Hopefully, humanity in the future will create a society free of meat.
When at long last war and capitalism, fascism, terrorism and religious fanaticism have had their final day, when a communist society breaks out like the glorious sun after the most savage storms, what will our new world look like? Only the science fiction writer knows, and the utopian novelist. But surely we all feel in our bones that its basic tenets must be peace and plenty - love and kindness. Certainly there can be no injustice or cruelty. And yet I wonder whether a most monstrous cruelty - rampant in this ugly age - will hang on to mar our future. I mean the incarceration, torture and slaughter of billions upon billions of animals.
So brutal is the regime imposed upon our fellow creatures that if they were not cows and chickens but men and women we would vomit to hear of it and revolt to abolish it! But since they are indeed inferior beings, know then that each year ten billion chickens are crammed into warehouses, jammed into cages with less room per bird than the dimensions of a book. Their jailer had already cut off, with a hot knife, the tips of their beaks some days after the chicks were hatched.
Shackled to a rail, hanging by their feet the birds move on to an assembly line slaughter. They are stunned electrically in a water bath then by mechanical blade their throats are slashed. Next the birds are plunged into scalding hot water. But the killing blades miss millions of birds. For these creatures, boiled alive, the ‘chicken industry’ has a special term: “redskins.”
Know that a cow is given a severe blow to the head then hung up by her hind legs. The animal - who all too often remains conscious - is ‘stuck’ in the throat and then a knife is plunged into her heart. Kicking, struggling - blood gushing from her body – the animal moves down the assembly line to the tail cutter, the belly ripper, and the hide puller. ‘Downed animals’ (unable to walk or even stand) are dragged with chains and pushed by tractors to slaughter.
Paul and Linda McCartney maintain that “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” Author Charles Patterson agrees because through those glass walls, he says, we would gaze horrified into a place that looks very much like a Nazi death chamber! In his shattering book Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, Patterson draws an astonishing analogy between a slaughterhouse for Jews and a slaughterhouse for animals. In both we find the annihilation of “life unworthy of life,” the wholesale depersonalized day-after-day butchery with specially designed machinery, and the lying prattle of “humane killing.”
The term ‘Eternal Treblinka’ comes from Holocaust survivor, Yiddish writer, Nobel Laureate (and vegetarian) Isaac Bashevis Singer: “For the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.” Treblinka, SS Extermination Camp where the Nazis ‘processed’ 850,000 Jews in less than a year.
The slaughterhouse and the Nazi death chamber – a strained, even bizarre analogy? Not to Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok. “As the trucks rolled by,” he writes, “I saw cows and sheep in those trucks, being transported. One could only see their eyes through the slits in the trucks, and it struck me that that was very much like the scene out of the Holocaust period of Jews being transported in cattle trucks to their fate. During the Holocaust, I’m sure that the German people were aware that Jews and others were being treated in the most horrific way. They may not have known all the details, but they must have known something, but they didn’t want to think about it. And I think today, we also don’t want to think about the way in which animals are being treated.”
Jewish German philosopher Theodor Adorno simply says “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: ‘they’re only animals.’”
But we cannot look through the walls of the slaughterhouse; the owners of ‘our’ TV airwaves will not permit it. Investigator Gail A. Eisnitz, examining one slaughterhouse after another around the country - interviewing workers with two million hours all together on the kill floor, photographing the carnage there - reports that executives of the TV news magazine programs refuse to telecast her findings. They will not allow the American people to see what transpires in the slaughterhouses. Eisnitz was able to find a publisher (Prometheus Books) and has given us a publication with graphic photos, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment inside the U.S. Meat Industry.
With the word “greed” Eisnitz introduces a new element - the monopoly control of the meat industry dominated by three multinational corporations. Their gluttony for profits leads to a speed up of production lines and arrant contempt not only for worker safety but even dignity. “Workers,” writes one reviewer, “are having to urinate in their pants rather than being accorded the simple dignity of being able to leave the line to take care of their affairs.”
It leads to disgraceful disrespect for the Humane Slaughter Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act and public health.
In regard to health, Neal Barnard, MD, sums it up sardonically: “The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of the last century, all the natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of ‘real food for real people,’ you’d better live real close to a real good hospital.” This doctor is Director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Another medical doctor, Michael Klaper, reports that “every 30 seconds on this continent, Canada included, somebody grabs their chest and falls over with a heart attack. This is animal fat clogging up the arteries. When you send this material down to the pathologist and you ask him to analyze it the report always comes back the same. Saturated fat and cholesterol. It’s animal fat. The pathology report never, ever, ever contains the words: remnants of broccoli, rice, and tofu.”
Yes, the health reasons for vegetarianism are just as compelling as the ethical. And the ecological equally so.
To produce a one pound steak requires 16 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water! More than 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals ending up in the slaughterhouse. On an acre of land 20,000 pounds of apples or 50,000 pounds of tomatoes can be grown compared to 250 pounds of beef. The waste is criminal. Imagine how many of the world hungry could be fed were it not for our meat eating.
For the sake of cattle the Amazon jungle is destroyed at an appalling rate. Deeper and deeper the beef industry cuts into the “lungs of the world” (because of its vast oxygen-producing ability) and in the process annihilates many thousands of species of plants and animals.
But let us return to our moral reasons. Do we truly have an answer - we who devote our time and energy, our minds and hearts to a better world – an answer to the ethical vegetarians?
What can we say to Karen Davis, author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs when she tells us “The human commitment to harmony, justice, peace, and love is ironic as long as we continue to support the suffering and shame of the slaughterhouse and its satellite operations”?
Or how do we respond to Alice Walker: “As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out.”
We are political activists. Can we then agree with Isaac Bashevis Singer? “To be a vegetarian is to disagree - to disagree with the course of things today. Starvation, world hunger, cruelty, waste, wars - we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it’s a strong one.”
So many of the activists we admire and, yes, our actual heroes are/were vegetarians - Dennis Kucinich, Woody Harrelson, Helen and Scott Nearing, Susan B. Anthony. Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Dick Gregory, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Dizzie Gillespie, Whoopie Goldberg, Bill Maher, Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder... “In 1968,” Caesar Chavez tells us, “I became a vegetarian after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry, and unhappy like we do.”
“The awful wrongs and sufferings forced upon the innocent, faithful animal race form the blackest chapter in the whole world’s history.” This statement by Edward Augustus Freeman would be called “sentimental” by August Bebel.
In his book Woman and Socialism (50 editions in many languages), in a chapter entitled Society of the Future, Bebel writes “A purely vegetable diet is neither likely nor necessary in the future.” This was the most widely read Marxist book in late 19th Century, and Bebel personally met with Marx and Engels. Let us hope Bebel’s is not the last word of Marxism on vegetarianism.
Rather let us heed the socialist Albert Einstein: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
But world socialism/communism, apparently, is a long, long way off - as far as where the earth meets the sky. Certainly as we climb higher and higher up that mountain we will advance morally with each step. It is inconceivable that a communist society can be attained without ethical compassionate people leading the way. “I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Come - let us be soybean socialists. Must we have slaughterhouses under communism? No, let us have a cruelty-free communism - Marxism without meat! Let us climb that mountain with VEGETARIANISM on our banners and say with HG Wells, “In all the round world there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse.”