When I first went vegan, I thought it was just about protecting farmed animals from cruel treatment such as tail docking, debeaking, and unnecessary slaughter. I was wrong. It’s so much more than that.
Growing up, I had always thought of myself as progressive. I was taught that everyone should be treated equally, that we should be kind to animals, and that protecting the environment was one of the best things we could do for future generations.
But my eyes weren’t fully open until I learned about the plight of farmed animals and switched from a meat-loving, cheese-eating, eggs-every-Sunday diet to a fully plant-based one.
What I learned while researching veganism and animal rights blew my mind, but nothing shocked me more than learning how animal rights and other social justice movements are connected. Here’s how:
Our environment is rapidly changing because of the undeniable effects of global warming. Veganism is a great way to combat climate change, as it cuts your carbon footprint in half. Carbon dioxide from raising farmed animals makes up about 15 percent of global human-induced emissions, with beef and milk being the leading culprits. Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.
In addition to generating emissions, raising animals for food is an incredible strain on our resources. For instance, one pound of beef takes more than 2,500 gallons of water to produce. Also, animal agriculture has taken over more than 80 percent of the Amazon.
The meat and dairy industries not only exploit our environmental resources but also continually exploit female bodies in the reproduction of new animals to use and kill for human consumption.
Females in the dairy industry are repeatedly and forcibly impregnated to ensure a continuous supply of milk. Their young are ripped from their sides within hours, with the daughters forced into the same generative cycle and the sons killed for someone’s dinner.
In addition to helping me see the connection between animal exploitation and women’s rights, going vegan has helped me learn about the connection between animal agriculture and racial discrimination. For instance, populations near factory farms tend to be low-income communities or communities of color. These farms pollute the surrounding areas so much that residents suffer a host of illnesses from breathing in the many harmful gases these facilities emit.
A 2002 study examined more than 60 factory farms in Mississippi and found that the majority were located in low-income areas with a high percentage of African Americans. Similarly, a 2005 study found that in North Carolina low-income areas had seven times more hog farms than affluent areas and that communities of color had more than five times more hog farms than predominantly white communities.
Immigration and Workers’ Rights
Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous jobs, with more than 27 workers a day suffering amputations or other injuries severe enough to require hospitalization. With high demands for how many animals are “processed” per day, workers rarely get bathroom breaks. Some have even resorted to wearing diapers. Additionally, slaughterhouse workers have been found to suffer from PTSD and illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
With an unknown percentage of full- and part-time undocumented immigrants working in the industry, Big Ag preys on vulnerable people. In fact, 93 percent of dairy workers in New York are undocumented immigrants. Many undocumented workers are afraid to go off the farm for fear of being caught and deported, a fear reinforced by demeaning or intimidating comments from their supervisors. Some remain on the farms for more than 11 days at a time.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to veganism’s relationship to other social justice issues.
Feel like you’re headed down a rabbit hole? I thought I was too.
As a vegan, I choose not to participate in a system that kills animals after years of cruelty, abuses workers, discriminates against communities of color, and devastates our environment.
Having learned that veganism is a form of resistance connected to other social justice movements, I now know it’s true what they say: Knowledge is power.