Sentient Beings

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New Zealand recently passed legislation that recognizes that all animals are sentient beings. This new legislation aims to make it easier to prosecute people in animal cruelty cases with pets as well as farm stock. The law also includes a ban on animal testing. I was thrilled when I read this news: what a giant leap in our human consciousness of animal consciousness!

Those of us who spend our lives with horses, dogs and cats know well that our animals are sentient beings: that they are indeed live, feeling, conscious, aware, perceptive, responsive, and reactive beings. Most of us are horrified at the thought of eating horsemeat. We are equally horrified by cultures that eat dogs and cats.

So it begs the question: if dogs, cats, and horses are sentient beings…how about chickens, sheep, cows, and pigs? If the same qualities of animal consciousness apply to them, then it begs the question….how can we eat them? And if we do choose to eat them, then does how they live, how they are raised, fed, and cared for…. matter?

Our forefathers raised livestock, but very differently from the Concentrated Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that provide most of the grocery store, fast food, and restaurant meats.   These CAFOs cram thousands of animals into a small space, feed them food they are not designed to eat with added antibiotics and growth hormones to speed up the weight gain. They stand in feces and urine, no access to grass and pasture. In the case of chickens they are so confined they cannot stand or move. These sentient beings are slaughtered without regards to dignity or respect: certainly not with the humane intention that we provide by honoring and helping our dogs and cats and horses pass over.

Factory farms and CAFOs are a rarity in New Zealand, due perhaps to the elimination of nearly all of the agricultural subsidies in the 1980’s.

Separation from our food:
We are separated from our food. When we buy hamburger meat or chicken breasts they are neatly packaged, arranged orderly in the refrigerated section. There is nothing about the way meat is sold in grocery stores that tempts or even invites us to ask: how were these animals fed? How were they raised? Meat that is labeled antibiotic free does not mean that the cattle were living in pastures, or that the chickens were free-ranging birds.

The Fat Connection:
The food producers know our weaknesses: sugar and fat. The fast food chains know that fat makes food taste better. A cheeseburger with bacon is 36 grams of fat. Even a simple cheeseburger has 14.5 grams of fat. Convenience foods also have a fat lure: two slices of Oscar Mayer beef bologna has 16 grams of fat, while 2 patties of Jimmy Dean Sausage provide 24 grams of fat.

I am no stranger to the fat hook: I have been a vegetarian on and off for twenty years; the off times when I have succumbed to the smell and thought of a hamburger: the smell, the taste is a lot like a drug.   I have often used the excuse to myself that “I need the protein.” But as in the obvious case of horses, we can get plenty of protein from a plant-based diet.

Since I became acutely aware of CAFOs and the way most sentient beings that we eat are raised, it has become easy to walk past any meat or prepared food counter at Whole Foods and say to myself: “no way.” The thought of the suffering of these beings is something I cannot contribute to any longer.

Hold the Pepperoni:
If we really believe that all animals are sentient beings, we then have to ask how we can continue supporting industrial animal farming operations. To make the choice to become vegetarian or vegan is a very personal choice. My advice is: listen to your heart.

If we accept the truth of animal consciousness and choose to eat the flesh of sentient animals, then we need to choose sources that are raised with care, and the environmental and dietary needs of that animal. Organic meat is a good alternative, but even better is buying from small, local farmers who may not be certified organic, but raise their animals according to organic principles. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) is another good avenue, especially for bacon and sausages.

Let’s stand up for all sentient beings and respect their welfare as highly as we respect our horses and pets.


-Photo credit: Gregory Colbert

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