The most obvious and non-controversial characteristic of animal agriculture is that it is a system in which humans exploit animals for food. The vast majority of us go along with the internalized cultural narratives that justify this exploitation. We don’t realize that we are also being abused and exploited by the same system that is exploiting the cows, chickens, fishes, and pigs.
There’s basically one primary reason any of us eats animal-sourced foods: we do this because we’re following orders that were injected into us from infancy by well-intentioned people we trusted completely. This indoctrination is literally eaten in the most potent and pervasive of all social rituals, our daily meals. It’s important to understand that when we go to shops and restaurants and purchase animal foods, we are not only sustaining a system of exploitation of animals, we are also unwittingly fueling our own exploitation on many levels, and in feeding these foods to our children, we’re fueling their exploitation as well.
Let’s take cows as a profoundly relevant example. Cows are clearly designed to thrive on grass, but they are fed richer and more complex grains such as soy, corn, oats, wheat, and alfalfa in order to boost milk production in dairies and increase weight gain in beef operations. This causes cows digestive distress and leads ironically to the proliferation of the E. coli bacterial strains that are deadly to human consumers of undercooked hamburgers. However cow exploiters don’t stop with grains. Agricultural scientists discovered long ago that if cow feed is “enriched” with fish meal as well as the rendered flesh and offal of chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, cats, and other animals, this is even better than grain at promoting milk production and weight gain, and thus increased profits for the industries involved.
In sum, cows are fed foods that are not in their interest, but that are to the advantage of their exploiters. With us, if we are eating animal foods, it is precisely the same situation. Like cows, we are created and have evolved to thrive on the food for which we are designed, which in our case is whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Like cows, we can certainly eat other foods, such as animal flesh and mammary secretions designed for other species, and as in the case of cows, this harms our health on many levels, but the significant point is that it increases the profits of our exploiters, and so it continues. The animal exploiters have stolen the sovereignty of cows, and so the cows are powerless to eat anything but what the exploiters provide them. With both cows and humans it is remarkably similar. Exploiters provide the foods that they want the exploitees to consume to maximize their profits and power, and the exploitees dutifully comply. They encourage each other by their shared example, and additionally in our case, we ironically police each other to ensure compliance.
The benefits to the exploiters in these situations are vast. The disempowerment and harm to the exploitees are equally vast. Let’s have a brief look at the consequences of this exploitation on five levels of our health.
First, our physical health. Being compelled from infancy to eat animal-based foods, we are more likely to develop cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, auto-immune diseases, dementia, and the other chronic diseases which fuel hundreds of billions of dollars of profits annually for the pharmaceutical-medical complex, and the banks and financial institutions in the background. This system, and the governmental, academic, media, and corporate complex that is tied in with it, requires a steady flood of reliably sick people. Feeding the population a diet based on animal foods that concentrate toxins accomplishes this. Most of the wealth generated concentrates in the hands of a powerful elite, while most of us endure economic injustices such as exorbitant medical costs that ravage our economy and well-being. Eating animal foods, we become unwitting cash cows for an aggressive medical-pharmaceutical complex.
Second, our environmental health. Animal agriculture is well recognized to be the single most environmentally devastating human activity, destroying forests, oceans, aquifers, soil quality, climate stability, and propelling the mass extinction of species through rampant habitat destruction. Here again, we are being exploited when we purchase and eat animal-based foods. Because animal-based foods require much more petroleum, land, fertilizer, pesticides, and water, we are paying powerful and polluting petroleum, chemical, and agribusiness corporations and financial institutions to not only devastate the precious air, water, soil, and life quality for ourselves and our children, but we are also funding their legendary political power to infiltrate and dominate our governmental, educational, legal, and media institutions. As a result, these corporations are even subsidized with billions of our tax dollars annually to damage the health of our ecosystems, which further erodes our physical health, increasing our disease rates and the profits to the medical complex and the bankers lurking in the background.
Third, our cultural health. Because animal agriculture is profoundly wasteful of oil, water, land, and food, we have chronic food shortages in our world, even though we grow more than enough food to feed everyone, if we ate plant-based food directly rather than feeding it to livestock. Food shortages are well recognized to be the primary driving force behind much of the conflict in our world, and together with this inevitable conflict, is the direct cause of refugees, social breakdown, and many forms of human trafficking. The very first word for war going back ten thousand years is the ancient word “gavyaa” meaning literally “the desire for more cows.” Economic injustice, war, hunger, domination of women, and the arising of a privileged ruling elite are all linked to the ancient invention of animal herding around which we still organize our society. Thus, instead of using our economic surplus to revitalize our ecosystems, rebuild our infrastructure, and assure adequate housing, food, education, healthcare, and opportunity for all, we use it primarily for subsidizing the wealthy military and medical complexes. We sacrifice our children in wars that benefit a ruling class that uses the media and other institutions to propagate narratives that justify and promote an agenda of violence. Eating animal foods, we are fueling continued harm to our cultural health as well as the ongoing exploitation of our children and of ourselves.
