Updated: May 29, 2022
“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in” – Eliezer Yudkowsky
Veganism is, in itself, a social justice movement. There has been discrimination throughout history based on gender, race and sexual orientation. The justice for these oppressed groups of people is yet been fully realised, but there has been significant progress over a short period of time towards it. However, the rights of the most oppressed group of all – non-human animals – has only recently been realised in mainstream cultures.
I am going to write about my love of Jivamukti Yoga in time to come, but for now, I want to mention the Focus of the Month for November, which has been “What is a person?” This has prompted myself and fellow yogis to recognise the personhood of animals. Indeed, the Nonhuman Rights Project with Steve Wise and a team of legal experts, are campaigning to have chimpanzees (with plans to expand to other animals) legally declared persons with certain fundamental rights. These concepts (that is, veganism as a social justice movement and non-human animals having personhood) are fairly simple to understand, but misunderstood in popular culture.
A participant on a Yoga Camp I attended recently asked an internationally renowned (vegan) yoga teacher in discussion: “Vegans seem to care about animal rights but what about human rights?” It’s a common question, with a common answer: The two are not as separate as we think. The suffering of humans in our exploitation of non-human animals is less pronounced then the direct suffering inflicted on animals, but equally important.
Accessibility to Real Food
“The problem is we are not eating food anymore, we are eating food like products” – Alejandro Junger
After so many years of studying social determinants of health, here isn’t much I find sadder than people in low socio-economic areas eating from fast food venues. The government is to blame for the obesity and disease epidemic we, the tax payers, are paying for in Australia. Tony Abbott tried to have us believe that individual health is a choice, but that’s a bit rich coming from a bloke with a Road Scholar funded education, with all the money to eat as he likes, but more importantly, all the education to decide which food choices are healthiest.
We know that it is cheaper to purchase crap food – typically of animal origin – than it is to purchase organic fruits and vegetables. Even if Julia Gilliard had been able to enforce her carbon tax policy, it would not have included a tax on meat and dairy (which produce greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide). These products are subsidised by our government, they are the most accessible food source, particularly to those on the poverty line, with little, if any, information available to make an informed choice about it.
The inaccessibility to real food in low socioeconomic areas, constitutes a form of westernised poverty. Poverty, in any form, is a social justice issue. There’s certainly not many vegan options at McDonalds. If the definition of “people” included non-human animals, I don’t think there's enough diseases in the world to make a comparison to how many lives that global corporation has taken.
Occupational Health and Safety of the People Who Make Food and Clothes out of Animals
There is an extensive list of justice issues for humans that goes into the exploitation of animals:
1. Manipulation and mental health of farmers: Corporate greed means that the people raising animals to later be killed – farmers – are often forced out of small farms into factory farming, where there is obviously less concern for animal welfare, among various other concerns. These sorts of issues were exposed on Food Inc, which also recognised the toll this takes on the mental health of farmers. In Australia today, some data suggest the risk of suicide on average is twice as high for farmers.
2. Infection, injury, and death of slaughterhouse workers: Workers in slaughterhouses internationally have been found to endure serious health and safety risks, especially those related to heavy lifting, repetitive motions and proximity to dangerous equipment. Common injuries range from conditions like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, to life-threatening injuries, often caused by the deadly combination of long hours, tiring work, and making thousands of cuts each shift with sharp knives designed to easily slice through bone.
“Meatpacking is the most dangerous factory job in America” — Human Rights Watch
3. Exploitation of immigrates: Poor recent immigrants who do not speak English are desirable employees in slaughterhouses in America and Australia. If you need reminding of this phenomena in Australia I recommend watching the ABC 4 Corners report Slaving Away (2015), describing the black market gangs of contractors acting as the middle men and supplying workers to Australian farms and factories where they are routinely underpaid, harassed and abused while working these low skilled jobs. The report found immigrant workers paid $3.95 an hour, working 22 hour shifts, even forced to sleep on dog beds and women sexually exploited with a promise of a visa. Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Costco and IGA are all implicated in the allegations, as are fast food chains KFC and Red Rooster.
