Let’s start with a simple truth: Our capacity for compassion is not a finite quantity; we can care for and be compassionate about many issues, all at the same time. In fact, we can even take action on and make great strides for multiple issues, if those issues are priorities.
The argument that people should come first – before addressing animal cruelty issues – assumes that we are incapable of caring simultaneously for multiple causes or populations; this is a flawed argument. It is even more evidently false when you consider our track record of actually prioritizing fellow human issues… but more on that later. Further, if you stop to imagine – or recognize, rather – that suffering is suffering, pain is pain, fear is fear, regardless of the physical form that experiences it, regardless as well of our ability or inability to recognize its intelligence, then the argument is further moot: care for all that suffer.
All too convenient is the assertion, however, that we need to prioritize human issues and needs to the top of the heap. Our charity and compassion, if limited, allocated to the human-animals, rather than those non-human animals, does more good for those creatures more like us, and that makes us feel good. Human problems are better understood; there are frameworks in place for helping; support is more easily obtained. However, our disregard for non-human animals and their plight, and our industrialized disconnection from their lives and suffering has led to the systematic exploitation and abuse of human beings and animals, and to the hoarding and use of enough grain to feed every hungry person on the planet. We have the ability to end world hunger today – not tomorrow, not in a decade, once we figure out how, today.
It’s about our priorities. We have made a top priority out of the over-consumption of low-cost meat, calorically dense and nutritionally sparse food, over and above providing a high-quality food abundant enough to feed the world. The agricultural industry has been incredibly innovative and effective at perpetually improving the system and profits, but these profits have come at a devastating cost to consumers. Many of the foods that reach store shelves are nearly unrecognizable compared to those of just 50 years ago. Wouldn’t you just love a great Jersey Tomato? Good luck finding a real one. These foods have been crossbred and genetically modified so much that food items these days typically contain so much less of the nutritional complexity with which they were once replete, while maintaining their caloric content, we feel as though we need to eat twice as much to feel satisfied. This sounds like a failing plan.
What’s more, these agricultural advances have created such an abundance of low-cost foods such as corn and soy, we’ve had to use government grants, programs, and other dollars – not to mention the already ridiculous subsidies already paid to farmers growing these crops – to come up with new innovative ways to use the surplus. It’s no wonder the world says we’re hoarding foods like wheat, corn, and soy.
Some of the “advances” borne from out of this research have been new plastics – plant based and hybrid — food additives, and livestock feed that makes cows mortally ill (think about this the next time you see a proud logo touting “Corn-Fed Beef”– it should say “Poison-Fed Beef”), but only if they live long enough, and the ubiquitous 20th century evil: High Fructose Corn Syrup, perhaps the largest contributing cause of the most preventable disease in the history of human kind, ever. It bears repeating, HFCS may be the single biggest cause of the most preventable disease human kind has ever faced, ever. Obviously, I am referring to diabetes type II. With the highest concentrations of HFCS found in low-cost junk food, it’s no wonder that the rate of type II diabetes amongst low-income families, especially those without proper access to food and food/nutritional education is nearly double the national average.
Think about this the next time you buy foods that contain these scientific “advances.” We choose not to feed the world’s hungry, so that we can have low-quality inexpensive food that makes us sick. Moreover, what we save in dollars now, we pay for with our health and money later.
These things are true: we have limited resources, limited time, limited money — yes. But we choose how to use those resources and we can, right now, today, choose better. We can choose not to support genetically-modified crops. We can choose not to support the systematic abuse of animals. We can stand up and demand that every single part of the 21st century food chain is transparent, without exception. There should be no dark corners, no direct laws protecting corporations from consumers to the extent of such secrecy, and the consumer’s best interests should be protected, genuinely.
If we begin to value equally the suffering of all creatures, human and non-human alike, we begin to make different decisions. We recognize that our immediate needs – now too often met with low cost, horrible food – are not more important than those others suffering: starving humans, brutally confined and abused non-human animals, exploited farm and slaughterhouse workers, and – just as important — the well-fed malnourished and sickly.
“The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham