs. Reorganizing and redistributing investments in food security could be particularly advantageous to the indigenous peoples of Canada’s North. The Inuit are considered by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to have “the highest documented food insecurity rate for any aboriginal population in a developed country”. In 2014, almost 47% of households in Nunavut were reported as food-insecure.

Collected savings from healthcare and animal agriculture will not only support the millions suffering from food insecurity but will ultimately fund relief efforts for the negative implications of climate change. We all deserve an egalitarian society that cares for its suffering and vulnerable populations, while providing everyone with the option for a healthier future. This future is not only possible – it will be for the betterment of billions of lives. 700 million people do not need to live on less than $2 USD a day. Our planet has ample resources to provide for sensible, conscious lifestyles for 10 billion humans, we need only adjust our standards of consumption. A better world is possible when cruel, unsustainable, selfish behaviours are left behind. When we value the lives of animals and respect the environment, we can ensure the livelihood of future generations and reverse the catastrophic climate change that would otherwise doom us.


March 25, 2020
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The world is on lockdown – it’s epidemic time. In a few short weeks, the previously dismissable coronavirus has gone from a benign Chinese contagion to a global monolith with grave health and economic implications. 

Coronavirus is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. We have a careless attitude towards our planet. Although this Earth is our home, we do not value it for everything it provides us. The reason we are here today with such prosperity and “infinite growth” is because we ravaged our planet. We have got it completely wrong. In this mindless quest to satisfy every desire, we have doomed our own species’ future livelihood. 

The Earth cannot sustain the harsh demands of our bloated industrial and technological empire.  Our greedy lifestyles have evolved to strip innumerable natural resources from our planet and doom entire ecosystems.  

Nothing about our current way of life is natural or sustainable. Merely the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people with economic activity that creates widespread extinction events shows how unreasonable we’ve become. So many of our daily habits are toxic to our home environment. 

One should consider our lifestyles in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom to grasp how absurd we truly are. We are too many revolutions removed from a lifestyle that our ancestors thrived in. It would be simple for someone to defend our current society – to talk about progress, technology, communications illuminating our lives. However, the lives we enjoy in the 21st century came at a steep price that we are still paying. 

Even Vancouver, our seaside gem of glass and emerald, suffers from chronic issues that bear healthy consideration. The wealth disparity between the West Hastings penthouses and the street markets of Strathcona is unsettling to say the least. Our neighbours are experiencing debilitating poverty, yet we consider the vulnerable in our population no more than a nuisance. We have rejected the condition and environment of our natural human communities. Cities of 1 to 20 million people are the norm, yet alienating to our natural state. 

Simply put, we have overcomplicated our lives. Monks and Buddhists, ascetics and minimalists are seen as extremists, while the lawyers, bankers, and politicians are the everyday-man. We are ignorant and careless regarding the natural world, when in fact it should be our first priority. We do not value the plants and animals, the environment around us when we would be nothing without them. 

Technology has bought us time; it has bought us Band-Aid solutions, but one must only peak at the chaos that is unfolding around us in March 2020 to understand that there’s a fundamental issue in the way we operate our lives. 

We ought to take stock of our immediate surroundings – to disconnect ourselves from the world economy to build self-reliance. Our global network brought a pandemic, a climate disaster, countless wars, and countless other casualties. We have alienated ourselves from our innate condition and forgot every aspect of what used to anchor us to our ecosystems. How could people be healthy when they’re fed deep-fried battery-cage chicken tenders, greasy fries, “diet” cokes, and carcinogens wrapped up in deli rolls? Our diets in the West are not nutritious. They have nothing to do with their local environments, and rely on society’s love of convenience and speed to barely fuel our busy lives. 

Once this virus runs its course, we have to reassess. We ought to seriously consider how we source our food, clothing, raw materials, technology, and household products. The origins of these possessions define our global economic system. We are mutually dependent. This has spelled success for many a businessman and export-oriented economy, yet with a tangible cost that may be too much for us to bear. The shock waves of our irresponsible lifestyles reverberate throughout the world to the tune of COVID-19. This pandemic ought to be the wake-up call we need to live more mindfully, sustainably, and well. Once the social isolation measures are relaxed, we have a tremendous opportunity to source more food locally, support our local economy, and build community resilience. These changes are absolutely possible and beneficial in our ongoing fight against climate change as global health scares radically shake up every societal norm we once took for granted. 


