It's funny how many people think of themselves as animal-lovers and yet still eat them, isn't it? They may give wonderful homes to their pets and donate to animal charities, or help out at shelters, etc, but still don't make the connection between their diets and the cruelty of the meat industries. But then, I used to be one of those people. All my life I have been mad about animals and concerned about their suffering at the hands of humans, but I only went vegetarian at the age of 25 (and still occasionally ate meat after that for a few years) and only went vegan about 2 years ago, at the age of 43. I had known all about meat production methods for a number of years, and once I got into my forties, I could no longer kid myself that the dairy and egg industries were OK.
It seems to me that it is the same with almost everyone: the aspect of animal rights that they have the most trouble with is the use of animals for food. It is the last bastion of defence with most people: they may wholeheartedly agree about the cruelty of the fur trade, of vivisection, circuses, etc, and not support any of those vile industries, but they still eat meat and dairy, and are in denial about the cruelty involved in that choice. Why should that be? Maybe because our relationship with food is based on such a primal, instinctive urge: it is one of the few things we absolutely cannot do without, for our physical survival. Since the early humans evolved as hunter-gatherers, a lot of that primal urge still exists in the subconscious of many people today, seemingly. Also, naturally, there is the immense and intense emotional value attached to food, and its social function. We don't just eat when we are hungry or to keep ourselves alive, we also eat for pleasure, comfort, out of boredom, etc. So that makes it hard for people to change their dietary habits, if they have been used to eating cheeseburgers, for example, as a comfort food (even though there are wonderful vegan alternatives these days, which give the same emotional hit! It's just a question of getting people to try those substitutes).
I also think that many do still genuinely believe in the humane slaughter myth as well, or maybe, more accurately, they are in denial about it. Despite all the evidence to the contrary! Or they think that all it needs is for regulations to be tightened up in the farming and slaughter business so that animals don't suffer, i.e. the “welfarist” approach. I myself used to believe that: used to assume that is was perfectly OK for humans to eat animals, as long as they had a reasonable life first, and were killed humanely. But then I realised that when animals are used as a commodity in this way, that never happens, as there is no sentiment in business. It's all about profit margins, and of course, it costs much more to rear organic, free-range animals, to give them plenty of space, to let them reach adulthood, and to make sure that they are slaughtered so that they don't suffer. “Humane” slaughter? What a joke! And why should they have to give their lives just for human appetites anyway, no matter how “humanely” it is done?
Once people really accept how cruel the meat industry is, they often start waking up and having a crisis of conscience . They are willing to make the change, become vegetarian or vegan, but they don't know how, so this is where we can help them. We can give them tasty, satisfying vegan meals and recipes, and advise them about ethical shopping choices, but without actually pressure-converting them. The transition is not easy, so let's just be as supportive as people as possible, if they are really trying to become vegan. Let them get there in their own time.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)