As a society, we have fought against sexism, racism and bigotry. Today it's time for us to acknowledge another "-ism", one that's been around for a long time yet is still largely unrecognised: speciesism. Speciesism is the belief that all other animals are inferior to human beings and therefore humans are justified in exploiting them. Saturday is World Day for the Abolition of Meat, a day when we are asked to reflect on the suffering of billions of animals on farms and in slaughterhouses before their dead bodies are hacked apart and delivered, neatly packaged, to supermarkets and restaurants. As we understand more about animals and their emotional and physical needs, many of us now believe that our current treatment of them is impossible to justify.
Farmed animals are treated as industrial tools, as mere machines for producing food, and suffering is a direct result of maximising profit by minimising factory space per animal and the time to market. It's a business model that looks a lot like the Final Solution.
Cows, chickens, pigs and other animals raised for food are victims of our indifference. Because they are not as familiar to us as the dogs and cats who live in our homes, their capacity to suffer is largely but quite irrationally ignored. Yet there is no longer any question about it: they are emotional beings like us. They all experience joy and love and pain and fear, and they are all highly social beings who form strong bonds with their friends and families and mourn when they lose a loved one. Pigs are in many ways smarter than dogs, and their intelligence level certainly surpasses that of a three-year-old human child, but on today's factory farms, they are crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, often prevented from ever going outside. Although sow stalls are generally prohibited in the UK, many sows are still confined for several weeks during farrowing and nursing - unable to turn around or interact normally with or move away from their piglets. The first time they are likely to feel the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air is when they are loaded onto lorries bound for slaughter.
The Holocaust occurred because ordinary people chose to ignore the extraordinary oppression and abuse that was being inflicted on innocents. Jewish philosopher and Holocaust survivor Theodor Adorno wrote, "Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals". At some point in history, "they're only" has been said about black people and women, too.
Those who defend this systematic mass slaughter of other living beings by saying that we need to kill animals for food should remember that Nazis used slave labour and made "useful products" out of their victims - lampshades, soaps, etc. It's enough to make you ill. Regardless of what 'use' we may get out of the victims of violence and oppression, we must always try to look at life through their eyes. "They're only animals", we say now. "They're only Jews", many said back then.
Author, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who fled Nazi Europe in 1935, wrote, "[A]s long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers à la Hitler and concentration camps à la Stalin .... There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is".
We must never forget the unthinkable acts that have been committed against innocent victims in our past. And we must now turn our attention to the unthinkable acts that are being committed today. We all have the power to stop suffering and misery - every time we sit down to eat. It is likely that one day, meat-eating will be relegated to the history books alongside other injustices. Why not get on the right side of history today?