November 11, 2019
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Far from a millennial fad, vegetarianism as a philosophy and practice has existed in some form since ancient human history. In fact, there is significant anthropological evidence to suggest that our Neanderthal ancestors subsisted off plant and fungi-based diets. We were not always the pinnacle of the food chain – for this lauded status we relied on the leap that technology and weaponry facilitated. Early scavenging humans could count on vegetation to support their dietary needs when hunting was not possible or animals were not plentiful. 

Beyond scientific conjecture, classical texts from the Mediterranean basin and Mauryan dynasty suggest a legacy of meatless diets. Philosophers, kings, and emperors alike espoused notions of ahimsa, or non-violence, as they applied religious and social ideas towards animals.  The Buddhist and Jain philosophical awakenings promoted vegetarianism as an ethical, practical, and healthy lifestyle. Pythagoras was the main proponent of vegetarianism in Ancient Greece. He presented the idea of kinship between animals and humans, with the rationale that human benevolence depended on mercy towards other creatures. In fact, before the 19th century, those who practiced what we now consider a vegetarian diet were known as “Pythagoreans”, so influential were the considerations of Pythagoras. 

On a holistic level, monotheistic religions and their respective societies have been less likely to advocate vegetarian diets. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (the dominant monotheistic religions of Western society) have subjected certain limitations on diet, but generally have encouraged the reign of men over animals as a guiding principle. These faiths guide humans on a moral path governed by interpersonal relationships and responsibility towards ‘God’ or ‘Allah’, disregarding our connection to animals and nature. Larger, organized religions obscured the pagan values and folk religions of cultures they colonized, bringing humans away from our natural habitat and under the control of the power-hungry elite. 

By the start of the Renaissance, a resurgence of vegetarianism as an ideal occurred, as some artists and intellectuals revisited the classical values of ancient Europe. Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Rene Descartes all were known to practice or advocate cruelty-free lifestyles to lessen harm towards animals. The philosophic, scientific, and political awakening of that era naturally connected with an expanded consideration of sympathetic behaviour. 

Within Europe, the dawn of the Enlightenment spurred new perspectives on animals and humanity’s moral obligations to fellow creatures. Social and political organization evolved rapidly during this era as new ideas flourished. Darwin’s incredibly impactful Theory of Evolution encouraged the widespread adoption of the ideology that animals and humans are interconnected, which was extrapolated upon by philosophers such as John Locke, who believed animals could communicate, feel pain, and express emotion, thus they were deserving of empathy and consideration. In the United States, the abolitionist (aim to end slavery) movement was largely supported by Quakers, who were also likely to discourage meat consumption. 

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the age of Enlightenment ushered in the “Romantic” art movement. This era featured a renewed sense of connection to the natural world, as the prominent artists and thinkers called for an “aesthetic experience” linked with compassion and communion with nature. Eating meat was largely associated with indulgence and elitism. While the poor subsisted off of potatoes, vegetables, milk and porridge, the wealthy could afford to regularly consume meat. Vegetarians, therefore, were almost exclusively middle class intellectuals who hoped to emulate their values through their consumption choices while affording their own livelihoods. In their viewpoint, a simple vegetarian diet would be the keystone feature of an egalitarian society, as it would increase food supply, decrease land competition, and theoretically discourage class conflicts over these resources. Romantics were likely to denounce the class-ism, consumerism, and moral hypocrisy that animal agriculture produced. By establishing this connection, this artistic movement was grounded in harsh political and economic realities that influenced many subsequent thinkers and leaders. 

A parallel development in England produced the Vegetarian Society in 1847. A utopian spiritual community known as the Concordium, the Christian Bible Church, and readers of a popular journal at the time, the “Truth-Seeker”, were the founding members of the charity. They believed the movement was popular and influential enough to merit a formal organization. Gandhi was one of the society’s most popular members, as his philosophies of nonviolent resistance and compassion for animals influenced many around the world. The Vegetarian Society has operated consistently since its inception, advocating for cruelty-free policy and social movements through documentaries, publications, and celebrity endorsements. 

