Causing death seems to be a major argument against carnivory. Oh no, a lovely little lamb is being killed. This is cruel, callous and murderous. I want no part of it so I’ll be a vegan forever, and no creature will ever, ever die so that I can be fed. Blood is shed, the cute creatures have fear in their eyes, some of the cows even cry in terror just before they are slaughtered. I can live happily and well and be strong on beansprouts and soy milk.
Causing death is one the major arguments against a plant-based diet. Look, look at those soy crops. Stretching out as far as the eye can see. Right to the horizon. All that land, that precious, rolling, ancient land, has been drained of life: cauterised, sterilised, homogenised.
Instead of a rich topsoil, teeming with so much life and fertility that it can be thought of as a life form in itself, there is chemically enhanced soil, stripped of all nutrients. That makes me feel sad. Instead of a stretch of land covered in grasses, trees, bushes, clover, buttercups and daisies and more field flowers, buzzing with insects, aflutter with birds, ascamper* (*I’ve just invented this word for this post) with field mice, voles and rabbits, and grazed by herbivores that refertilise the topsoil with their manure, there is a a gigantic robotic monocrop devoid of any other form of life, the implementing of which has either killed or displaced all those creatures – millions of insects, thousands of birds and mammals. That makes me profoundly sad.
Instead of a neighbouring stream giving habitat to fish and other creatures, there is dried-up lifeless runnel, deprived of life by fertilisers leaching from the soil. More sad.
In 2017, approximately 160 million cows and pigs were slaughtered. We can regard most of these deaths as ‘standalone deaths’: the ripple effect from those deaths on the environment – our planet – is low, negligible or zero.
In that time, Big Agra killed 7.3 billion animals in its quest to grow more crops. 7.3 billion creatures, each of which has another life dependent on it: the insects that birds and small mammals depend on, gone. The small birds and mammals that birds of prey and small predators depend on, gone. And so on. The ripple effect is significant, and the ripples are still speeding across each patch of land that has been defiled, murdered, sterilised. That should make us very sad for the future of humanity.
Since the year 2000, eight species of birds have become extinct. It saddens me to even write those words. One species, a macaw, was a bird featured in the kids’ film Rio, a high-profile casualty indeed, not that the other species are any less valuable. Those species that were wiped out in South America lost out because of deforestation for the sake of agriculture. Worse, much of it was unsustainable – in they came, ripped out the forest, extincted a species, planted crops then gave it up as a bad job. How incredibly callous and cruel.
I get that if you see a lamb and know it’s about to be slaughtered then you will have emotions around that. Especially if you are a young, urban, western, privileged (in global terms) person who’s never spent time in rural areas, whose food comes via their parents from the supermarket, who spends a lot of time on YouTube and Instagram, who has a highly inflated sense of the value of their world knowledge and wisdom… We need these people to develop a sense of perspective about what really is callous.
A farmer in the UK recently wrote that it’s possible that we may only have 100 harvests left. There is no topsoil to regenerate life. The existing soil is dying, artificially sustained by fertilisers and pesticides, and there’s only so much it can take.
Our land is dying, and it’s being brutally, callously, cruelly murdered by agriculture. (Not to mention the backbreaking, underpaid, dangerous working conditions of those at the bottom of the employment chain who have to pick crops that can’t be combine-harvested).
Given the choice between knowing that the animals that die for my food can do so in a sustainable way and knowing of the large-scale massacre of animals that senselessly die, and aren’t even eaten, for the sake of agriculture – I know which I find to be a better outcome. Which deaths are worse?