August 14, 2009
 Seattle Vegan Examiner
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD

The word around many vegan and animal rights blogs is that we shouldn't care that Michael Vick has found himself a job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, he tortured dogs, but he's no different from the millions of Americans who eat animal products every day, right?
It's true - the number of animals who are tortured - sometimes every day of their lives - is far greater due to the eating behavior of one omnivore or lacto-ovo vegetarian. So why single Michael Vick out for criticism?

It's easy to see the logic of this argument, but I think the issue is really a bit more complex than that. Probably everyone who is reading this article (as well as the person who wrote it) makes daily decisions in their own selfish interest. The world is filled with suffering and pain, and we are among the wealthiest and most privileged people on earth. So how can we justify paying for a vacation while homeless people have nowhere to sleep, or spending time by the pool with friends when we could be leafleting for animal rights, or going out to dinner when children are dying from starvation by the minute?

We do it because we are good at psychological self-preservation which means we can distance ourselves from the pain of the masses in order to do what we want. Some people are far better at this than others, of course. But even those of us who care a lot about suffering and who make changes in our lives and also become active to make changes in the world, still do it to some extent. Just as many meat eaters do it by choosing not to think about the effects on animals of their diet and lifestyle choices.

None of these choices are defensible - eating animal products, buying luxuries, spending time in self-indulgent ways - but even good-hearted compassionate people do them. That's what keeps so many vegan activists going - the very fact that many omnivores are, in fact, good hearted, compassionate animal lovers. We know that if we can just get people to really think about what happens on factory farms, there is a good chance they will change their behavior. It's a matter of breaking down that barrier of ignorance or of self-protection.

Michael Vick is - or was - different, and what he did was different. He tortured animals with his bare hands. He was not a good-hearted animal lover choosing to distance himself from animal suffering. From the descriptions of what he did, his heart was stone cold and his acts were overtly violent.

Michael Vick says he has changed and I know he deserves the chance to show that. Personally, I have great doubts whether a person could do the things he did and ever develop empathy for animals. And that, for me, is the difference. Michael Vick's actions were in tune with his heart. For most, or at least many, omnivores, their eating/lifestyle behavior does not fit with their real attitudes about animals. We can - and should - use this opportunity to compare the effects on animal suffering of dog fighting and meat eating. It's a great chance to point out the disconnect in people's thinking. But we shouldn't pretend that Michael Vick - in his dog fighting days - was no worse a person than the average omnivore.