I wouldn’t say I love animals. Do not misunderstand me here: I am exceptionally fond of the little beasts. I certainly love my pets and I am constantly reminded of the fact that animals can be charming, adorable, fun and comforting. Yet still, despite all that, if someone asked me to divulge my interests and passions I don’t think ‘animals’ would make the cut. That is to say I don’t consider myself a dog person or cat person, I don’t call my pets my ‘children’ and I don’t spend much time cooing over pictures of adorable kittens and puppies, as cute and personable as they no doubt are.
So why on earth have I been sinking dozens of hours of my time into promoting veganism and draining inkwells over the topic of animal ethics? Well frankly I wish I didn’t have to. I hope you won’t think I’m grandstanding or patting myself on the back when I say I don’t particularly feel like I have much of a say in the matter. I may not ‘love’ animals but by God I hate how we treat them.
Let us both indulge in a little thought experiment. Let’s say we are walking through the streets of London, except the streets are filled up with ten million dogs. The dogs are tied to lampposts, shackled to one another like ghoulish huskies, as groups of men and women pull out their teeth, slice off their tails, kick them, beat them, electrocute them, cut their throats and bolt them in the head. They are being tortured to death, ten million of them across the city of London. Will you dare to imagine the smell? The noise of their desperate barks? The hue of their bloodshot, bruised, quivering eyes as they cringe from each bladed utensil, each kick, each curse? Well its happening right now, today except its ten million pigs, just as sensitive, more intelligent, pigs. Ten million pigs killed each year in the UK and with cows and chickens the number is over a billion animals slaughtered in this small country, annually. I’d wager even if it were pigs on the street corner, in glass boxes, squealing as gas turns their tears and saliva to acid as they splutter like ghosts from Ypres, you wouldn’t feel best pleased. And all of it unnecessary. All of it for food we don’t even need, for the dainty pleasure of gluttonous taste-buds, utterly divorced from the reality of suffering.
It isn’t your fault if you don’t know, or think that the deaths are somehow sanitary, somehow neutral or painless. There’s much that conspires to keep you in the dark. Black-box abattoirs are hidden away in outskirts, scream-proof walls conceal the oceans of blood and fear and shit and death within. I recall the words of the farm-worker who was filmed dashing piglet’s brains out on the filthy bars of a cage, in front of their own mother, at a ‘high standards’ farm: ‘I fucking hate doing this!’ There, in the belly of the beast, the moral toll is highest. This repulsive reality is obscured by equivocating lies about ‘humane slaughter’, that simpering contradiction, and by packaging coloured with pictures of grinning chickens and laughing cows. Yet the information is out there and you must, must ask yourself: why am I doing nothing? Ignorance is daily becoming a weaker excuse.
I am not better than you. I ate meat for eighteen years and dairy for another five. I am, for all my forthright prose and calls-to-arms, a vain, trivial, shy, insecure, irascible, insubstantial, mortal silly little human. All I can claim is having the most elementary moral insight possible: that the unnecessary torture and killing of innocent beings is plain wrong. I may not love animals, but I wouldn’t wish the factory farm on my worst enemy. It’s everyone else who loves animals and everyone else with an excuse.