Is It Really a Personal Choice?
“I believe that you have a right to your beliefs and choices regarding your dietary decisions. Likewise, I have the same right, along with others who choose to include meat in their diet.” (actual comment on a published article)
For those of us who give voice to the plight of animals used for food, this is a very familiar response. We hear it all the time. Awakening people to animal exploitation and violence often triggers within them a respectful reply that what they eat is a personal choice.
At first glance, this appears rational. Freedom is one of our most sacred gifts. I want to be free to make my own choices and to plot the course of my own life. I don’t want others to interfere with my life and tell me what I can and cannot do. I want to be the captain of my own ship.
But is this really a personal choice?
To test your mind a little bit, how do you feel about these statements?
Slave owner: “I believe you have a right to your beliefs and choices regarding business practices. Likewise, I have the same right, along with others who choose to use slaves in their business.”
Rapist: “I believe you have a right to your choices regarding your sexual practices. Likewise, I have the same right along with others who choose to rape women as their sexual practice.”
Terrorist: “I believe you have a right to your choices regarding how and where you drive your car. Likewise, I have the same right to choose to drive my car into a crowd of people.”
These statements hold no ethical merit among normal people in a civilized society. In fact, they are ludicrous because they mask the fact that there is a victim – someone who physically suffers at the hands of a perpetrator. In a civilized society, this deep innate desire for freedom can only be exercised in a moral sense if our choices don’t impair the freedom of another. You can’t ethically mask torturing people as some kind of right you have to choose how you conduct business. Nor can you ethically mask rape or killing as some kind of personal right or choice. We simply are not free to make any choice we want when it involves the life of someone else. When it hurts another, it is no longer just personal.
No one would condone torturing, raping and killing as personal choices in the above scenarios. But we do we condone torturing, raping and killing animals (all of which are standard practices used to turn animal bodies into ‘meat’) as acceptable personal dietary choices. Why is that?
The question becomes even more absurd because we know that an abundance of healthy, less harmful and less violent food options are readily available to us. And we know that the era of needing animal skins and flesh for our survival has long passed.
It comes down to this:
We don’t consider animals to be worthy of our consideration.
What have animals done to deserve virtually no legal or moral consideration? Absolutely nothing. They are innocent.
Animals have been declared sentient in 2500 scientific studies, which means they have the capacity to feel, perceive, and have personal experiences. Like us, they suffer and have complex emotional lives that include happiness, sadness, care and empathy. Like us, they have families and fight for their lives when facing death.
We know all this! Yet we still think they are merely things for us to use for our own desires. We have placed them outside our circle of ‘us.’ They are a ‘them.’
A frightened cow gets a last glimpse of the outside world before entering the slaughterhouse.
Photo credit Hannah Elizabeth, Sympathy at Slaughter
Throughout history, there have been many ‘thems’ considered unworthy of consideration and cast outside the circle of ‘us.’ Among them are poor people, diseased people, women, children, indigenous peoples and slaves. These groups were all relegated to ‘them’ status and any actions against ‘them’ were considered morally acceptable.
Thank God human consciousness is capable of evolving and we have the power to change our minds and habits. And thank God we have continually been hard at work erasing these ridiculous arbitrary boundaries over the past few centuries.
It is now time to consider the existence of another age-old arbitrary boundary – the one between humans and animals. Eating meat is not merely a personal dietary choice because it involves the life of someone else.
Our humanity calls us higher. The animals deserve our consideration now. Let there be Peace on earth and let it begin with me. We are ALL One.
"Kindness and compassion towards all living things is the mark of a civilized society." Cesar Chavez
© carol saunders 2017
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained Unity and Interfaith minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and led it through mid-2021. In my current ministry I host a podcast called The Spiritual Forum. Being a voice for the animals and a light for the spiritually-inclined who are willing to seriously examine the self and begin to awaken, are what Spirit has called me to be. I am here to support anyone who wants to move toward living in closer alignment with their deeply held spiritual values - i.e. sovereignty, freedom, love, peace and kindness. We have the power to change our world by changing ourselves. A first step is identifying and releasing all the cultural conditioning that normalizes cruelty and violence. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.
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