Fourth, our psychological health. When, as children, we are compelled to sit at the table and eat animal foods that are harmful to our physical health, we are also being compelled to eat attitudes and beliefs that injure our psychological health. With every meal, we are being colonized psychologically in order to be malleable to the military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex. There are many dimensions to this, but to keep it brief, we’ll just look at a few, for example, the attitude of disconnectedness and desensitization that is imposed on us by being required as children to relentlessly eat animal foods. It’s well understood in systems theory that intelligence is the capacity for any system to make relevant connections and respond to feedback. Eating animal foods reduces this capacity and numbs our feelings both individually and collectively. We learn to stay shallow and avoid looking, listening, and feeling deeply. We avoid making the dreaded connection between what we are eating and what it took to get it on our plate. We are indoctrinated in daily meal rituals to repress our natural empathy and caring for others and this reduction of our cognitive and affective intelligence makes it comparatively easy for us to become gullible and uncritical consumers of narratives and products that reduce, harm, and enslave others and us. Our minds and bodies are also colonized by the poisonous attitude that beings are not beings but are rather mere commodities: material objects that we buy and sell by the pound. Upon reflection, this is shockingly debasing to others and to ourselves, but we both propel and consume this highly exploitive attitude with every meal, sowing seeds of our own exploitation. Finally, we are compelled to eat dairy, eggs, and meat products that require rampant abuse of animal mothers, their forced insemination and stealing of their babies and the destruction of their sacred mother-child bonds. We become easily exploited psychologically by causing and eating this trauma, repressing our feminine capacity, and feeding this to our trusting children. We eat products that are the embodiment of misery, fear, despair, insomnia, frustration, and chronic pain. The pharmaceutical industry’s most immense profits come from people buying drugs for precisely these conditions: despair, trauma, insomnia, depression, and chronic pain.
Fifth, and finally, our spiritual health. This may be the most severe exploitation of all. Every meal corrodes our basic connection with our true nature as eternal expressions of consciousness. By being required to repeatedly and ritually reduce other magnificent expressions of life to mere physical matter devoid of subjectivity and purpose, we sever our connection with the beauty, abundance, and enchantment of the living, interconnected web of life that is celebrating on this Earth. We have unwittingly become, in significant ways, an abusive scourge on this Earth that destroys and consumes as our life-purpose, both individually and collectively.
Our innate spiritual wisdom and our purpose have been paved over and repressed, and as we become sick and addicted, our exploitation increases dramatically. A false purpose and set of narratives has been forced on us by the herding culture into which we are born: that we are here to exploit the garden and consume it. Other animals and ecosystems pay a steep price for our inability to free ourselves from being exploited, as do our children and we ourselves, ultimately.
The animal agriculture roots of our multi-dimensional exploitation have been invisible and unrecognized for too long. Now we can finally see and fully understand the dynamics involved. Being compelled from infancy to eat animal foods has created us to be a severely wounded population with drastically reduced capacities intellectually, emotionally, morally, and spiritually to fulfill our potential and create contexts that nurture justice, cooperation, creativity, freedom, joy, radiant health, and sustainability. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, and the momentum of our healing and awakening is increasing.
We can see two raging infernos on this planet. One is burning and destroying ecosystems, animals, societies, sanity, health, and our children’s future. The other is benevolent and is illuminating and incinerating the obsolete delusions perpetuated by our unquestioned exploitation of animals, and is revealing a new path to a doorway that leads to a positive future.
We will be free when we free others, and there is nothing physically holding us back from the evolution of respect, freedom, and harmony that is beckoning us. Whenever we eat animals foods of any kind—free-range, grass-fed, wild-caught, factory-farmed—it is all the same and cut from the same cloth: exploitation. Our exploitation ends when we awaken from the cultural program of exploiting other living beings and co-create a more aware plant-based way of eating and living, and understand the reasons behind this. Exploiting animals, we exploit and delude ourselves; freeing animals, we free ourselves.