Nonviolence: Food as an Act of Compassion for Animals

Compassion-in-ActionWhat about compassion for animals?  The central idea of nonviolent living is to cause as little suffering as possible in one’s lifetime. This practice, called Ahimsa in India, was made widely popular in western countries in the early 1980s, especially as the film Gandhi won an Academy Award in 1982. The animal rights movement in the U.S. started to evolve around that time. Many people started to question the treatment of animals used in food production, and then decided that buying products created through violent acts was encouraging that violence.

Some people scoff at animal rights, saying that animals and plants are both merely “sources of food.” Yet if one considers the contrast between cutting open a watermelon to obtain food from it and cutting open a lamb to obtain food from it; it would seem obvious to any humane person that other than a red liquid emanating from both, there is little in common between those two acts.

People who do not eat meat because of their belief in nonviolence often still eat dairy products and eggs. Their reasoning is that since the animals producing these foods do not have to be killed in order to obtain them, this is within the realm of a nonviolent diet. Unfortunately, the pastoral scene of cows “giving” milk is a myth, since cows, like all other mammals, only produce milk after giving birth, and for a relatively short time thereafter. Dairy cows are impregnated (usually artificially) each year of their short lives. Their lives are short because they are slaughtered after three or four pregnancies because their bodies are “spent” from the constant milking.

Eggs could be gathered in a compassionate way by allowing chickens or other birds to live freely, and then collecting their eggs from wherever they happen to be laid. That is costlier, however, than keeping the birds confined in small cages and having the eggs collected mechanically as they roll out of the cage bottom. The life for the birds involved is of course much less pleasant in this situation, so unpleasant that the beaks of the birds are routinely cut off so they will not peck each other to death out of frustration. Since economic considerations outweigh animal compassion concerns, most of the eggs produced in the U.S. come from these factory farm conditions. A chicken spends about thirty hours in a cramped cage, unable to spread her wings, debeaked so as not to peck her sisters, to produce each egg.

There is a resurgence in “cage-free” and “free range” eggs as the public becomes aware of what the industry has turned into, but some of these operations still crowd birds into buildings with very limited access to the out-of-doors. It is important for the consumer to know first-hand the conditions under which the birds are living to decide if the eggs he or she buys are truly cruelty-free.

[an excerpt from The Most Noble Diet by George Eisman]

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