Dear Jennifer Finney Boylan,
After reading your New York Times opinion piece, from November 13, 2019, I had to catch my breath, catch it again, and then walk away.
I needed to analyze just why I was so disturbed.
You write that if we really thought about our relationship with animals, we would all become vegetarian. You admit to going vegan at “various moments” but relapse because, essentially, bacon tastes good. You identify the contradiction from your article’s title as being “troublesome,” yet you conclude that, while it is fundamentally unfair, humans have to learn to live with contradictions.
Let’s not live with this contradiction.
What disturbed me the most, I think, is that your spectacular level of awareness, self and otherwise, belies your glib, “Oh well, that’s the way it is” conclusion. You, of course, are not alone in living within this contradiction — all former omnivores lived there, myself included. It’s easy to live in this system because it is like air, invisible and everywhere. Reconciling this contradiction begins with naming it. It is carnism, a term identified by Dr. Melanie Joy and it’s the default condition of most societies on earth.
Even when carnism is recognized — whether you know the term or not, you acknowledge it in your title, “Why I Eat Pigs, and Give My Dog Her Own Cowboy Hat,” — it is easy to look the other way because humans privilege themselves over other animals. This is called speciesism. You write that your dog, Chloe, makes you feel loved, indeed that that is her “job.” This implies that the pig who becomes your bacon wouldn’t make you feel loved. Your bacon, however, didn’t have the chance to grow up. Your bacon came from a baby, and like nearly all farmed animals, that baby didn’t get the time, the stimulation, or the chance to develop loving familial and friendly bonds. And even in their very short lives, they didn’t get to pursue their own interests. I bet Chloe got to experience these things.
All of this would surely contribute to someone who could make you (us!) feel loved. But the true point is, rather, that they get to pursue their interests. At the end you even suggest that this is a strange metric, whether or not we might feel loved. Treating someone else as a means to an end is a speciesist idea. Loving some animals and eating others is speciesist because it privileges some over others. It doesn’t take any real moral imagination (which you say you lack), it just requires you to apply the same logic you presumably apply to any group of human animals that has been unfairly treated. Peter Singer writes that it is “a prejudice that survives because it is convenient for the dominant group” where the dominant group is all humans.
As I finish writing this, it is Christmas. We are visiting my extended family and as we were preparing dinner I looked at the stove. There was a pan covered with tinfoil. As it registered in my mind what it actually was, I could only think of the pig whose life was taken. No doubt she or he was a baby made to grow big, and fast. A baby who didn’t have the time or opportunity to pursue his or her interests—to cool off in a mud puddle, snuggle up to mommy, or root around for food and other interesting things. That pig’s fate, like that of the pig from where your bacon came, was a result of “vagary and caprice” just like you fear your friendship with Chloe is. And it is, but Chloe had the good fortune of being born a dog.
It’s not only a new year, but a brand new decade. More than ever, this is a symbolic time of new beginnings, a wonderful “moment” to try that vegan thing again. There are plenty of resources to help.
Read Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows and Singer’s Animal Liberation. Watch a documentary such as Dominion or Earthlings.
I am not asking you to become an animal rights activist: you do other important work. Simply reconsider your relationship with all animals, not just those that make you feel loved.
Leave animals off your plate. They aren’t commodities, they aren’t here for our use or entertainment.
It will be good to live with one less contradiction. It will feel good, be better for our planet, but most especially, it will be good for the animals.
With loving kindness,
Alicia Siebenaler became vegan in 2015. While pregnant with her first child, she had an epiphany about the vast—and heartbreaking—global dairy industry. While it is and always will be an ethical stance for her, her commitment to do better for the planet and to treat its non-human occupants as ends in themselves instead of as commodities has deepened as she has learned more about the nutritional benefits of a vegan lifestyle. In July 2019, Alicia left the world of higher education development after more than a decade to work on the next chapter of her life—how best to promote veganism and to support others making the transition from the Standard American Diet. She is working on a plant-based cooking certification program and, in the spring 2020, will teach a Veganism 101 continuing education course at Westchester Community College. She graduated with honors from Hunter College where she earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science. She lives in Katonah, NY with her husband and two young children. Her website, Aliciasvegan.com, remains under construction which is really the perfect metaphor for her life. You can, however, find her on Instragram @AliciasVegan