Why Animal Rights is a Progressive Issue
by Ryan Huling
Progressive politics have allowed our society to overcome some of the most egregious abuses inflicted upon people of different races, genders, and ethnicities. They encourage us to open our minds and reevaluate how much compassion we extend to others. Unfortunately, we as a society have not yet challenged the way we view animals. Every year in the U.S., billions of cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals are raised and killed in some of the most violent and abusive industries on Earth. The fact of the matter is that animals value their lives just as much as we value ours, and the time has come for our society to reassess the way we treat animals. We must move our country forward, dismantling the industries that profit from this injustice, like so many before them.
It’s often said that there are as many reasons to go vegetarian as there are vegetarians. However, the three major issues that I would like to address here are the environmental, human rights, and ethical arguments. These three categories are not mutually exclusive, of course. It was none other than presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama who said outside a Las Vegas town hall meeting that “how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other.” It’s all connected, and the clear solution to all three major issues is to leave meat off our plates—for good.
With campuses nationwide embracing a “green” lifestyle, it’s no wonder that dining halls are packing their menus with vegetarian and vegan options. A recent groundbreaking study by the United Nations concluded that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, boats, and planes in the world combined. As if that weren’t bad enough, recent studies indicate that humans can save more water by not eating 1 pound of beef than by not showering for an entire year, since a meat-based diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day. This criminal squandering of our country’s resources continues to further fuel the threat of climate change, while simultaneously robbing other nations of the much-needed relief that we could be offering.
Even from a more individual perspective, though, the meat industry is rife with abuse and neglect. The U.S. Department of Labor has concluded that nearly one in three slaughterhouse workers suffers from an illness or injury every year, many of whom will be fired if they take time off or try to file a health insurance claim. It’s no surprise then that an eye-opening 175-page exposé by Human Rights Watch, titled “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in the U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants,” details that “[t]hese are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.” If we are giving our money to the meat industry, we are paying companies to abuse workers and further contributing to the degradation of our society’s human rights record as a whole.
Of course, this trend doesn’t just extend to human rights violations. The final—and most prominent—argument for vegetarianism is to protect the rights and welfare of animals. The routine abuse that animals face when raised and killed for food is a clear example of corporate greed gone amok. Animals are systematically denied everything that is natural and important to them and are instead forced to live a life full of cement and steel, suffering burns, cuts, and beatings until they are slowly bled to death for our meals. Chickens on factory farms have their sensitive beaks cut off with hot blades, and many pigs have their throats slit while they are still conscious. How can we call ourselves a progressive society if we allow this kind of cruelty to continue? We can do better, and indeed we must.
The fact of the matter is that in today’s society, we have a clear choice between supporting companies that torture animals and not supporting them. Every time we go to the grocery store or dining hall, we can vote with our money by choosing one of the many new products available on the market, such as vegetarian barbecue “riblets” or vegan pizza. These tasty and cruelty-free options have all the flavors we love, without supporting companies that destroy our ecosystem, abuse workers, and torture animals.