4. Family Violence and other Violent Crime: An Australian study found the aggression levels of slaughterhouse workers were “so high they’re similar to the [aggression] scores for incarcerated populations”. A basic understanding of the psychological phenomena of desensitisation assists in understanding how people working in slaughterhouses have among the highest prevalence’s of domestic violence and other violent crime. Indeed, we have long known the expression of cruelty to animals as a child often develops into Antisocial Personality Disorder, formally known as Psychopathy. But aside from having a personality disturbance – violence can be learned and then generalised to humans and non-human animals.
The Gender Issue(s)
I’ve written about how veganism is a feminist issue. Veganism is a feminist issue as;
The reproductive rights of female farm animals are being exploited on an enormous scale (explored in my Animal Justice: Milk and other Dairy Products blog)
The effects of climate change (which is largely due to animal agriculture) are worse for women than men
Men who don’t eat meat are portrayed as being less manly
So why is climate change worse for women you ask?
I read the below article by 1 Million Women earlier this year which explains that, women overwhelmingly carry the burden of productive and parenting responsibilities in many countries, especially in communities that still rely on agriculture as a primary industry. This is because in economies that still depend on agriculture and the environment, women often have less access to opportunities, or control of resources such as money, education, healthcare, and even human rights. These inequalities compound the impacts of climate change, participially in natural disasters, but also undermine the specific knowledge women can contribute to climate action.
Why is eating meat masculine?
I hadn’t, but did for the first time last night. When engaging him in conversation about this (after telling him he was awesome) he shrugged off the compliment, looked slightly offended that I have drawn attention to him and stated “yeah but it’s not because I care about animals or anything.” There is a paradigm in Western culture that associates meat eating with masculinity and therefore, not eating it is emasculating. Moreover, it seems as though of the meat eating women I know, few like or at least confess to like eating red meats whereas men can’t be seen not to.
Melanie Joy in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, explains that meat is a symbol of masculinity as it represents power and might whereas plant-based foods are often feminised, representing weakness and passivity. Moreover, men seem to be more concerned about becoming protein deficient. This is despite the fact protein deficiencies are almost impossible in developed countries, Men are targeted with marketing promotions associated with building muscle and strength with protein supplements. Therefore, so long as masculinity is valued by our culture, this gender trend is unlikely to change.
It is for this reason I am in favour of “lab meat”. However, for reasons of personal health I personally would not eat lab meat. Also, if you ever needed proof that vegans are strong, Mr Universe 2014, Barny du Plessis, is vegan and as of recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger is too. Besides, strength of character is more important than how much you can deadlift.
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him” — Malcolm S. Forbes
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
What is a Person? http://www.jivamuktiyoga.com.au/focus-of-the-month/
Slaughterhouse cruelty: the human factor: http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/slaughterhouse-cruelty-human-factor.php
News article on Slaving Away: http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/four-corners-investigation-reveals-exploitation-and-slave-like-conditions-on-farms-supplying-aussie-supermarkets/news-story/e3264dc44240a65308c226c80e67bb7a
Why climate change is worse for women: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/why-climate-change-worse-women-and-how-we-can-make-it-better/
Interviews with vegan men: https://redwinevines.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/does-being-vegan-make-you-less-manly/
Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows – Melanie Joy
The Sexual Politics of Meat – Carol J Adams
The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
Animal Liberation – Peter Singer
The Ethics of what we Eat – Peter Singer and Jim Mason
Eating Animals – Jonathan San Foer
Proteinaholic – Garth Davis
My Year without Meat – Richard Cornish
Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from a Cattle Rancher that won’t Eat Meat – Howard Lyman
Diet for a New America – John Robbins
Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Moore Lappé
Forks over Knives – Self titled, edited by Gene Stone
Eat like you give a F#ck – Thug Kitchen
Simple Recipes for Joy – Sharon Gannon (Jivamukti Yoga Founder)
Natural Harry – Harriet Birell (Geelong local!)
Oh she Glows – Angela Liddon
Deliciously Ella – Ella Woodward
Easy Vegan – Sue Quinn (my go-to!)
Hot Vegan – Robin Robertson
Practical Vegan – Brussels Vegan
Skinny Bitch – Rory Freedman