Still mostly a niche lifestyle movement, vegetarianism was brought into the spotlight in 1971 with the publication of Francis Lappe Moore’s highly influential Diet for a Small Planet. Moore advocated a simpler lifestyle that excluded meat due to its taxing effect on the environment. Her groundbreaking argument was that world hunger resulted from ineffective food policy, and the solution to food insecurity is the worldwide adoption of a vegetarian diet. Peter Singer introduced the animal welfare viewpoint into the discussion with his 1975 work, Animal Liberation. Singer popularized the concept of “speciesism”, a discriminating practice that involves treating animals from one species as superior to another for arbitrary reasons. 

A remarkable uptick in vegetarianism has occurred throughout the 2010s as the Internet and social media have made sharing information about climate change, animal treatment, and health effortless and incentivized through social approval. For the first time in history, vegetarianism is flooding mainstream culture as more people wake up to the harsh realities of these global issues. With an abundance of foods available year-round in all climates, fast food restaurants and grocery stores constantly broadening their offerings for plant-based customers, and parallel developments across consumer industries, there are fewer excuses than ever to ditch meat.


September 4, 2019
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Before the Industrial Revolution, it was not common for the majority of people to eat meat on a daily basis. Most people were farmers or foragers before urbanization and technological change made other occupations more common. If these individuals did have access to meat, it was infrequent (i.e. a pig is slaughtered annually for a Christmas feast), and treated like a luxury item. This notion remains popular in comparatively less developed countries, where the consumption of meat is linked to a higher disposable income and social status. 

The capitalist-consumerist doctrine that thrusted countries like the United States into wealth and global prominence provided a seemingly endless supply of meat products. The consumer quickly learned the lesson that no matter what, how much, or when they wanted it (provided they had the funds to back up their desires), the market would provide. This ushered in a frightening era of factory farmed animals – billions of animals in the U.S. alone enslaved and tortured so the industry can spend as little money as possible while maximizing profits. 

Our current global population is approximately 7.7 billion, and we are straining the world’s resources as it is. One in nine people are hungry, and one in three are malnourished. Demographic projections estimate that humans will number 10 billion by 2050, with the majority of growth centered around Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. 

Research and historical trends have shown that as the population inflates and more people are lifted out of poverty, the demand for meat will increase as well. Although we should be wary of paternalistic international policy that aims to control consumption patterns of other nations, the ongoing climate emergency demands immediate collective action. If we look to culture and ancestral dietary patterns rather than dangerous fast food propaganda, we have a much greater chance of doing better by our health, the environment, and the animals. Let us focus on encouraging and celebrating healthy plant-based foods, rather than condemning others’ choices, we can share, educate and inspire. Provide the information, and let them choose for themselves. 

Our globalized economy has at least as many drawbacks as advantages. While consumers in wealthy countries may enjoy unprecedented access to food, wealth and services, this comes at a great human cost. Our clothes and smartphones are manufactured by slave labour in developing countries, most often in East and Southeast Asia. Western corporations benefit from the cheap labour while their customers clamour for the cheapest price points. 

The situation with the global trade is just as bad, if not worse. Cereals are grown en masse in poorer countries and shipped to wealthier countries to feed livestock, robbing local populations of their food supply while fattening the animals that inefficiently feed the West. It takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. 

Animal agriculture is also hugely resource-intensive. The same kilogram of beef requires 15,000 liters of water to produce. Approximately 30% of global arable land is used for livestock farming. The livestock industry uses a third of the Earth’s freshwater. If we were to reallocate resources to feed the hungry rather than stuff the obese, our planet could actually accommodate the projected population increase. 3.5 billion more people could be fed on vegetarian diets, where grains would be consumed by humans directly, efficiently, and ethically. 

Beyond the argument of pure resource efficiency, the consumption of meat impoverishes the world by straining our environment beyond its limits. 2019 has seen dire climate news come to the forefront of public awareness. Every day it becomes harder to ignore that sea levels are rising, the atmosphere is brimming with carbon dioxide, and biodiversity is declining rapidly. 

The poor will be hit first and hardest by the disastrous effects of climate change. They will be poisoned by polluted water sources and further malnourished by the lack of food, dislocated from their homes, and suffer disproportionately from extreme weather events. 

When our eating habits are responsible for elevated emissions and excessive use of land and water, meat consumption becomes a human rights issue. Far from putting the interests of animals ahead of humans, we can simultaneously help humans, the environment, and animals. The only losers in this scenario are those who profit off animal cruelty, and we ought to stop paying our own executioners.