Do you believe animal cruelty is wrong? Chances are you do, if you're like 96 percent of people living in the United States. And if you're like an estimated 97 percent of this same population, you also eat animals. Deep down, you may feel uneasy about this, especially when confronted by the abundance of evidence demonstrating that consuming animal flesh is bad for human health, is bad for the environment and is especially bad for the billions of animals raised and killed every year for food. In fact, you may feel downright conflicted.
Psychologists call this feeling "cognitive dissonance," which is defined as the discomfort we experience when holding two incompatible thoughts (cognitions) at the same time. For example, millions of people smoke tobacco in this country, despite knowing that smoking is bad for them.
Activists in the animal-rights movement frequently discuss cognitive dissonance, musing about people who insist they love animals yet eat pigs, cows, chickens, fish, turkeys and sheep as if these beings somehow don't qualify as animals. We even wonder what could be going on with animal shelters and humane societies that offer meat at fundraisers. They serve hot dogs at dog walks (cute, huh?), sausage at their pancake breakfasts and corpses of all kinds at their annual dinners (well, perhaps no dogs or cats are on the menu). If these "animal advocates" cannot make the connection -- if they can't see they are supporting the very abuse they claim to be fighting -- what hope is there for the rest of the world?
Trouble is, many people regard meat-eating as a right, perhaps even a God-given entitlement. Humans enjoy the taste of meat, and they argue that we've been eating animals for thousands of years. It's tradition, meat-lovers claim. Why change?
The good news is we can all do something right now to improve the lives of animals, as well as help the planet and benefit our health. All we need to do is keep meat, eggs and dairy products off our plates. Yes, that requires we have an open mind and rethink some personal choices. It may mean facing the state of tension that characterizes cognitive dissonance. But before you cut into your next animal-based meal, I challenge you to "meet your meat" at www.meat.org and then ask yourself if your taste for flesh outweighs the terror a cow feels as she's led to slaughter. Fortunately, it has never been easier to eat delicious, nutritious plant-based foods.
Just think about it.
Mark Hawthorne is the author of "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism" (O Books).
Mark Hawthorne is the author of "Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism" (O Books). Mark adopted a vegetarian lifestyle soon after an encounter with one of India's many cows in 1992 and went vegan a decade later. He is now a committed animal activist who has engaged in nearly every model of activism, from leafleting and tabling to protesting and direct action. Currently, he is working with hundreds of other activists on an historic ballot initiative that will ban the use of battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates in California. Mark was a contributing writer for Satya from 2004 until the magazine ceased publishing in June of 2007, and his articles, book reviews, essays and opinion pieces have also appeared in Herbivore, VegNews, Vegan Voice, Hinduism Today, Utne.com and many daily newspapers across the United States. Mark is a volunteer for Animal Place, a vegan education center and sanctuary for farmed animals in northern California, where he serves on the outreach advisory council. He is also involved in rabbit rescue and lives with five rescued rabbits.